Silent Whispers

Business 15 Comments

Published in Corporate Dossier, ET, 19th March 2010

The arrival of a sage called Narada in Hindu mythology always spells trouble. He would share very innocent information, or ask a very simple question, and provoke all kinds of base emotions from jealousy to rage to insecurity.

Once he went to the house of Kansa, dictator of Mathura, who knew that the eighth son of his sister would be his killer. Kansa would have killed his sister had his brother-in-law, Vasudev, not promised to handover the eighth child to Kansa. “Do you trust Vasudev?” asked Narada, “I mean, he may handover another child and claim he is the eighth; or he may handover his own child, say the seventh, and claim he is the eighth.” Having sowed the seeds of doubt, Narada walked away plucking his lute and chanting, “Narayana, Narayana.” Influenced by these words, Kansa killed each and every child his sister bore to ensure his safety.

Another time, Narada went to the house of the five Pandava brothers who had a common wife called Draupadi, and told them the story of a nymph called Tilotamma. “Two demon brothers, Sunda and Upasunda, fell in love with her and wanted to marry her. She said she would marry the stronger of the two.  So the two brothers fought to prove their strength. Since both were equally matched, they killed each other. Wonder which of you five is the strongest?” Hearing this the five Pandava brothers quickly put down rules that would govern the sharing of a wife; she would be with one brother exclusively for a year and return to him after spending four years with the other four brothers.

In Kansa’s case, Narada’s intervention leads to serial infanticide. In the Pandavas’ case, Narada’s intervention secures domestic bliss. Yet, at no point is Narada feared or shunned by any king or god. In fact his arrival is welcomed. His intervention is seen as something inherently good – though the goodness is not immediately apparent. In Kansa’s case, Kansa sees him as a well wisher. But by his intervention, Narada ensures that Vasudev, rather than handing over the prophesized eighth child as he initially planned to, takes the child to a safe house where he can grow up and return to kill the wicked king.

Narada though a mischief-maker and quarrel-monger, has good of people at heart.

But there are advisors whose intentions are otherwise. The most famous one of these is Manthara who poisons the ear of Kaikeyi, in the epic Ramayana, and influences the queen to demand the exile of Ram. By following Manthara’s advice, Kaikeyi destroys the household.

So who is the advisor who sits beside the king: Narada or Manthara? If Narada, how does he see the king – as Kansa or as a Pandava? These are difficult questions for a leader to answer. For the Naradas of today’s world do not come with a lute and Mantharas of today’s world are not bent and ugly.

Jagruti is amongst the first women in her company to become the unit head of an entire zone. It is a powerful and enviable position and she knows that there are many people who would like her to fail. As she took over office, she found many people willing to be her friend and confidant. There is Nitin, an accountant who has worked in the zone for over 20 years. A mild-manned man, Nitin tells her what is happening in every office in the zone. So does Suresh, the admin manager, who has been in the organization for six years and is clearly very ambitious. Often the data they give her and the opinions they voice are similar. But sometimes they are dramatically different. And she wonders: who is the Narada and who is the Manthara?

One can argue that Jagruti should not encourage either Nitin or Suresh. But when one is made responsible for a zone for 50 crores with 200 employees and is expected to show results in six months, one has no choice but to rely on the views and opinions of people who have been around and who can ramp up her learning curve. Data in excel sheets are not enough. Yes, Jagruti will eventually meet all her 200 subordinates and make up her own mind but in the meanwhile she needs some information about the motivations and personality styles of her regional and area managers and her vendors and even her team.

Jagruti is acutely aware that being a woman, most men are wary of her and do not know how to relate to a woman in a position of power. She wonders sometimes if Nitin or Suresh are being patronizing. She wonders if they are manipulating her, making her take decisions to serve their own ends. She wonders if they have her best wishes in mind. Maybe they are working for people higher up in the organization who want her to fail. Suspicion fills her mind often. And so does faith. Maybe they are genuinely good people. Who knows? In real life, no one comes with haloes or horns. Distinguishing Narada from Manthara is not easy. Whether their advice is for the good of the organization or for their own self-interests will be realized only in hindsight.

  • Muskaan

    In the 4th para, its written “In fact is arrival is welcomed” it should be “In fact his arrival is welcomed.

    Really true that you cannot differentiate between Narada and Manthara. Only lesson learnt or experience teaches on whether to rely on them or not.

    Enjoyed reading like other topics

  • Satish Gundawar

    I think the differentiator is who would be benefited from the advice. In case of Kansa and Kaikeyi, both the advices are convenient for him/her. If they would have seen the other side of it or checked whether it is going to help people at large, then they would have taken proper decision whereas Pandava’s decision was to bring harmony among brothers. Therefore, it is important to use head which is there our shoulder and evaluate each advice given by friend, foe or well wisher and check the who are the benefiters.

  • Sarika

    This is good one indeed, one need to take a quick decision and has to believe on someone, the point is how we act at that point! and that the time of winning the game…
    Does it all depend on once destiny?

  • Shweta Banerjee

    Dear Sir,

    It is always such a delight to read your articles.


    Shweta Banerjee

  • Girija Sankar panda

    Dear Devdutt,

    What is important is the messages / advices of Manthara or Narada should not be ignored but only be treated as leads. Further course of action is the onus of the leader as much as the consequences of such actions.


    G S Panda

  • Nataraj

    Networking always provides information; it is up to the individual to check before acting; there are always methods to check the veracity of information and decision should taken by the individual…not naradas or mantharas…when you become the boss and take decision based on many info sources; chances of wrong decision is low.

  • Nikhil Gokhale

    Dont you think people become Narada or Manthra depending on the situation?

  • cmpatnaik

    Dear Devdutt
    Manthara or Narada are only the instruments. Just think Ravana would not have been killed If Manthara would not have prompted Kaikeyi to demand Rama’s vanvas. similarly, Narada’s actions prompted Vasudev to hide the child which led to killing of Kansa. In both the cases demons have been killed.

  • Narendra Negi

    I would say “Suno sabki karo mann ki”

  • VT Rajan

    As always, a treat to read your succinct way of putting things in perspective!

  • Rajiv


    At first read I thought this was sort of abrupt and with warning bells. But then on reflection this is something known to most people on advisors or so I thought.

    Once in such position as Jagruti is, the world mostly appears full of thorns and unless people are careful in judging and deciding with insight it is going to be a problem …

    So I can only read this and feel “Yeah hez right” as I hear you walking away with the lute saying “Narayana Narayana”


  • Pravin

    Do you know, people already think that Men are Villon.

    By keeping gender biased example you already Making Women’s Mind More Firm to Say “Men are Villon, they are against you if you do progress”

    I have experienced man such co-worker women, who do not trust on men(no matter what good you are).

    Just a suggestion: try to avoid gender biased example to explain the situation.

    Last but not least: Keep on writing good articles.

    • Devdutt

      I am explaining mythology….not creating them. Gender bias lies in the eyes of the beholder, not in the symbol. That is the whole point.

      • Pravin

        Dear Devdutt,

        Very true. You are not creating Mythology. People may take your example as Mythology. :)

        Gender bias lies in the eyes of the beholder, not in the symbol.

        Your each comment explains a lot.

        Thanks a lot.

  • Harini

    Hear ppl’s view…but do wat u think is right…if u r right…its 5ne..if u r wrong…learn from it and move on…life is simple…don’t make it complicated…