Published in Corporate Dossier ET, June 25, 2010
In the beginning, there was nature – wild and untamed. In the forest, animals are always afraid, afraid they might not find food and starve to death, and afraid that they may become food and be killed. Thus death lurks in every corner. Humans alone, thanks to the larger brain, are animals that can imagine a place where one does not have to struggle to survive, where one is not afraid of a predator. This is why, from the Bible, comes a thought to describe the Kingdom of God, “The lion shall lay with the lamb.” This imagery is found in Hindu scriptures too, where in the hermitages of sages, one finds the goat safe in the company of tigers. This is heaven, a place where one feels secure: a place without a ‘rat race’, a place that is not a ‘dog eats dog world’.
Popular phrases indicate how people perceive the corporate world. It is equated with the jungle. Like animals, executives feel they have to compete in order to survive and thrive. In the markets, everything seems fair. Since violence is not considered an acceptable code of conduct, except by gangsters, the corporate world feeds on cunning. The more cunning seems to reach higher in the food chain. No one likes being here. Everyone yearns for a piece of heaven.
In the Bhagavat Puran, heaven is visualized as the Raas Lila. In the Raas Lila, Krishna plays the flute and the milkmaids dance around him. But the scene takes place at night, outside the village, in the forest. Forest evokes fear. Night evokes fear. The milkmaids are away from the security of the village and family, and yet they feel safe and secure. They sing and dance around Krishna, who is neither their brother nor son nor husband. Neither law nor custom binds them. No one is obliged to be here. There is no duty or responsibility that binds them around Krishna. They do so of their own free will. They do not feel threatened. They do not feel under pressure. There is perfect harmony. Everyone forms a circle – equidistant from Krishna; there is no jealousy and envy. Each one feels that Krishna is giving them complete attention. In fact, the moment they feel possessive about Krishna or believe he should love them more than others, Krishna disappears, the forest re-appears, bringing with it the darkness and the fear.
Raas-Lila perhaps represents what people would like the ideal organization to be like. Every employee feels safe and secure. Everyone feels they are fully appreciated. Everyone is giving their best. No one is jealous or territorial. There is warmth and affection all around. No one feels exploited. There is perfect harmony. For this to happen, the boss must be Krishna.
The gap between the imagination of Raas-Lila and the reality of the workplace is huge. Ikram hates going to office every day. It is a torture. He is the senior vice president but he feels he is underpaid and exploited. He hates his boss and feels his team is useless. He feels powerless. Arvind is Ikram’s subordinate and feels Ikram has a cushy job, with no real responsibilities, and that all work is actually done by the rest of the team, himself included. It is Arvind who feels underpaid and exploited. Ikram’s boss Richard also feels underpaid and exploited by his bosses. He feels Ikram has got it easy; he does not stand in the firing line before the directors who, in his opinion, are a bunch of mercenaries.
Richard can attempt to be Krishna to Ikram. Ikram can attempt to be a Krishna to Arvind. But no one is trying. All three of them imagine themselves to be quivering frightened milkmaids waiting for the music of the flute. They are not realizing that each one of them is capable of playing the flute.
Every human being is at once milkmaid and Krishna, yearning for the music and capable of producing the music. Krishna can be seen as a theoretical construct, a goalpost embodying infinity that can inspire us. We can attempt to walk in that direction. The first step is recognizing that we have the flute and everyone around us is eager for music. Being human, our tunes may not be perfect, but it is the thought that counts, a thought that is sorely missing in Ikram, Richard and even Arvind.
In the Raas-Lila, Krishna makes music not for his pleasure but for the upliftment of the milkmaids. Through the sound of the flute, Krishna is communicating his affection. Through it comes the assurance of security. It is an invitation to a world where one can do their best. The promise is fulfilled in the middle of the forest. Around Krishna, the menace of the night fades away.
Others may not play the flute for us. But we can play the flute for others. Raas-Lila can be our vision statement. Eventually, we will get there.