In a small town there lived a rich merchant. He had two employees – one, a highly educated one and the other uneducated, perhaps even illiterate.
However, the ding was that the uneducated one drew a much higher salary than the educated one. Now, like all educated folks out there, he felt bad about it. Initially, like a nice educated person, he tried to keep it to himself but then, the angst took over him. He confronted the merchant.
The merchant listened to him and said, “I’ll answer this at the right time.” The educated employee left.
Then one day, a cart passed by the merchant’s door. Merchant called the educated guy and asked him to see what was in the cart. The man left, asked the cart rider and came back, “Sir, he is carrying cotton.”
The merchant said, “Ok. Where is he taking it?”
The educated employee left, the cart had travelled farther by some distance so he went up to him and asked and again came back. “Sir, he is going to Sumerpur.”
“Ok,” said the merchant, “is it for sale?”
The educated guy went out again. The cart had gone further away, so he ran to the cart and asked him and came back.
“Yes sir, it is for sale.”
The educated guy looked at the merchant and then bolted out the door, ran again to the cart that had almost reached the next village and then came back, panting for breath. “Ten Rupees for the entire cart.”
The merchant thought for a while, and said, “Will he give it for seven?”
The educated guy ran again. The cart had crossed the next village. After an hour, he came back. “Sir, the best he will do is eight.”
The merchant thought for a moment and then said, “Never mind.”
After a while another cart passed by. The merchant called his uneducated employee and asked him, “See what is in there.”
The uneducated guy went out and came back, “Sir, he is carrying wheat. He is going to Gopalpur market to sell it. He says it is twelve Rupees for the entire cart but he will give it here for eight.”
The merchant looked at the educated guy and said, “Now you know why I pay him the higher salary?”
This story again was left without clear interpretations. With so much focus on education at my granddad’s place, I knew the message was not anti-education. This story, again, I have heard many times from granddad and mom.
This is a story my maternal granddad told me years ago, and it was repeated to me quite a few times by mom as well, once, when as a little boy, I asked her if ghosts are real.
The story goes like this. A man was building a thatched roof for his house. Now, thatched roofs, chhappar in Hindi, are roofs made of dry grass, long strands of which are tied together on a criss cross skeleton of bamboo staffs tied together, held in place through strings. The stuff used is the long grass and bamboo readily available in villages and even the rope used is made by winding together these long blades of grass. (You hardly see chhappars these days).
So, while he was tying grass blades for his chhappar, a sly snake bit our man and slid away somewhere. The tough rustic village guy that our man was, he looked at the wound, winced and dismissed it as a thorn prick and went on building his roof. Finished, he jumped off, hoisted the roof on wooden pillars and lived happily. For a year.
Now, chhappars take all the harsh sun and rain but last some 3-4 years, so next year, it needed repairs. Our man climbed up and saw that one of the strings tying those grass blades together wasn’t a string but a dead snake. His eyebrows curled up as he paused for a second. And then, something hit his chest. He remembered. His jaw dropped, eyes opened wide, mouth dried up and heartbeats raced off. That goddamned thorn prick was not a thorn prick. This bloody snake had bit me! All the horrible images jumped in his mind and within minutes, he had a heart failure and died.
Mom’s answer to the ghost question was that ghosts are people seeing something totally normal and taking it to be dangerous, deadly supernatural, projecting their internal fears on it. Of course, it did not help me back then, especially as 7 year old about to go pissing at night in a toilet located outside the house with a mazaar just across the door under a huge neem tree. Or perhaps it did, but not for more than a couple trips.
Also, they never gave me a cut and dried interpretation, they left it to me. Will do the same now. To each, his own. Interpretation. Peace ho!
1983. Me in class 2. Dad and me. Off to meet mom. Three legs to the journey – Shahjahanpur to Lucknow, Lucknow to Gonda and Gonda to Siddharthanagar (then called Naugarh). We in the middle, Gonda station (or was it Lucknow?). At a puri sabzi stall on the platform. Both eating.
And suddenly, a pack of dogs, 3-4 of them come sniffing (yes, dogs roamed railway stations back then, both Lucknow and Gonda were big stations, that notwithstanding). I cry to Dad. SOS. “Papa, kutte.” Something like that.
He keeps eating. No response. I rush from one side of his leg to the other. I try to hide behind him but the dogs come from the other side. I thought he hadn’t heard. So, I cry out louder. He still doesn’t listen. And it dawns. He is listening. Just not doing anything.
I, scared for my life, scurried here and there, around his legs, holding on to his pants, trying to save myself and my puri sabzi from the dogs. That moment stayed. I don’t remember how I managed to ward them off. Infact, I am sure I didn’t do that – there was no cinematic moment where the hidden tiger in me eventually woke up and roared. Most likely, he eventually stepped in and shooed them away. I know this because I continued fearing the dogs till much later and that combativeness didn’t sprout in me for a long time. That’s not the point.
But that moment – of me frantically crying for help, doing all my little hands and legs could do to save myself and my dad, standing next to me just eating his stuff – unperturbed, nonchalant, chilled out – that never left me.
First reaction was – this is unfair. You are tall, they can’t reach you. And you expect your level of ‘bravery’ from me? The beasts will chomp on my face in just a while.
But even at that tender age, even with that initial resentment (how could you just leave me to fight the dogs on my own?), and even with my continued fear of dogs – it felt good. That he trusted me to be able to fight my own fight.
We never talked about it. Am sure he doesn’t even remember it. I know for sure he never studied psychology books on parenting. But it impacted me deeply. He trusted me to fight my own battles. Howsoever little I was. That somehow got embedded deep within. This when the money shot – “Come dogs, me the little warrior will kick your lily asses now” – never happened.
He trusted me. He thought I could fight and beat those dogs. I couldn’t, but that didn’t matter. He felt I could.
It was instinctive for him, but it was too fucking smart. Guess the best form of protecting – no matter who it is. Step back. Let them go out in the world. Let them explore. Make mistakes. Mess with danger. Just be within range. Step in only when the shit really hits the fan.
Circa 1983. Me and Dad. Me in class 2. Shahjahanpur. DM Colony. Quarter no.81.
He would get up early everyday and go out running. He would take me along, a kilometer away was a college ground where he would complete a couple of rounds and then we would walk around the city and reach home from the other side. A railway line which went very close to our place, crossed the road midway, So, in the entire morning walk routine, we would cross that railway line twice. Imagine a straight line cutting a circle midway.
So, we are at the far end, where the railway line crosses the road. A long goods train, approaching fast. And a dog on the tracks. The train hoots, the dog busy eating. Doesn’t listen. The train resigns. The dog has to die.
We are on the other track some 30 meters away from the train. The train chugs along, the dog doesn’t hear it and in a minute, the train is over him. Over. The dog, smarter than I thought, lies low, in between the rails, between the marauding iron wheels of the train. I smile. The bugger will live. Coaches after coaches of the train pass over the dog. And he lies still, between the wheels. And then, he panics. Something stirs in him. Perhaps the long time the train has been over him gets to him. He moves on his legs and tries to creep out across one side. And, the next approaching wheel severs its head. Sadder still, it was the last coach. The gloom haunted me for days.
We came back home. But the incident didn’t leave me. Not the grotesque sight of a severed dog head. But that the incident had something more to it. The dog had almost survived the calamity. A fast approaching train was certain death. And he had averted that. And then he panicked. Didn’t keep the faith. Thought he had to do something. Messing with a working system trying to better it – Taleb would be angry.
But we all do that. Well intentioned interventions that destroy fill the history pages. Why do we lose faith midway? Why do we feel the need to do something? Anything. Kuch karna hai. Perhaps the lure of instantaneous results. Or the desire to control. Or perhaps the chaotic nature of the world where we flail dealing with the uncertainty.
The dog didn’t have to die. He had survived 19 out of 20 coaches.
Strategy – one word that fascinates everyone ranging from Chanakya to Amit Shah to McKinsey suits to everyone with a full belly and enough intellectual pretensions.
Confession – I too have been much enamoured by it, but have always struggled at articulating what strategy is. For the longest time, it lay in the, ‘I know it but can’t express it,’ zone which essentially is bullshit. I firmly believe the genius who said – if you cant explain it to a kid, you dont know it yet.
And then, it happened. Today morning. Suddenly the brainwave. And I feel I can explain what is strategy and what is tactics to a kid now. So, bring out the inner kid and here we are:
First check out this video:
Yes, the one, all of the 90’s kids would have seen hundred times and would have shown the younger ones as a sample of the cool things that existed back then.
Yes, you’ve watched it but pls do it again. Carefully. Just 7 minutes. For a lesson that takes people years (took me almost a decade!).
Now, see how Didi tackles mission ‘Mangoes from the tree’. Jugat lagani hogi. Yeh wali jugat.
So, this jugat is the strategy. Enough said. A five year old will understand.
And tactics? That’s easy now. The actions, the steps. Here we go.
So, strategy is the jugat and tactics is what you do to implement the jugat.
And now, as the great Sun Tzu said, “Tactics before strategy is the noise before defeat,” – everyone, pls don your strategic thinking hat, else Sun Tzu will be angry.
PS: Sun Tzu never said that – at least thats what internet says, but then, when has that stopped internet from attributing great oneliners to random legends. Bruce Lee still turns in his grave looking at great things in his name he never said.
PPS: Pls also share if you have a simpler articulation of strategy.
It wipes off sweat from its forehead. The wasp. Sitting in her home on a tree trunk. Power goes. Fan stops,TV too. Irritated, she comes out.
Bright, hot sun all around. And then, she sees a patch of shade. She quickly flies there, looks up. A dark cloud, covering the sun. She smiles. She looks at the cloud the way you look at very few people. Then, she feels a sudden urge to reach out and tell the cloud it comforted her. So, she flies up. Up and up. But the cloud is too far. She cries out, “Cloud. Oyi, cloud.” But the cloud is too far. Doesn’t hear. She tries to fly further up but her little wings won’t carry her. Disheartened, she descends.
Just then, the cloud sees her. Something about her draws him to her. He comes down. Down and down. So down, he reaches little Pintu’s terrace. Pintu, standing on the terrace gets all wet. Clouds are water vapours, after all.
So, cloud comes down. Wasp sees him. Smiles. “Thank you cloud,” she says, surprised at the tear in her eyes.
“Why cry?” asks the cloud.
“I tried talking to you but you were too far.” she says.
“Oh, no worries,” cloud says, “My friends are air and water. Say anything to the air and it will take your message to me. I will say it to the water and it will bring my message to you.”
The wasp smiles and then, makes a sad face. “But my friends are butterflies. They can’t fly up to you.”
Cloud too goes sad. The butterfly comes along. “What happened?” she asks the wasp.
“You are my friend, but you can’t take my message to the cloud.” says wasp and makes a sad face again.
“You worried for this?” the butterfly asks, then says, “Flowers are my friend. And their friend is fragrance. So, you tell me your message. I will give it to the flower and the fragrance will take it to the cloud.”
The wasp smiles. She hugs the butterfly. “Careful,” says the butterfly, smiling, “careful with the sting.” They both laugh.The cloud too smiles.
So, the cloud now sends his messages through the water and the wasp sends her messages through air and fragrance.