Children of the Blind

Business 19 Comments

Published in Corporate Dossier ET, November 05, 2010

In the epic Mahabharata, Duryodhana, the eldest Kaurava, is the villain. His envy results in a great war where millions are killed. He cannot bear the success of his cousins, the Pandavas. He wants them to be destroyed. He wants them to suffer and die. He refuses to part with even a needlepoint of land for his cousins for the sake of peace. He destroys his own peace of mind and the wellbeing of his household so as to destroy his enemies. Such hatred! Where does it come from?

What creates a Duryodhana? A man so bitter and angry that he refuses to focus on his own good fortune (good parents, good wife, good friend, good inheritance) and focuses instead on the fortune of his cousins, and gets miserable by constantly comparing. His whole life is spent comparing and feeling inadequate and unhappy.

Vyasa, author of the epic, without being explicit about it, points to the possible origin of his personality. Duryodhana’s father, Dhritarashtra, is blind. His mother, Gandhari, is blindfolded. The father cannot see the son. The mother refuses to see her son (whatever her reason). So a son grows up unseen by his parents. No notices the child’s growing sense of inadequacy, no one notices the child, growing up full of rage. No one therefore corrects him. The child succumbs to flattery. The child is indulged and the result is disastrous.

Organizations are full of Duryodhanas, employees with a sense of inadequacy and rage, that reflects in their decision-making abilities. More than achieving organizational goals, they want to impose their personalities every time a decision is made. For example, they fight more for the larger cabin and a larger team and a larger compensation than for the business. The gaze is more towards themselves than towards the customer. They are constantly screaming for attention. But the one who has to give it to them – the management – is often either blind or blindfolded. They either cannot see him or they don’t want to see him.

Ramesh is a Duryodhana. He believes he is the best sales manager in his company. He has brought in more qualitative and quantitative growth than any other sales manager in his company. But he feels, his Managing Director does not see him. The MD treats all sales managers equally, giving them equal bonuses and equal attention. The MD has no favorites. Ramesh wants attention. He wants to be loved and acknowledged. The MD does not even notice this need; he assumes everyone in his team is, or at least, should be professional. Emotional needs are something that he does not notice, or he refuses to notice. As a result of his extreme professionalism, he has become Gandhari. Some would say, he is a Dhritarashtra, he is incapable of being sensitive to his team. The result is that all his sales managers, Ramesh included, feel like children of a blind parent. Their desire for attention manifests in all kinds of behaviors – fights in the boardroom, lack of team work, refusal to cooperate, demands for more time with the MD (which he refuses to give), demand for more perks and rewards and recognition, beyond what is officially allowed (which is not forthcoming).

The organization is facing the brunt of Ramesh’s rage and sense of inadequacy. Everyone is wondering why can Ramesh not be more professional, do his job, and go home. They forget that Ramesh is not a machine. He has emotional needs. He wants to be seen and acknowledged and appreciated. This need of his may be argued as irrational and stupid, but it remains his need, nevertheless. In imagination, humans may be capable of cutting out their emotions every time they enter the office, but it does not happen in reality. Organizations may see humans as cogs in a wheel, but this mechanistic view is theoretical not practical. Every human being has emotional needs that need pampering, howsoever silly it may seem.

The MD needs to realize this role in the turmoil that is faced by the organization. Gandhari and Dhritarashtra are as much responsible for the Mahabharata war as Duryodhana.

  • any eye for eye makes the whole world blind…. i really enjoyed the post!

  • Mahabharat is always there in Bharat.Only we need vision to see it .

  • Manish Ashok Nihal

    Hits the nail on the head :)

  • The company of Ramesh is run like a Govt. dept, not like a business organization. Any organization grows only if it adopts the “Carrot & Stick” policy, rewarding the performer and punishing the non-performer. Otherwise that organization is doomed to collapse and, one day, down its shutters. If a company treats both donkeys and horses alike, it will be left with all donkeys only. Horses will, no doubt, gallop on to greener pastures, but donkeys cannot. Your comparison of the MD of this company to Dhritarashtra is most apt. But the comparison of Ramesh with Duryodhana is being very unjust and harsh to Ramesh. Ramesh is no selfless karmayogi, to do all his best for the company with no justified and deserved expectation of a reward. He is a normal human being, who has needs not only of food and shelter, but has aspirations of recognition too. It is a normal human trait, and is a driving force, for people to be on the run, and doing that extra bit, not only for personal gratification but for reward, recognition, name and fame. Long live the Tribe of Ramesh!

  • Akshay L

    There is another narrative with a similar idea. Shiva-Kali and Shankara-Gowri. When Shiva shuts his eyes from the world, the world goes chaotic (Kali). But when he opens his eyes (he becomes Shankara then), the world becomes calm and peaceful (Gowri).

  • Amit Sinha

    I think it is one side of the truth. i guess the rage is more in the Karna’s who are not recognised , rewarded and accepted. Mahabhart in organisation takes place more on this account and result in decay and decline of the organization.

  • as far as i remember from what my grandma narrated, gandhari remained blindfolded wilfully as her husband is blind and she wanted to share his misery as a sadhvi.
    as regards ramesh,professionalism should not be bereft of all emotions in work place.the md’s professional attitude is a mismatch in the indian context as indians per se are EMOTIONAL and susceptible to soothing entreaties.


    BUT, in today’s time, no one has time to even patiently sit down and listen.

    Then how would anyone like an MD have time to spend in appreciating his employees.

    Also, if he appreciates one person then the other will get angry and it will lead to more problems.

    So being equal to all is a good idea but occasionally appreciating and pampering people who achieve something is a better idea cause then nobody can complain about inequality.

    But still, i think this needs to be delved in more deeper by Devdutt sir.

  • Krishna

    An insightful article Mr.Dev. Nice reading.

  • A silent admirer of your books, I must, on this piece, respectfully disagree. I believe that although Dhritrastra didn’t have physical eyes and Gandhari decided to not use them, both were able to see their son Duryodhana with their minds’ eyes and that indeed they were able to monitor and did try to mold their son. More to the point, in the Duryodhan tale (in the portion of the tale you narrated), there is less to learn about parenting (and about corporate paternalism). Rather the real lesson of that tale is Duryodhan himself. That rather than focus on your deeds, your blessings, your responsibilities, your assets and accomplishments, envy of the other and rage and desire to harm others will ultimately ruin you; that such other-focused ill will would take away from you all the good things you already have; that it is YOU that the envy of others and rage toward others will destroy. That is the lesson I thought you were to show us. That is the moral of the story that I think present day corporate worker (cog in the wheel or not, appreciated or not, emotively stroked or not) needs to embrace; for his or her own good.
    Respectfully yours,

    • asrat N A M

      Of all the comments yours I appreciate more The lesson Duryodhana’s character offers to the world (not the corporate world alone)is that rage etc., destroys one’s self and is harmful for the people around.Just imagine: Karna or Drona or even Bhishma outside the orbit of Duryodhana would not have been partners in the injustice meted out to the Pandavas.They followed Duryodhan not because they agreed with him nor because they wilfully wanted the Pandavas to be defeated. Why they acted in the manner they did can best be analysed by scholars like Devdutt Pattanaik.The present corporate culture is founded not on principles or ethics but on material considerations only.

      • aarthi raghavan

        Karna,knowing tht the Pandavas are his brothers,helped Duryodhana because it was Duryodhana who gave him a kingdom & respected him whereas the Pandavas insulted him.
        Drona & Bhishma helped Duryodhana because of their oath to help the King & the crown prince.

  • Balaji

    Good article. There is always time to appreciate the employee contributions. These days the management tries to squeeze as much work out of employees as possible. When doing that, they have a fear that appreciations will make an employee complacent or stop them from working hard. The message is that you have to keep performing to meet expectations. What they forget is that there is an emotional need for recognition and appreciation when not satisfied leads to rage and burn out.

  • Dharmik Shah

    I agree to what Mr. Devdutt says.We learn various theories of motivation in Management and one among them is Vrooms Valence and Expectancy theory which says that an employee can be motivated to perform better when their is a belief that the better performance will lead to good performance appraisal and that this shall result into realization of personal goal in form of some reward.It is important for organizations now a days to find out what in particular motivates every employee and then fulfill his or her need thus fulfilling the goals of both of them.

  • Gandhari had reason for not seeing Duryodhana.She lived blindfolded to share the misery of her blind Husband .That both parents could not see can’t be the reason for any inadequacy. Parents were indulgent and pampered. Moreover Dhritarashtra was always jealous of pandavas and their parents. We come across in life many Duryodhanas who have Parents who are not blind and have a respectable upbringing. What is relevant in the context is the MD to be a true a professional(?) remained blind like Dhritarashtra to the achievements of Ramesh where as Dhritarashtra remained blond to his son’s misdeeds.

  • Sir, I am a regular reader and a great admirer of your writings. But this article I slightly disagree with, basically the part about Duryodhana Parents. Even if Parents are not physically able to see their child, but they presence itself is a great motivating factor. Holding parents as a stakeholder in Duryodhana misdeed may be a little far-fetched. todays Corporate World is a race, only the best and the fittest can survive. Corporate World has to work on Carrot-and-Stick Policy, since the Corporate world also has its own world of competition through which it has to survice.

  • Ruchi changoiwal

    So true and well explained..thank you for this article :)

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  • Did Ramesh try speaking up for himself? One important thing we need to do to succeed these days is speak up for ourselves. He could show his results and ask for more perks from the MD in a polite way . If the MD does not accept what he asks, the threat he could make on the company is he would leave them and give his talent in greener pastures. If he couldn’t do that, he is not to blame MD. How does this help him to destroy the company which is destroying himself? It is very very true, bringing problems to others, brings problems to oneself. Cheers,