Jan 142013

Illustration: Zaheer Alam Kidvai

This is a story from the Mahabharata, that like many from from that epic , this too has lessons for the modern age.

Dronacharya the guru to the Kuru Princes – the 100 Kauravas and the 5 Pandavas – and assorted nobility in the region, decides to test his students in their prowess in archery. Archers, in that era, were considered the most accomplished of warriors, and he who was the best archer, was considered the best warrior. On the day of the test Drona takes the students to the forest, where across the river hangs a wooden bird from a tree.The test is two fold. First the archer has to take aim and describe what he sees; and the second is to shoot the target. And the target is the eye of the bird.

The first student describes the bird, the branch on which it is hung, the leaves surrounding the bird, the thread on which it dangles, the details of the bird and so on. He is disqualified. Seeing him flunk the test the rest of them begin to add more and more details. They take aim and describe in detail all that they see- a wide angle shot of the forest, the trees, the leaves on the trees, the blades of grass on the ground, the flowers on the shrubs, the fruits, the birds, the bees and the rest. Very involved and very detailed. To their great surprise they all fail the first part and are not allowed to go forward to second part. Finally, it is Arjun’s turn. The teacher asks him, ‘what do you see’… and Arjun answers with single minded focus- “I see the eye of the bird”. He passes the first stage of the test and allowed to shoot – and he hits the target.

The lesson from this tale is an important one for management, media and civil society, indeed for any aspect of life. If you have to succeed there has to be focus. Other things maybe more beautiful, more attention worthy -but ultimately they distract. Any successful practitioner of management (or war) will tell you – that attention needs to focused on the goal. All goals maybe equally worthy – but only one can be achieved by you. Which is your eye of the bird ?

In the last three weeks following the Delhi Gang Rape, there has been tremendous reasons for all right thinking people to outrage. Law and Order, Government response, Public Apathy, Misogyny, Status of women in society, publicity hungry souls trying to latch on to the bandwagon by making outrageous statements on the issue. The question is what do you focus on, what all do you fight? If you woke up tomorrow morning and one of the benevolent God’s had wished away all misogyny, all discrimination, all movie songs & scenes – would violence against women, including sexual violence, end?

Main Stream Media and now, unfortunately, Social Media – work on the mode of Outrage of the Day. Each tries to feed off the other, each wants to set and dominate the agenda . Every day, to get eyeballs and attention, the pitch is raised higher. The vocal chords shriller, and the outrage more raw. It is as much about the issue, as it is about seeking attention. People are crawling out of the woodwork to make outrageous statements. Those statements generate outrage. That outrage attracts defense. The defense attracts a counterpoint. And just as you think that some understanding will be reached – the focus of outrage changes. People, who were relatively localized a few weeks ago, are suddenly becoming national figures – Abhijeet Mukherjee is possibly a household name.

When outrage overwhelms focus and one jumps to the next outrage induced high , the issue at hand gets left behind, forgotten and abandoned in the quest for the next outrage fix. It is very easy to change the agenda. It is even easier to whip up mob sentiment. But, that is counter productive and damaging. To solve violence against women, indeed any problem, there needs to focus. Absolute and Total focus. It is very easy to go into butterfly mode and flit from outrage to outrage. Which is issue that makes you burn internally the most – that anger, that rage – keep it close within you and focus it to make the change that you can. Don’t dissipate that anger on every issue. There are going to be many. Focus on the eye of the bird – see that and no other.