The concept of time and the acceptance of shoddiness
Life is cyclically created and destroyed. Brahma, the creator, lives for 100 Brahma Years. One Brahma day is 4.32 billion years long
As leaders we need to err on the side of intolerance and impatience
“I wasted time; now Time doth waste me” – Richard II
“...India is because of that wonderful aspect of Hindu cosmology which first of all gives a time-scale for the Earth and the universe – a time-scale which is consonant with that of modern scientific cosmology”.
– Carl Segan, Cosmos
In continuation with the theme of our previous article, the second point being driven here is an equally pertinent one. This has to do with Time. Let’s go back to Brahma. All gods in the Indian cosmology die. There is no immortality except in the conceptually fallacious sense. Brahma, like Shiva and Vishnu, also dies. But ironically, they live much longer. Life is cyclically created and destroyed. Brahma, the creator, lives for 100 Brahma Years. One Brahma day is 4.32 billion years long. The four yugas together are called one chaturyuga (satyuga, treat, dwapar and kali yuga). Seventy one chaturyuga make one manu; 14 manus make one kalpa. Thus, if you run the arithmetic, Brahma lives for 311.4 trillion years!*
Now this is an incredibly long period of time. So what happens to man during this unending duration? Why is he born again and again? Just like a setting sun rises again, a withering flower sheds seeds that begets itself, a banyan seed contains an infinite number of trees in an unmanifest form given an unending time span; man too will be born again and again until he realises that to break free from this cycle he must become his own divinity. The cyclical concept of time and the eternal recurrence of everything throw an awkward light on the Indian people’s orientation to time, materiality and achievement.
If you think about it, a man comes with nothing and lives a life spanning 60-65 years on an average and then goes with nothing. He dies only to be reborn again. So why this fuss in the middle duration? The whole purpose of life is to give up, to renounce – Tyaga. Joy does not adhere in external objects with the ideal state being the state of desirelessness – beyond temptation and with no need from the mart of economic strife and gain! Two of the four vital stages in life are committed to preparation for giving up (vanahprasta) and then actually giving up (sanyasa) – power, pelf, wealth, personal wealth, relationships, et al. At the heart of the Indian psyche lies this unerring and profound apathy but nothing matters in the finest analysis. Everything is too temporary – brought down to its quintessential nothing!
This internalised state, to my mind, has contributed significantly to the present economic and political predicament in India, reinforced by damaging external locus of control - fatalism. Since time is in abundance, there is no sense of urgency unlike the western ethos where everything has to be achieved on this side of death. In the western ethos, there is no carry forward and no cosmic balance sheet cataloguing daily activities. Time is short and so is life. One must live in the minds of men to gain immortality. To be immortal is therefore to do heroic deeds and have great achievements. Time therefore is linear and efficient. PERT, CPM and Gant Charts are products of a society that is scarce on time.
The other significant impact of cyclical time is the relationship India has with its historical narrative. India never believed in history because it is too insignificant in the cosmic scheme of things, too narrow in its approach and too myopic in its scope. So India never went on to record history in any systematic way (the first historical document was Rajatarangini in the 11th century AD). In India, not history but mythology is important since it contains kernels of abiding truths.
Exaggeration is a technique to make visible that which would have otherwise escaped notice. Truth cannot be sacrificed at the altar of accuracy!
Documentation is a national weakness as everyone struggles with the issue of accurate documentation. At least every organization that I go to struggles with this particular issue. The reason is not discipline or laziness or even the absence of technology tools. The real problem lies in the larger scheme of things that makes documentation fundamentally not important.
The next impact of time is on our collective orientation to deadlines. We fail to see the ‘dead’ in the deadline and often wonder what the fuss is all about. Road repair, bridge building, stadium and infrastructure making for commonwealth games will all come under this profound relatedness of the average Indian to time.
An executive from Spain one mentioned to me that he had been to China and what he saw there staggered him in contrast to what he observed in India, which was a startlingly low level of intensity towards becoming an Asian giant. He feared on behalf of all Indians that India would lose the race to China. If only he knew, India does not care! In the finest analysis, nothing is important, except the realization of the same.
As Indians, where the Brahma mythic narrative is part of our collective unconscious, apathy is about the only sentiment we need to fight. I remember K. V. Kamath of ICICI Bank once ponderously commenting in a private meeting - “Apathy! That’s our real problem”.
As leaders, we need to err on the side of intolerance and impatience. In an environment of incredible indifference, these may turn out to be the mother of all virtues. We have to control impatience in all matters that subscribe to mediocrity - personal or professional. And make a commitment to not tolerate shoddiness in the vicinity of ourselves.
Rajeshwar Upadhyaya, Director, Par Excellence. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org