26 Oct, 2007, 0530 hrs IST, TNN

One day, Drona summoned two of his students, Yudhishtira and Duryodhana. “Spend a day in Hastinapur and find me a really bad man,” he told the always-nice Yudhishtira. Then turning to the ever-angry Duryodhana, he said, “Spend a day in Hastinapur and find me a really good man.” The day passed. Drona waited for his students to complete the search. Finally, at sunset, the two returned, but with no one accompanying either of them. “Well, where are the men I asked you to find?” asked Drona.

Yudhishtira replied, “I scoured the city and went to every house. I met every man, woman and child. I really looked for a bad man but at the end of my search, I am convinced that everyone is the city is actually very nice. There is not a single bad person in Hastinapur.”

Duryodhan replied, “I don’t agree. I too scoured the city and went to every house. But everyone I met was a scoundrel. Even the children. There is no good man in Hastinapur.” Drona heard both and said, “This is all maya.”
All of us have heard this phrase sometime or the other. It is one of those wonderful quips that always evokes laughter, perhaps because deep down we agree with the truth of the statement : ultimately all things that we crave for and cling to are maya, delusions resulting from ignorance and prejudice.

But contrary to popular belief, maya does not mean delusion. The word has its roots in the ‘ma’ which means ‘to measure’ . Maya actually means ‘that which is measured’ . When someone says yeh sab maya hai, they actually mean our understanding of the world depends on the measuring scale we subscribe to. Yudhishtira’s measuring scale failed to identify a bad man in Hastinapur . Duryodhan’s measuring scale failed to identify a good man in Hastinapur. Their opinions about Hastinapur said nothing about Hastinapur but about the measuring scales they subscribed to.

There is no universal measuring scale since measuring scales do not exist in nature. Measurement is an artificial concept, created by man, for man, in order to organise and structure the world around. It is we who have created notions such as ‘second’ and ‘minute’ and ‘week’ thus dividing time into manageable components. It is we who have created ‘kilograms’ and ‘pounds’ and ‘metres’ and ‘yards’ to gauge the size and weight of matter. None of these concepts are natural. Why should seven days make up a week? Why not eight days? Someone decided seven days should be the unit of time. All measurements are cultural. Someone decided that length must be measured by kilometres all over the world. Americans disagreed. They still prefer miles.

Measurement scales are necessary because they helps us compare things – this is longer than that, this is heavier than that, this is hotter than that. With comparison comes evaluation and judgement. Some things become more desired. Others become more valuable. And when things start becoming more desired and more valuable, then marketing comes into being.

Marketing is typically defined as the business process by which value is created, transmitted and exchanged. Since value is dependent on a measuring scale, marketing is ultimately all about spinning the web of maya.

Once upon a time, when there were no mobile phones, just possessing a telephone instrument was good enough. Then came mobile technology. A new measuring scale emerged: go to the phone or make the phone come with you. With the new measuring scale emerged a demand which Nokia fulfilled by ‘connecting people’ . Everybody was connected. Well, not every body, only the rich.

Then Reliance came and democratised the mobile. Everyone could own a mobile — from the paper vendor to the taxi driver . The need for a new measuring scale was felt, one that would distinguish the rich from the poor. Motorola swung into action and spun the maya of slimness: a mobile was better if it was slimmer and best if it was razor sharp. Sony Ericsson’s spun the maya of another measuring scale: that a true mobile phone is one that clicks photos and makes music. Where from came these values? What makes you happy or unhappy about your handset? Is it natural phenomena or artificial construction? You will then realise the power of maya.

The concept of maya can be quite empowering if used well. Imagine yourself going to a job interview. It is a great company. And you are eager to get the job. You are under stress. Are you good enough for them? You spend hours on your resume and spend hours on your possible answers. And you are most relieved , even obliged, when you get the job.

But why are you obliged? Wear the maya cap and you will find a different view of the world entirely, one which is perhaps more empowering. Ask: why were you called for the interview? Could it be because the organisation found itself lacking in something and was seeking a value that you helped fill? If that is the case, why are you feeling as if the organisation has done you a favour by hiring you? Is your being hired not a case of a symbiotic exchange of value between an organisation and an individual?

What is an interview ultimately? Nothing but a process by which one finds out if an organisation meets the requirements of an individual’s measuring scale (salary, perks, designation, role and responsibility , career prospect, job satisfaction) and if an individual meets the requirements of an organisation’s measuring scale (knowledge , skills, attitude, experience). It is the great maya exchange.

The notion of maya plays an important role in negotiations. No matter what is offered, you begin by devaluing it. “I don’t think it is worth that much.” Thus the seller is put on the defensive and is forced to justify the value he is offering.

You accept or reject his defence depending on how much you are willing to pay. A smart buyer always devalues an offering to bring down the price. A smart seller always begins by questioning the measuring scale currently followed by the potential customer. “You must be satisfied with your current mobile handset, I am sure. But….” After a few rounds of arm wrestling, the value exchange that satisfies both is signed and sealed. That is good business.

Come to think of it, is there any real value out there? Value is a perception and so it all depends on who you are. For a Shiva, nothing has any intrinsic value. So he shuts his eyes to everything in this world except that which sustains him. For a Brahma, everything has value and he keeps chasing all things. In religion, Shiva may be a great ascetic while Brahma may be a god unworthy of worship. But in the material capitalistic world, the self-contained Shiva is a threat, whose existence is best denied, while the eternally unhappy Brahma is the most valued of customers.

In between is Vishnu who knows that ultimately, it is he and none other but he who gives value to the world. That mobile phone, that job, that concept, that product, that service is as valuable as he makes it. He knows that different people experience the same world differently because their construction of the world is based on the measuring scale they follow. Hence, he goes around creating value, sometimes by using the prevalent measuring scale and at other times, by creating a new measuring scale altogether. He is Mayin, he who spins the web of maya, the ultimate marketer