First Published in Corporate Dossier, December 2008

Last Sunday, Shivkumar got transfer orders, and he is upset. For years he has served the company loyally, taken not a single day leave, made it to office even when he had fever. Never late to office, he has worked diligently, doing all his work, even those of others, staying back in office every day, leaving only after his boss had left, making sure that all is in order.  All his life he had stayed in Lucknow, in his family house. He walked to work and enjoyed the neighborhood. Now this! How could they do this to him? How could they transfer him to Allahabad? Yes, the new office needed setting up, but why him? Surely they could send someone junior, or someone more experienced in setting up new offices? He had not taken a promotion so that he could stay here. He was willing to take a pay cut to stay here. He just did not want to go to Allahabad. But this new boss, the one who came from Delhi, is a scoundrel. He just will not listen. “You must go to Allahabad, Shivkumarji. The company needs you to do this. And I need you to do this. And it is for your own good.” Your own good? How can it be for his good? Moving to a new place, a new neighborhood, a new house, the headache of school admissions, the pain of shifting furniture. And who would look after his family house while he was away? And his parents? Would they also have to move? His mother would never agree.

Shivkumar does not know this. But he is what Kaliya had become to Yamuna – poisonous. There was a bend in the river Yamuna near Vrindavan that was shunned by all the cowherds and cows. The water there was lethal. Even a blade of grass that fell into these waters shriveled in an instant. This was the result of the poison that a great serpent called Kaliya spat out each day. When Krishna learnt of this, he decided to tackle the serpent. “Don’t!” shouted his friends but Krishna would hear none of it. He jumped into the river and began splashing about in glee, laughing at his friends who stood on the river banks begging him to come back. The disturbance caused Kaliya to stir and rise up from the riverbed. He sprang up and grabbed Krishna in his coils. He spread his hood and prepared to strike the young lad, but to his astonishment, Krishna turned out to be a nimble fighter, slipping out of his coils with ease and striking him hard on his hood. Before Kaliya could react, Krishna had leapt on his hood and was dancing on it. No, that was no dance; he was being kicked into submission. “Go, go, go,” Krishna said. Kaliya resisted. He thrashed about, swung his tail like the trunk of an elephant and shook his hood, he hissed and he bared his fangs, he twisted and turned, rose up and went down the water, determined to shake Krishna off. But Krishna stood firm on his hood and grabbed his tail. He kept kicking Kaliya’s head, shouting, “Go, go, go.” Kaliya refused. “Why?” asked Krishna in a voice that was kind but firm. “Because,” said Kaliya, “I am afraid. Beyond this bend lurks the hawk, Garuda. I am terrified of him. If he sees me, he will swoop down from the skies and grab me by his talons and make a meal out of me. Here, I am unseen. Here, I am safe.” Krishna smiled and said, “Life is about movement, not stagnation. You cannot let fear paralyze you. The more you stay here, the more you poison the waters. Go, don’t be afraid. Have faith. You will survive. Just move. You will find a way to outwit Garuda and  overcome your fear of him. You will. Trust me.”

In images, Kaliya, the serpent, is shown with a hood. A Cobra spreads its hood only when it is stationary. When it is mobile it does not have a hood. The hooded Kaliya thus represents stillness. When Kaliya refuses to move, the water around him becomes poisonous. This clearly is a metaphor for one’s refusal to change out of fear – the refusal to move out of the zone of comfort, because exploration of the unknown terrifies us. Kaliya is terrified of Garuda. Garuda is at once a real fear and an imagined fear. Garuda is the bottleneck to Kaliya’s movement, to Kaliya’s growth, to Kaliya’s conquest of his own insecurity. What seems like punishment to Kaliya, is actually a lesson in wisdom. “Go,” says Krishna, “Move on, face life, don’t hide. Swim in the river as you are supposed to. The more you hide, the more you harm yourself and others around you.”

Shivkumar believes his boss from Delhi is Kaliya who needs to be kicked back by Krishna. But in fact, he is the Kaliya. His boss has recognized his potential – his ability to contribute so much more, not just to the organization but also to himself. Shivakumar short sells himself, even to himself. He hides behind apparent contentment. Yet, he is envious of the young ones in the company who have been promoted and who have been given better bonuses and incentives. He resents other people’s success. He wants success to come to him – but he refuses to change anything in his life. He will not compromise on his routines, in his working style, in his dealings with people. He likes things to stay the way they are. He gets angry when friends move on to other cities, to other jobs. He gets upset when bosses accept transfers, when the houses in the neighborhood are broken down to make way for new structures. He loves telling all those who are willing to hear, “Those were the days!”

Things are changing every day around Shivkumar. But Shivkumar is refusing to adapt. Before him is an opportunity to experience something new. A transfer, a new city, a new job, new friends, new opportunities. But he is afraid. Garuda lurks beyond the bend of his river. He is angry with Krishna. He does not want to go. But Krishna’s dance will not stop. The transfer order will not be revoked, and he will be told, “Go, go, go.”