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
Book: Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul At Work
Editors: Juhi Rai Farmania, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
Number of pages: 365
Price: Rs. 295
Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul At Workis an anthology of 101 true, inspirational tales that applaud the daily courage, compassion and creativity in workplaces. It is a simple read, with most stories being around 2-3 pages. Few cross three pages.
The stories are divided into the following sections:
- From the CEO’s desk
- Turning obstacles into opportunities
- Changing roles and industries
- Leading and mentoring
- Balancing personal and professional lives
- Self-made and successful
- On lessons learned
- Humor and fun at work
- Extraordinary entrepreneurs
- Persistence and courage
- Listening to the head and the heart
- Business – the “Hindustani” way
- A message for those starting out
While I’m sharing this list here, I didn’t pay much attention to this division when I reading the book. I just kept flipping the pages, story after story, without registering the changed section.
I was a little disappointed with the first few stories in the book. A lot of them bordered on clichés, and as a reader, you’d know exactly what was coming next. The writing isn’t all that great either. I remember telling a friend with much surprise, “You know I’m not enjoying this book as much as I thought I would.” He was equally surprised.
But I’m glad I stuck with it. The stories got slightly better post the Changing roles and industries section. By better, I mean more personal and anecdotal and less amateurish, preachy and didactic. But the writing still wasn’t great. I was left feeling incomplete at the end of most stories with more questions than answers, with not enough details, vague beginnings and endings, indiscriminate use of fancy prose, etc.
Perhaps, I’m being too critical of the writing, considering that the stories are written by different individuals and writing may not be their best skill. However, there was nothing that a quick review, edit and proofread couldn’t resolve.
Despite my initial dislike of the stories, I managed to pick out my favorites from this compilation. I leave you with the following five stories:
Just That Little Nudge by Payal Kumar < Leading and mentoring
Kumar writes how a small gesture by her best friend’s father went a long way in reinstating her self-belief. He let her help with managing billing receipts in his company after her college hours, at a time when she needed all the support and boost her confidence. The icing on the cake was an unexpected thousand rupees at the end of the month.
Trust Begets Trust by Max Babi < On lessons learned
Babi describes how a friend sent a restaurant owner a bank draft for a huge sum of money to clear his debt once the former had relocated to a new place and other similar incidents.
“When a human being puts blind trust in you, how can you betray that trust?”
Allahabad in Kolkata by Sunil Agarwal < On lessons learned
A boss politely asks a new recruit to crosscheck a particular fact, “Perhaps you are right, but you may want to check” and a little later, “Maybe I’m wrong, but there is no harm in checking.”
Agarwal ends it beautifully, “A real leader respects everyone, and gives them the space to realize their mistakes.” Amateurishly written but I loved what it conveyed.
What a Deal by Juhi Rai Farmania < Extraordinary entrepreneurs
Farmania shares her heart-warming experience with dealsandyou.com where she shares her email correspondence with Gaurav, the CEO of the company, with regard to the delivery of a BlackBerry before time.
I finally understood the meaning of the term, “delighting the customer.”
How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too by Supriya Unni < Extraordinary entrepreneurs
A house-wife turns entrepreneur by sheer chance, when she is unable to zero in on a gift for a friend’s husband. She bakes a cake, which becomes an instant hit, and suddenly, she’s in business.
I thought this was amongst the best stories in this compilation and I loved how it was written. Engaging, detailed and convincing.
Aal Izz Well by Vishal Nagda < Listening to the head and the heart
An HR manager succeeds in reducing attrition numbers and meeting hiring targets in an IT company. He has little clue in the beginning on how to tackle the problems confronting but with a little luck and faith, he saves the day for all.
A nicely written story.
Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul At Work is a light read. Some stories will leave you smiling, while some others, hopeful and upbeat. Read it, if only to add a smile and some cheeriness to your day.
Learn more about Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul At Work.