Neela Atluri

coffee date #21 with neela atluri

board president/treasurer of Manavi, ex cross-fit athlete, past engineer at AT&T, McGill University grad

me: tetley tea | neela nani: tetley tea
location: neela atluri’s office room, new jersey

I am not a fan of hugs, but Neela Nani’s hugs just hit different. They’re so full of love, warmth, and kindness.

Neela Nani is a hype woman. There are always those people (whether it be family or friends) who ask you about your life in an effort to try to derail you, bring you down, make fun of you, gaslight you, etc. Neela Nani, on the other hand, is always so immensely genuine. She genuinely wanted to know how I was doing and what I was doing with my life. As I spoke, she listened with so much interest. She would then proceed to hype me up when I needed it the most.

I once met her during my college application process. At the time, I wanted to go to Penn so freaking badly. I shared that with Neela Nani and also sprinkled in how I’m just not sure if I’ll get in. She replied saying something like “Just try. I’m sure it’ll all work out either way.”

The #1 thing I admire about Neela Nani is her ability to create such wholesome relationships with absolutely anyone. I’ve never met someone who has so many people willing to be there for them through thick and thin. We can truly understand the character of a person based on the people they surround themselves with, and Neela Nani is one of those people who is constantly surrounded by the purest people.


  • Social media causes our generation to feel as though we are not good enough.

Recently, I have been feeling so overwhelmed as I prepare to move into college and start my sophomore year. It’s easy for overwhelm to turn into phases of inadequacy, so I asked Neela Nani when was the last time she felt like she wasn’t good enough.

“Your job right now is to learn, have fun, have a balanced life, and that’s it.” – Neela Atluri, 2021

She genuinely could not think of a moment like that. It was shocking! However, she proceeded to talk about how Anisha Akka would regularly have those moments of inadequacy and self-doubt. In fact, Anisha Akka supposedly felt like this right before going to Harvard for her masters. My jaw dropped when she said this because I’ve always assumed that Anisha Akka never had such moments. Neela Nani emphasized that the generations that have been exposed to social media from the start tend to always have these inevitable thoughts.

“There’s too much stimulus for you guys to process.” – Neela Atluri, 2021

People will ever only post their good moments – their new jobs, partners, vacations, family, etc. No one will post their intense moments of self-doubt or low self-esteem. Therefore, this constant bombardment of toxic positivity from social media leads to a sense of inadequacy.

“Don’t start connecting the dots to the end and extrapolating something that may not be. Just take your steps as you’re supposed to take them and don’t skip any.” – Neela Atluri, 2021

  • We have to tolerate everyone, but we do not have to love everyone.

As I mentioned before, the #1 thing I admire about Neela Nani and Anisha Akka is how effortlessly they were able to cultivate relationships with others on such a deep level. Hence why I had to ask her if she ever disliked anyone and if so, how she dealt with that.

Neela Nani replied by saying that she most definitely does not like every one she encounters. However, it is crucial to still be able to tolerate those people – especially when they are familial connections.

Neela Nani said that Anisha Akka was able to tolerate people a lot better than she could. When Uncles and Aunties used to pass unnecessary comments, Anisha Akka would tolerate them by simply acknowledging their existence. The important thing is, though, she never bottled it up. She would always vent either to Neela Nani directly or her other cousins. I thought this was crucial because we often feel like we can’t say anything if it’s a family member that continues to piss us off. But if we keep those emotions inside, they will come back even stronger.

Thus, tolerate the people you don’t like so that you can purposely choose the amount of time you spend with them. And love the hell out of the people you truly admire and care for.

  • The college we go to should not define who we are.

We surely all had those moments where we defined ourselves based on the university that we attend.

“You are going to be amazing because of you. You’re not going to be amazing because of where you went. No matter where you go, you are going to come out the other end amazing. How can a college change you?” – Neela Atluri, 2021

Colleges simply give us the resources to bring our passions and ideas to life. They do not change us nor should we allow them to define us.

“You are who you are and you’re going to rise. And you’re going to soar.” – Neela Atluri, 2021

  • The beauty of retirement is being able to do whatever you want for the rest of your life with no external baggage.

“Plan to retire at 55. That means planning your finances so that you have enough money at 55 so that you can walk away from your job and do whatever you want. Cause you can live for another 30 years – imagine doing whatever you want for another 30 years.” – Neela Atluri, 2021

The normal retirement age in the US is around 65 years old, so when Neela Nani said 55 I was a bit puzzled.

She explained that as we grow older and become more meticulous with our finances, we can plan to retire at 55. This will allow us room to go chase any passions that we initially left behind when we focused on our careers.

Coffee date #19 talked about how passions can become hobbies while we are still working our jobs. Neela Nani is saying something similar. She says that we can turn our hobbies into something more after we retire because we will no longer have the restrictions of our career holding us back.

This was beautiful. ❤

  • South Asian women in NJ are also domestically abused!

I must say that this was a shocking part of the conversation for me. As Board President for Manavi – a grant-based organization for domestically abused South Asian women in the US – Neela Nani does a lot of “on-the-field” work where she directly communicates with the women who are in dire need of help. She emphasized that there are an uncomfortable number of South Asian women within New Jersey itself who are experiencing such problems in their own households.

“These people really are all alone. They don’t have their family. They don’t have their spouse. And they really need help.” – Neela Atluri, 2021

What’s even more shocking and rather upsetting is the fact that many other community-based organizations are not willing to donate money to such an organization because several South Asians are still stuck in the mindset that “domestic violence does not occur in our culture.” Domestic violence is still not taken seriously amongst South Asians, causing organizations like Manavi to have to fight even harder to ensure that every woman is safe in her home.

Find out more about Manavi and ways to help here!

  • Acknowledge every single emotion.

“Positive thinking has nothing to do with whether you’re happy or not. You could just be sad – illogically sad. It doesn’t mean you don’t have positive thinking.” – Neela Atluri, 2021

For all you folks with big feelings and emotions, listen to this. The importance of feeling it all and acknowledging the sadness should be an innate quality for all of us humans.

  • Live in your truth.

Neela Nani told me this super cute story that essentially led her to telling me that her 1 big life lesson for me would be to:

“Be true to yourself because otherwise it will come back to haunt you.” – Neela Atluri, 2021

Back when Neela Nani had just finished her senior year of college, she landed a job. Her convocation was pushed to some time after she had just begun her job. Since she just started, Neela Nani had no leaves of absences available. Therefore, her friends were pushing her to just call in sick assuming that her boss would never find out.

However, Neela Nani had this nagging feeling in the back of her mind that did not let her lie to her boss. She went into his office and asked for a day off. When the boss asked why, she replied saying that she needs the whole day so she can buy a dress and enjoy herself a little bit before her convocation. To her surprise, her boss agreed!

She then attended her convocation. When she looked over to the audience, she saw her boss sitting alongside the hundreds of other parents. Turns out, her boss’s son was also in that same convocation ceremony!

Morale of the story is to always live in your truth. Though this was a rather minor example, it can easily be translated to even bigger events that occur in our lives. No matter how hard it can and will be, always choose to live in our truths.

  • The best qualities of Anisha Akka

I have never been one to become so attached to someone – especially if I’ve only met that person a total of 4 or 5 times that I can recall. Anisha Akka, however, was different.

She left such a tremendous impact on me which I am unable to put into words. Every time I met her she had a HUGE smile on her face (similar to Neela Nani’s) and also had the best hugs. We very rarely meet people who just spit out such exuberant and positive energy, but Anisha Akka was one of those vicarious souls who did exactly that every time I met her.

Neela Nani told me that Anisha Akka was HER #1 cheerleader. This took me a moment to digest because I sat there thinking Okay so when was the last time I told Amma that she’s doing great as a Mom, at her job, and in life?

Anisha Akka’s ability to ensure that Neela Nani knew that she was doing amazing in life reminded me to do the same for my own family. It doesn’t always have to be the parents reminding their children that they are enough. Sometimes the children also need to remind their parents that they are enough.

The other impeccable quality of Anisha Akka that Neela Nani admired was her ability to use her “God-given” intelligence to make actual social change.

Neela Nani said that Anisha Akka realized from a young age that she had this innate ability to retain and remember things. She never once let that make her feel as though she was better than everyone else. Instead, she used this ability to travel around the world and make such impactful and meaningful changes.

“I loved that she didn’t just use it – she still tried her best. She realized she had these abilities that were a gift, and instead of just taking them, she felt obligated to use them for good…She felt she had a responsibility to do what she could and use what she could.” – Neela Atluri, 2021

Recognize that with persistence, conviction, and a measured degree of reckless abandon, each one of us can initiate changes in our own lives and thereby leave a mark.

Anisha Kamala Atluri, 2008

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