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.
Mathematics period. The Mathematics Teacher in class. (Do note the capitalisations – it’s not without a reason, but that for a later post). Some copies being distributed so everyone on their feet moving about – between the teacher’s desk and their own.
I sit with X. X has gone to get his copy. His notebook lying on the desk. I sense an opportunity.
Now, this X is a friend. But is also the guy who beats me 9 times out of 10 in Mathematics. Big deal? Big fucking deal. And he beats me 9 times out of 10 in overall score. Yes, till he didn’t leave the school, both of us would be either first or second in class – me being second, you guessed it, 9 times out of 10.
So, the moment X leaves, I pull out my fountain pen and write, “X chor hai” on his notebook. An act of pure spite. A kiddish way to get back at a competitor you can’t defeat. Also, I wrote with my left hand, so that handwriting could not be matched.
X returns. Sees his notebook, complaints to The Mathematics Teacher.
Now, I had a curious dynamic with The Mathematics Teacher too. Good words from her meant way more than good words from any other teacher. Perhaps because she was so tough to please. Perhaps because dad always glorified maths as this super cool subject every self-respecting human should excel at. Also because she always took great pains to answer all my questions – and my questions too arose from an interesting place. Somehow, I had heavily bought into the idea that all I needed to do to become a famous mathematician was to falsify any of the theorems taught in school. So, any new theorem or method taught, I would think of conditions when it would not hold. And that popped several questions in my head. And I would stand up and ask. And she would answer them. Am sure most of those questions would be pretty absurd. But she never seemed irritated and never discouraged any questions.
But I digress.
So, X goes to The Mathematics Teacher. She looks at the notebook and says, “Everyone bring their pens here. Check whose ink colour is this.”
And my heart sinks, the ground crashes beneath my feet. Why ink colour? Why?
“Ma’am, shouldn’t we match the handwriting?” I protest, not knowing that I had just given away.
“No,” she says, “Handwriting can be changed.”
So, the ink colours were matched. And it was mine. She just said, “Why do you say that? What has he stolen of yours?” and then let it go.
I now remember I used to write in Blue-Black ink by Chelpark – it had a distinct hue. Perhaps that prompted her to match ink colours. Or she would have done that anyway- no way for me to know.
But that’s how, yet another battle ended – between her, the defender of all ancient mathematics theorems and I, the challenger, only desirous of breaking in any one of them. The result, the same as always – me trudging away with my tail between my legs.
So, I am standing at a paan shop – one of those large shop-front variety that you find in Western India (different from the humble khokhas/khomchas that dot the North). A gentleman walks in, puts his hands in his pockets and several coins fall. One lands on my foot.
A fairly common occurrence – my standard protocol would be to shake my foot to drop the coin and step aside so that the gentleman can pick it. That’s how I would react, that’s how I have always reacted – it’s such a small thing – programmed in my head like press the button, bulb glows.
But, I bend down, pick the coin and hand it over to the gentleman. It happens so instinctively, I am amazed at myself.
And then, I remember. Some ten days ago, I was at Nazeer’s. Ordered food at the counter, time to pay. Wallet out, coins fall. One lands near the feet of the gentleman standing besides. He steps aside, bends down, picks the coin and hands it over to me. I smile and thank. End of the story.
Only, the story didn’t end there. It somehow seeped in my subconscious and changed one of the most automatic patterns in my head. The gentleman doesn’t know. But his little act just made me more civil.
Like the good in you finding its way into someone else and making him slightly better.