Mythologist | Author | Speaker | Illustrator

May 20, 2008

First published May 19, 2008

 in Economic Times

Narada on the Prowl

Published on 9 May 2008 in Corporate Dossier, Economic Times, as ‘The Cursed Gossip Monger’

Randhir was very happy with his bonus until someone told him that his colleague, Sukant, had been given a higher bonus. “Its not fair,” he said and stormed to meet his boss. Despite every attempt of his boss to explain his evaluation logically, Randhir remained convinced that his boss prefers Sukant because Sukant is a ‘yes-man’. He is hurt at not being the ‘chosen one’ of the boss. And he carries this pain everywhere he goes — sharing it with friends after the first glass of whisky, sharing it with his wife as soon as he reaches home.

The same thing has happened to Kartikeya, a god. His father, Shiva, an ascetic who is usually indifferent to worldly things, gave a mango to his brother, Ganesha, not to him. The mango was supposed to be given to Shiva’s ‘better son’. Kartikeya rejected the evaluation method used by his father. He was so angry at being less-preferred, that he moved out of his father’s house, so say the scriptures.

Who gave Shiva the mango for the better son? Who told Randhir that Sukant was given a higher bonus?

It was Narada, a lute wielding sage who wanders from place to place spreading gossip and making mischief, always announcing his arrival and departure by chanting the name of God, “Narayana, Narayana.”

The story goes that Narada was amongst the first creations of Brahma. He was a mind-born son, molded out of Brahma’s thoughts, making him an extremely enlightened creation. He observed the world that his father was creating and noticed it was restless and eternally transforming, going through endless cyclical changes. He concluded it was a meaningless merry-go-round. So he went around telling all of Brahma’s creations, “This world does not matter. You do not matter. Everything changes eventually so nothing really matters.” Hearing him, all living creatures lost their motivation to grow. Leaves wilted and animals wasted away. Humans refused to marry and produce children. Everyone agreed with Narada that the whole exercise of living life and populating the world was rather pointless. “Let us all sit and meditate and become one with the absolute eternal truth,” said Narada, and everyone followed him, much to Brahma’s dismay. A furious Brahma cursed Narada. “May you be eternally restless, may you move without pause from one end of this material world to another, making everyone you meet see the value of creation.” Narada bowed his head and surrendered to the curse. He would travel. And he would show the value of the world. But not quite what the way the creator had in mind.

Narada went to Shiva and offered him a mango saying, “It is for your ‘better’ son.” That statement made the mango very valuable. And it compelled Shiva to choose between his two sons: Ganesha and Kartikeya. Before Shiva could begin his evaluation, he could feel the tension in his family — his two sons looked at him with eyes full of expectation and his wife watched from the corner, tapping her feet, wondering whether his decision would be the same as hers. Suddenly the peace of Shiva’s life was shattered. Value had been created. Judgments had to be made. And whatever the judgments, there would be repercussions, for not everyone will see things the same way.

Bound by his father’s curse, Narada then moved to another location, followed by another, and another, sharing evaluations, provoking evaluations, drawing attention to the value of Brahma’s world. Evaluations are followed by judgments, and with judgments come choices, with choices come emotions. Narada’s intervention typically evokes negative emotions. The material world, once dismissed by Narada himself as a mirage, now becomes so meaningful that there is anger, jealously, outrage — a desire to fight, to strike back, to teach the world a lesson, to pull contenders down, push competitors behind, until the evaluation gets done in one’s favor.

Narada continues to be on the prowl… Step into any organization anywhere in the world, and if you find ‘office politics’ know that Narada has been at work. You can sense his presence at almost every office lunch or late night booze party, where invariably, inevitably, someone will provide fodder for enthusiastic conversations about cunning secretaries, unfair promotions, manipulative colleagues, favoritism of bosses, disproportionate salaries, nefarious practices.

The Narada-phenomenon is universal, not just in the corporate world. It can be seen in playgrounds, in building societies, in temple committees, amongst grandchildren and grandparents, amongst the educated and the illiterate, in Ekta Kapur serials as well as Satyajit Ray movies, amongst the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor, reminding us that Narada has clearly taken his curse very seriously.

But while it is easy to blame Narada for the tensions in our lives and for the unending crookedness that is celebrated in soap operas, we forget that we are as much the topic of Narada’s conversation as the recipient of it, the victims and the victimizers.  Wherefrom comes the need to indulge in office politics? Does it come from our need to compare? Where from comes our need to be evaluated correctly by the world around us? Is that what is provoking us to struggle and strive in our personal and professional lives — our uncertainty about our self-worth? Would we listen to Narada if we were self-contained?

Logically speaking, we have the capacity to ignore that information. But we don’t. We are eager to believe gossip. We are eager to believe the worst of others. We are eager to surrender to negative emotions. Peace is boring. Relentless happiness does not make a good story. So we literally invite Narada into our lives, into our homes and offices. We encourage him to give us fodder to stir us into righteous outrage.  And he obliges.

And as we bicker and bitch, Narada watches from the shadows, waiting when the world will be exhausted of these petty emotions and focus on something more meaningful. Is he, in a convoluted way, asking us to have a little faith in ourselves and focus less on what the world thinks of us and more what we can do for the world? Why else would he intersperse all his gossip with “Narayana, Narayana,” (his name for God) all the time? Notice, how of all words that leaves Narada’s lips, these two are the least heard.

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