by Satya Chaitanya
Satya Chaitanya, a professional cooperate trainer, has taught for many years Management and Leadership from the Eastern perspective in some of the top institutions of India including the XLRI School of Business and Human Resources, Jamshedpur, one of the top ten, and oldest, business school in India. He has taught Indian Ethos in Management to senior MMS students at Xavier Institute of Management and Research, St Xavier’s College, Bombay.
Let me begin with something far from the world of the Vedas: with a movie that I saw recently at an international film festival.
Andres Leon’s More Than Anything in the World [Más Que a Nada en el Mundo] is a powerful film from Mexico that won the Best First Film awards both at the Guadalajara and the Montreal Film Festivals. Directed by Andres Leon Becker, it is the harrowing tale of a divorced young mother and her seven-year-old daughter living in a suffocating tiny apartment in the urban jungle that is Mexico City. Such is the apartment that once you enter it, you are completely cut off from the outside world. There are no trees to be seen from the windows, no sky, no streets, nothing. The only thing you can see is the backsides of other apartments on your left, right and across that you feel are so near you will be able to touch if you stretch out your hand – mostly drain pipes, tiny ventilators and some windows, all curtained off to keep the outside world away. No breeze ever comes in, and not more than a tiny bit of dim light if you keep the windows open.
The young mother is lonely. She has no social life, no significant relationships to satisfy her emotional and physical needs. Her only relationship is with her daughter who is totally dependent on her for everything. To support themselves, the mother has to work and her work keeps her so busy she is invariably late everyday to take the child to school and to bring her back. In touching scenes the film shows us the watchman of the school refusing to admit the child, on the orders of the principal, because she has already been late so many times in the past. In another scene we see the child, a shadowy figure, sitting all alone on the floor of the school veranda very late in the evening, darkness all around her, with not a human being anywhere in sight – she is waiting for her mother to come and pick her up.
It is not that the mother does not care. She does care for her – she loves her “More than Anything in the World.” But she is so harrowed by her work she has no time for anything else – not even for her daughter.
In her loneliness, the mother starts allowing men to visit her at home and when the men are there, the girl has to remain in her small room so that they get privacy.
And the little girl – Alicia – is scared. She is scared to be alone, she is scared to be separated from her mother, and the only way she can stand her fears is to keep her mother in sight, if not hold on to her. She walks into the room in which her mother is with her lovers, and relationship after relationship breaks down, making her mother take out her anger on her daughter in frustration.
One of the reasons for Alicia’s fear is because she believes the man living in the apartment beind hers is a vampire in the guise of an old man and he is out to get her mother. She does not know much about Vampires, but her best friend in school – her only friend, another little girl her age – is an expert. Vampires drink blood from the necks of women, she tells Alicia, leaving a mark there. And then there are two possibilities – either you die or you become another vampire. The little friend confirms that the sounds Alicia has been hearing throughout the night are the sounds made by the vampire.
Alicia is terrified for her mother. She inspects her mother’s neck closely when she comes back after a session of lovemaking and sure enough, there is a bite mark on her neck. Little Alicia shivers in fright, but hides her fear in herself – she does not want her mother to discover it. And she gets a crucifix to get rid of the vampire – her little friend who gives it to her tells her the only way to kill a vampire is to place the crucifix on his chest. One night while her mother is asleep, the seven year old child climbs out of her window, walk on toilet pipes and narrow ledges and in a scene no one will be able to watch without holding his breath and will never be able to forget once he has seen it, reaches the window of the old man and climbs in.
Now she is alone with the vampire at night in his own house. But she wouldn’t allow her fears to overcome her. She has to save her mother from the clutches of the vampire. She crosses rooms, opening doors noiselessly, and eventually reaches the room in which the man is lying on his bed and succeeds in placing the crucifix on his chest.
Unknown to her, the man is already dead when she reaches his room. She imagines him to be asleep and waits for a while to see the effect of the crucifix. The man does not move. She has achieved her goal and she goes back to her home.
The man she is sure is a vampire is actually a lonely old man who once had a wife and a little daughter but who are no more with him. He had been diagnosed as being in an advanced stage of cancer around the time Alicia and her mother move into the new apartment and has been living a life of utter loneliness and suffering. The man has forgotten to smile. His only pleasure in life is the occasional peep he gets into little Alicia’s room from his window – and Alicia takes his attempts to stand at his window and look into her room as his attempts at stalking her mother.
More than Anything in the World is a powerful portrayal of modern man’s loneliness and the utter meaningless and joylessness that his life has become, shown from the standpoint of a young mother, a little child and an old man. And these three are not alone in being lonely and joyless and in losing all meaning in living – a vast majority of people living today in modern urban jungles are like that. And if our lives are not already like that, we are fast moving in that direction.
It so happened that a few hours before I saw More than Anything in the World at a local film festival, I had read about “the world of little kings’ in Lawrence G Boldt’s Zen and the Art of Making a Living and my mind linked the film and the book.
“About the time the Industrial Revolution was really getting into gear,” says Lawrence G Boldt, “political revolutions were everywhere replacing kings with parliaments, presidents and promises. The key promise was that the common man would one day soon be king. He would possess for his own the kingly prerogatives of power, leisure, and security – power over his station in life, the liberty of leisure, and the security of property….
“Every man would be king, enjoying the goods of life made possible through machines and mass production. There would soon arise whole nations of little kings, each at home in his castle; if not a palace, then perhaps a country estate; if not a country estate, then a home in the suburbs; in not a home in the suburbs, then perhaps a condo, an apartment, a mobile home – any kingdom, no matter how small. This is what we worked for. We laboured for a kingdom and the promise of the leisure to enjoy it.
“We aspired to the kingly life of leisure, a life of ease, a life to do with whatever we pleased, to be as irresponsible as we imagined the aristocracy to be.”
Leisure and opportunities to enjoy life were central to that world vision. I remember reading in Alwyn Toffler in the seventies, and later teaching about a future in which the main worry of governments would be that they wouldn’t know what to do with all the leisure people have.
And where we have ended up at the beginning of the twenty-first century is the world More than Anything in the World shows us. A world in which most men and women have to toil for fourteen to sixteen hours a day in their workplaces and then bring work home. A world in which there is no time for relationships. A world in which we do not know our next door neighbour. A world of broken families. A world of loneliness and meaninglessness, of isolation and closedness, of airlessness and suffocation. A world in which happiness is becoming a more distant dream every day.
This certainly is not the world of little kings.
The promises made by science and technology were not false. Science and technology can truly enrich our lives and make leisure possible beyond our dreams. The problem is not with technology, but with our attitude towards life, towards work and the world.
The Vedas are products of a rich society, a very rich society indeed. And what is amazing is that there is no suffering portrayed in this oldest literature of the world. There is no loneliness there, there is no world weariness and there is no suicidal rejection of the world. Instead, what we find is an unbelievable eagerness with which everyone embraces life, the spirit of festivity and celebration that permeates everyone and everything. This might come as a surprise to many: the Vedas have no concept of a hell. They speak of heaven, but there is no hell!
And yet they did not have the possibilities created by modern science and technology. Imagine a world where we have the possibilities created by science and technology and have the same attitude towards life and work and the same harmony with the world in which we live!
We can be beautiful people living happy lives in the middle of beautiful things. We need not be ugly people living meaningless lives in the middle of beautiful things.
This is what Vedic Management would mean to us today.
India, together with China, controlled about sixty percent of the world’s economy until about the time of the European conquest of Asia [the first world, and not the third world; to me the first world is Asia, the part of the world that became civilized first; the second world is Europe and America is the third world.] We are speaking of economic domination for a few millennia, unlike the economic domination of the west which is only as old as the Industrial Revolution.
And the East did this without leading to the tragedy that modern life has become.
The tragedy of modern life is not only at the personal and social levels. It is as much a tragedy at the global level as it is at the personal and social levels. Today we are talking of the world we are living in facing extinction – the nuclear threat, global warming, the energy crunch, deforestation, and the million other problems that are threatening to wipe out human and other life as we know it from the face of the earth.
We are now seriously considering migrations to other planets as a survival strategy.
HBO recently aired a documentary called The Eleventh Hour at the prime time – and the documentary deserved the prime time. In the documentary, the world’s foremost experts in different fields talked about what we have done to our planet in the short period of the last two hundred years or so – our mineral resources are fast being depleted, our oil reserves are running out, our rivers and oceans are polluted, much of our drinking water is toxic, animal, bird, tree and plant species are disappearing from the face of the earth at an alarming rate never to reappear again, our forests are disappearing, the air we breathe is poisonous over much of the earth, the greenhouse effect is making the snows on our mountains and on the north pole melt, ocean levels are rising, islands all over the world are slowly sinking into the seas and tomorrow much of our continents will follow, temperatures are rising so high so fast that much of the world will soon become inhospitable for human beings and animals.
It is these disasters that we discussed in the recent Copenhagen Summit.
But the Vedas tell us that economic progress is possible without causing these disasters.
Vedic Management can help us achieve economic progress without bringing the world to the rink of extinction.
W.W. Jacobs has written a powerful short story called The Monkey’s Paw which has haunted readers ever since it was published in 1902.
When the story opens, we are with the Whites in their home. Outside it is a dark and stormy night, but inside everything is calm and serene. Mr White and his son Herbert are playing chess and Mrs White is knitting by the fire.
Soon a family friend arrives on a visit: Sergeant Major Morris. Morris has just come back after spending years in India. Among the things he has brought back from India is a monkey’s paw. The paw, explains Morris, has the power to bring to fulfilment three wishes of three persons – it has been empowered by an Indian fakir. Morris has already had three wishes fulfilled and another man before him – his third wish was for death. Sergeant Major Morris tosses the paw into the fire, telling that the best thing to do with the paw is to keep as far away from it as possible. He wants it to be destroyed before it made more people suffer.
Mr. White jumps up and rescues the paw from the fire. He is fascinated by the paw and the story behind it. None of the warnings by Morris will make him give up the paw. Eventually the Sergent-Major explains how to make wishes on the paw.
After Morris leaves, the Whites make fun of the powers of the paw. They do not seriously believe such things are possible. Herbert suggests that his father should wish to become an emperor – that way he would be able to escape the nagging of his wife. Mrs White chases her son about in mock anger.
Herbert considers seriously what wish to make, though he still does not believe in the powers of the paw. Herbert playfully suggests that they should wish for two hundred pounds – that would pay off the money for their house. Mr White makes the wish.
The moment he makes a wish, Mr White gets a shock. He is sure the monkey’s paw moved in his hand.
Soon all three of them go to bed after putting out the fire.
The next morning they all joke about the monkey’s paw and its powers and then Herbert White leaves for his job. It was later that day that Mrs White notices a man hesitantly approaching their house. The man reluctantly reveals who he is. He has come from the factory where Herbert worked. There had been a fatal accident at the factory and Herbert has been killed. The factory sympathizes with the family. The company does not hold itself in anyway responsible for the accident, but as an act of kindness, they would give an amount of money as compensation.
Mr While is sure he knows how much the compensation would be. “How much?” he asks. And he is told, “Two hundred pounds.”
The amount they had wished on the monkey’s paw.
Days pass in the gloom of the horrid death. Mrs White is almost mad with grief. One day she asks her husband, “Where is the monkey’s paw?’
She wants Mr White to make another wish: their son should come back.
Mr White is horrified at the thought. He hasn’t told his wife that Herbert was caught in a machine in the factory and was mashed totally out of shape. He could be recognized only through his clothes.
Mrs White forces her husband to make a wish on the monkey’s paw that their son comes back. He makes the wish, and as he does so., suddenly the candle in the room goes out. There are strange noises in the house – perhaps a mouse, they think. Mr White strikes a match to light the candle and that too goes out. Before he can strike another, there is a knock at the front door.
Mr White begs his wife not to open the door and holds her back. She struggles to get free of him. “You’re afraid of your own son,” she accuses him, crying. “Let me go. I’m coming, Herbert; I’m coming.”
There is another knock, and another. The old woman with a sudden wrench breaks free and runs from the room. Her husband follows her to the landing, and calls after her appealingly as she hurries downstairs. He hears the chain rattle back and the bottom bolt being drawn slowly and stiffly from the socket. Then the old woman’s voice, strained and panting. “The bolt,” she cries loudly. “Come down. I can’t reach it.”
But her husband is on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw. If he could only find it before the thing outside got in. A perfect fusillade of knocks reverberates through the house, and he hears the scraping of a chair as his wife puts it down in the passage against the door. He hears the creaking of the bolt as it comes slowly back. At the same moment he finds the monkey’s paw, and frantically breathes his third and last wish.
The knocking ceases suddenly, although the echoes of it are still in the house. He hears the chair being drawn back and the door being opened. A cold wind rushes up the staircase, and a long loud wail of disappointment and misery from his wife gives him courage to run down to her side, and then to the gate beyond.
The street lamp flickering opposite was shining on a quiet and deserted road.
What has happened to humanity during the last hundred and fifty or two hundred years is exactly what happened to the Whites. Here was Science and Technology, which looked all powerful to grant any wish of his, and he made those wishes. And now we are facing the threat of extinction.
But there are ways of getting what we want without paying the price the White family had to pay for the fulfilment of their wishes in The Monkey’s Paw.
The Vedic Management way.
Vedic Management is about progress without paying the terrifying price modern man is paying for it. It is about work habits that do not alienate man from man and engender loneliness in life. It is about transforming work itself into a celebration, a process of growth and transcendence. It is about growing in harmony with nature rather than depleting it for achieving growth. It is about achieving economic prosperity and progress without exhausting our mineral resources and oil reserves, without polluting our rivers and oceans, without making our drinking water toxic, without making the air we breathe poisonous, without destroying our biodiversity, without causing the greenhouse effect that is making the snows on our mountains and on the north pole melt, without making ocean levels are rise, without making islands all over the world sink into the seas, without making global temperatures go up. It is about progress without destroying family and social life, without transforming the heaven that is the earth into hell.