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Three men and the crabs

Malavika Sangghvi  |  Mumbai 

When says that “in India we have a crab mentality. No one can digest others’ good work”, no prizes for guessing what he’s referring to.

We all know of men who have had to pay for their sin of rising above the ordinary and shining amidst mediocrity. Which is why today I want to focus on three such men — two are victims of the famous and the third is valiantly fighting to escape its claws even as I write this. One is a hotelier who through his earthy brilliance, his man-of-the-people warmth and his street-fighting chutzpah managed to establish India’s foremost luxury hotel chain, creating unimaginable shareholder value, equity and goodwill as he did so.

The second is also a paid employee, who took an ageing publishing house into the hearts and homes of millions of people through his unmatched marketing genius. And the third? Well, of him a bit later.

We all know how crabs work, right? Germane to their crab nature is the pincer-like movement they employ to get their victims. And so it was in the case of both these men. That they both became larger-than-life personalities in the organisations they headed perhaps irked their employers. And, of course, the power and pelf they enjoyed created jealousy amongst the ranks.

When the time came the pincers attacked from top and bottom.

But it must be said that one of the qualities that appear to be common to these men is their ability to build a team, inspire the ranks and win love and support from the people they worked with. Aside from the ire of a few ambitious junior colleagues, they were genuinely popular.

That is why when they were forced to make their exits, morale in their erstwhile organisations fell. Of the hotel chain one old-timer remarked: “I stopped going there. The soul seems to have left the place. No one smiles there anymore.” As for the publishing house, a measure of its settling into mediocrity is the fact that its representatives no more win the rash of international contests that they used to.

I hold no brief for these men, mind you. They were people as flawed as you and I, perhaps more so. Chuffed by their success, buoyed by flattery and praise, perhaps they failed to decipher the snakes besides the ladders. Hubris and ego might have dulled their instincts. Perhaps they’d got too big for their boots and deserved to be brought down a peg or two. None of them was a paragon of virtue.

But that’s not the point. The point is that in our country men who’ve built fine institutions are inevitably relegated to the dust heaps of time, that men of talent and brilliance have had their careers prematurely nipped, even when they had so much more to give and contribute, and that we are ultimately left with mediocrity and status quo after their departure.

So who’s the third man? The third man, dear reader, is our very own Chief of Army Staff, General VK Singh, who’s grappling with crab claws at this very moment.

Three men. Or will history call them Three Idiots?

Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer 

First Published: Sat, April 07 2012. 00:57 IST