The last week of 2016 found me sobbing on a pillow. I was desperate for some sort of change in my life. Nine months of freelancing from home had left me discontent and miserable. I had become a slob, and dessert seemed to be the highlight of most of my days. I felt like I had nothing to look forward to.
That night, the husband convinced me otherwise. He promised that 2017 would be special. That it would be kinder to us, that we’d find renewed meaning to our lives and that I’d find a fulltime job I likelove soon.
The last was the first to fall in place. For a large part of December, I was secretly stalking a new website. Multiple times a day. Only to check if they were hiring. The husband had nudged me towards it; a subscription-driven website for business journalism. And I wanted to be a part of it. Except when I had applied upon finally seeing a vacancy, I was disappointed because I wasn’t the right fit.
However, a stray tweet soliciting work caught someone’s attention there and we started chatting. To join the newsroom was one of the quickest decisions I made, and I was eager to start. I was beginning to like 2017.
Copy editing at The Ken was immensely fulfilling. It was close to home, I liked the work (I was mostly left alone with words all day) and I was able to put in those hours. I felt privileged. And I think I was good at what I did.
I missed the freedom and spontaneity of a freelancer’s life. But I loved the high of working with words and cleaning up the copy, readying it for publishing. It was fascinating to see a story evolve from an idea to its final copy. I had fun on most days. It was my first time at an early-age startup, and I experienced first-hand the ‘passion’ that most people wax eloquent about. Intense debates, fiery tempers and fragile egos, all formed part of my learning curve.
Did I ever whine and complain? Sure, I did, as with so many other things in life. I also spent very many nights awake, oscillating between self-doubt and feeling smug. The husband patiently watched all this from the sidelines, with amusement.
Leaving The Ken was a bitter pill. I had decided to do so in a snap but it took me a while to come to terms with it. It was a short stint (I was just beginning to feel at home) but one that pushed me to excel at my craft, in terms of time, skill and effort. I was leaving for a more rewarding phase of my life. I am extremely grateful for both; but it stung and smarted and irked that I wasn’t able to have it all. That somewhere along the way I had failed because I chose one life over another.
Today, a few months later, The Ken is a distant memory. Our subscriptions ended earlier this year, and we chose not to renew. I needed to let go. To be honest, we also don’t have the time. But every once in a while, on a rough day, I allow myself the luxury of dipping into their morning emails. To remind myself that this is what fired me up a year ago!
2017 was special, in more ways than one. And my time at The Ken was one of its high points.
He was a senior executive. Interns and freshers looked up to him. With awe, respect and a tinge of envy. He was suave, popular and a trendsetter. One Friday, he ordered a round of shots for everyone at work, after an evening of binge drinking in the office. There were a few groans and protests. He ignored. It was her first week at work. He singled her out for two shots. She squirmed. He resisted. Coaxed her. Pushed the glass towards her. Cheered her. Egged her on. Everyone gathered around her. And she gently, reluctantly, parted her lips. Still squirming.
I was in a saree shop. Admiring the colours and patterns, in search of a new outfit for a wedding reception. And the lehenga saree revealed itself on a mannequin. An over enthusiastic sales guy offered to drape one on me. An aunt nudged me forward. Before I could even examine myself in front of a mirror, the said aunt captured a quick snapshot of me. For my daughter abroad, she said.
She was yet to celebrate her first wedding anniversary, when the mother-in-law apprised her. She was to hand over her bridal saree to a cousin in the family. She complied, meekly. It was returned to her a week later, after being cleaned at a local laundry, with the embroidery coming apart.
It was the longest we had been out of touch but I wasn’t missing “us” as yet. “Us” had degenerated into what I’m not sure. I thought I was content with what we shared. Or maybe I wasn’t. I didn’t really know. And I didn’t have it in me to dissect it further.
He was my smile, my solace on a rotten day at work and more. But every evening I packed up those feelings, alongside the laptop, and trudged home. There wasn’t the space to let them out elsewhere.
I referred to him for the first time in a very long time, while talking to a friend last week. And it struck me that I only had good things to say about him, about us, about how you treated indulged me. But his lifestyle was an intentional but subtle reminder of what I’d never have with him.
I remember very fondly the long walks, the long hours on the phone and the lengthy emails. But none of them came remotely close to the feeling of loss I sensed each time we said bye at the end of a long day at work.
I suppose we were both just spent. Of lying. Trying. And forgiving.
Book: Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Number of pages: 437
Price: Rs. 695
I was looking forward to reading Business Sutra by Devdutt Pattanaik. I was intrigued by his designation at the Future Group: Chief Belief Officer. Pattanaik clarifies it in very beginning, “My job was to neither judge nor change beliefs; it was simply to articulate them.” And that for me set the tone of the book.
Business Sutra uses stories symbols and rituals drawn from Hindu, Jain and Buddhist mythology to illustrate a wide variety of business situations one needs to tackle while running and nurturing a successful enterprise. Pattanaik argues that belief drives behavior, which drives business. The why, how and what. Or intent, task and target. That is the essence of Business Sutra.
According to the author, modern management systems are more focused on an objective institutional truth, allowing little scope for individual truths and personal imaginations. And while the Indian economic, political and education system are rooted in Western beliefs, Indians themselves are not. This leads to a dichotomy of sorts and a sense of alienation from the workplace. For example, he highlights how the Western world is more rooted in order, unlike the Indian style of functioning.
Pattanaik connects mythology and management in an attempt to simplify the complexities and pressures of a dynamic, fast-changing workplace. Taking cues from Indian mythology, he takes apart the mindset of a typical workplace to reveal gaps and opportunities for learning, promoting inclusive growth, harnessing the power of the mind and imagination and appreciating individual passions. Therefore, he stresses on a very Indian approach to business, celebrating plural truths and the human capability to expand the mind.
He does not seek to sell a particular framework or prescribe a specific set of methods to increase business revenue. Instead, in his words, “Every idea in this book is a dot that the reader can join to create a pattern.”
The book serves as a wonderful introduction to the world of Indian mythology, some familiar, some not-so familiar. Pattanaik repeatedly emphasizes on the difference between varna and jati, reminiscent of sociology lectures in college, and highlights the multiplicity and plurality of the gods in the Indian pantheon
He equates all business with yagna, the ritual, as described in the Rig Veda, and places all business activity within that framework.
The book is a collection of sutras (an aphorism or a terse statement), derived from the vast depth of Indian mythology. He constantly refers to Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, Brahma, Indra and various other gods in the Indian pantheon, illustrating their traits, strengths and weaknesses, and juxtaposes certain incidents in the present-day workplace scenario. He leans heavily on the use of examples to drive home an idea. But he clarifies that the case studies highlighted are just “imagined tales.” Imagined yes, but fairly believable.
With the sutras, Pattanaik attempts to cover all aspects of the professional life – personal, individual growth; collective, inclusive growth; building trust; decision-making; emotional turmoil; exploitation; organizational hierarchy, business uncertainties; profit generation; learning and development; ethics; the latent power of thinking; tackling change; nurturing talent; compliance and rules; crisis management; ego tussles, etc.
Reading each of them was a delight. They are short, crisp and to the point (not longer than 3-4 pages each), and carry an example at the end. The author stresses on the importance of striking a balance between the forces of nature and tackling perceptions. There are numerous references to the Ramayana and Mahabharata, placing the epics in a whole new light. I now have renewed respect for Hanuman and his devotion toward Ram.
One also gets a better sense of the inter-personal dynamics at play in our day-to-day workplace interactions. We all operate with a different set of motivations. Therefore, we also seek a different result.
The book feels like a heavy read in its initial pages, where it traces the history and legacy of Indian culture, in comparison to the Western world. But Pattanaik is a patient and detailed writer. He takes care to avoid loose ends and provides the reader with the complete picture, as the risk of sounding repetitive. His language is simple, but the ideas can get slightly complex, requiring some rereading. But it’s a breezy read once you’re past the introductory chapters. Read a few sutras at a time, pause, repeat.
There is a complete list of the sutras at the end of the book, with page numbers. There is also a “Business Sutra Vocabulary,” which lists down the meanings of non-Indian words used in the text, in their business and conventional contexts. Both, very handy features.
Pattanaik also lists down how one can choose to reject this text. Read it.
Business Sutra, with its many ideas and thoughts, isn’t a book you will want to rush through. Take your time with it. Read, pause and reflect. Some incidents you will be able to relate with right away, some will require some introspection. Some pages, you will nod in acknowledgement.
Read it with patience and an open mind. Take it up, one sutra at a time, see what you can glean from it and walk away with a renewed perspective on life.
Learn more about Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management