Abhimanyu … Today

Yesterday we went to “Epicentre” to watch a play called “Revisiting the Epics”. Because the traffic management outside Epicentre is non-existent, the show started 15 minutes late. We were ofcourse there early enough and walked a 1000 steps too before the show started :):):)

The production featured three scenes from Ramayan and Mahabharat, with Tom Alter playing the narrator. Quality shows – Tom Alter, the accomplished actor could bring out every emotion with just the pitch of his narration. He made you feel angry, cry and question by emphasising on certain words !! The scenes depicted were – Seeta in Ashoka Vatika, Draupadi’s cheer haran, and Abhimanyu’s death on the battlefield. The person who recited the verses of “Jayadrath Vadh” for Abhimanyu’s death scene was Chander Khanna and you could sense the pain … And the beauty of the verses written by the poet, Mythili Sharan Gupt. Just stirring. He again could move the audience to tears with just the way he recited the verses.

The Abhimanyu death scene is not just another death on the battlefield. There are several subtexts and many of those scenes are relevant even today. So the story is simple enough – Abhimanyu is the 16 year old son of Arjuna, the great archer and one of the five Pandava brothers in the epic Mahabharat. While he was in his mother Subhadra’s womb, Arjuna recites the complex process of breaking a war formation called “Chakrvyuha” or the seven tier spiral formation. Abhimanyu’s mother dozes off when Arjuna begins to explain how to exit the formation. On the 13th day of the great Kurukshetra war, Guru Drona decides to form the Chakravyuh to capture Yudhishtra, the eldest Pandava brother. The Kaurava army lures away Arjuna who was the only one who knew how to break the formation and Abhimanyu offers to break in. The Pandavas feel they will be able to enter behind Abhimanyu as he broke the formation and hence there would be no danger to Abhimanyu, but that doesn’t happen. Abhimanyu gets to the centre of the Chakravyuh and fights valiantly .. So much so that the other great warriors stop fighting to watch him. But finally all the great warriors get together including Guru Drona and Karna to kill Abhimanyu, when he is defenceless. Brought a tear to your eyes ? Well it does to mine every time I hear this story….

What do you do to a young first time manager at work ? Draw him or her into the corporate Chakravyuh of being a manager and leave him/her defenceless because every firm has great career progression programs …. But execution of skills development programs is patchy. New managers are dropped into the deep end of the pool and some sink, some swim. Those who sink, then are dragged through the “improvement plan” battlefield with strong big leaders watching over – usually leading to exit, sometimes leading to a turnaround. Just as Abhimanyu wrecked havoc as he entered the Chakravyuh, a new untrained manager causes untold damage to the fabric of the team.

Abhimanyu will become even more relevant now… With CEOs getting younger and younger. He was 16 at the time of the war, and we have 11 year old CEOs (Shravan Kumaran of godimensions.com) !! Abhimanyu learnt while he was in the womb, science has proven that today so his life is important for mothers-to-be … Watch your thoughts and what you see and hear as you bear the child. He or she is listening and grasping everything. The modern version of Abhimanyu learning in the womb are the Williams’ sisters, Serena and Venus. Their father wanted his daughters to be tennis players even as they were yet to be born and they did become Tennis stars.

The Chakrvyuh exists as does Abhimanyu – just the names are different 🙂 and the unfairness of the Kurukshetra battlefield also exists. Imagine if Abhimanyu was allowed to continue fighting or if he was let off, the war would have ended right then but the epic would not have been interesting and enduring. The Mahabharat is replete with many stories of unfairness and terrible human behaviour. But we don’t learn. We just read it as an epic, a story and forget the lessons. Abhimanyu’s story is one such.

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