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Nitish Mukherjee

The author is a Board Member, Advisor, Coach & Mentor. The content of this article is his personal opinion

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Dark Roast Double Shot: Lessons From Shamshan Vairagya

It is a powerful arrow in the arsenal of leaders who achieve transformational growth and enhanced sustainability.

Photo Credit : KieferPix/Shutterstock


The monsoon clouds feverishly moved in filling every speck of sky over the cityscape of Mumbai, as if intent on creating an impenetrable wall between the heavens and the millions scurrying in the labyrinth of streets below as it readied to play havoc in their lives. I watched from my perch on the thirty-first-floor lounge of a luxury hotel and wondered about the nature of the constantly changing world around us, its randomness of motion and our effort to find predictability in it.

The thud of a bag landing on a sofa and a cheerful “Hello Sir” pushed through the heavy breathing of a man in motion broke through my reverie as I turned back into the well-appointed interiors of a business lounge, with every element perfectly set in its preordained place, eschewing a false sense of calm and permanence that was almost believable and alluringly welcome. 

I had been looking forward to this meeting. Conversations with people in creative and planning was a perk in my profession that I found both invigorating and enjoyable. The person I was meeting had an eclectic quality; he was the kind of person who you could imagine being comfortable in a remote village and yet be at home in any urban jungle. The first probably because he loved the smell of the earth and the second because the madness fascinated him. His easy-going mannerisms, camouflaged the deep-seated arrogance of pertinacious intellectual beliefs.

As we settled in for the interview for a potential leadership role in planning, I let the aromatic bitterness of the Dark Roast Double Shot segue me into a stimulating focussed conversation. The dialogue started with the usual explorations but soon slipped into an intense discussion on issues of what ailed advertising. Issues of weak and uninspiring leadership, dissipation of talent and its genesis in how little the industry really cared to address the issue, the great inhibition to embrace change, the lack of respect from clients many of whom in their abject ignorance had moved agencies from the partners to the vendors list. The interaction was intense and unsettling. Nothing was new but it was disconcerting and strangely enlightening in its vividity.

The grey shades had given way to an unyielding blackness outside. The rhythmic pattering of the rain on the glass beat a different tattoo every time the wind shifted ever so slightly. It had been many hours when he stood up, collected his bag and got ready to leave. I walked him to the elevator and said “This evening has left me with a lot to think about”. He shuffled his feet, looked up and said “Sir, ye to Shamshan Vairagya hai. Guzar jayega”. (Translated it means, “Sir, what we went through is Shamshan Vairagya. It will pass”.). He stepped into the elevator, the doors closed and he was gone.   

I went back and sank into the sofa staring out of the window into the darkness; perhaps hoping to pierce it and see light before it was morning but all I could see was my own reflection staring back at me.

Shamshan’ is the place where the last rites are performed by Hindus. ‘Vairagya’ simply put means detachment. ‘Shamshan Vairagya’ philosophically means the deceptive detachment that you feel when you see a loved one go away. In that state of grief, you reach a state of neutrality where as an observer you are able to reflect on your own self and life. That moment of self-reflection makes you reflect on the true meaning of life, its struggles, its desires and the true worth or worthlessness of it. It is a blinding glimpse of the obvious or the reality that is always pushed below many layers. Unfortunately, this is a passing phase. As you go back to your reality all this is forgotten.

In essence, this phenomenon of facing a compelling reality that moves you to think in a state of neutrality happens quite often in different degrees in our personal and professional lives. It can happen when you face a crisis in your business, at a meeting with an irate client, on a surprise market visit, at a meeting with your employees or when you visit your warehouses in remote areas. You suddenly face a reality which leaves you unsettled, bothered and many times difficult to overcome. You feel compelled to do something about it and then the more pressing of your responsibilities take over and the matter gets pushed to the back.

This state of neutrality and its revelations are actually a very powerful force and can be an agent of great change if handled right. It is a powerful arrow in the arsenal of leaders who achieve transformational growth and enhanced sustainability. The ability to manoeuvre yourself from thought to action with speed is what makes the difference.

The ‘intent’ to tackle it is not enough. The ‘plan’ has to be formulated before you exit the experience. Whatever action or set of actions that need to be taken must be identified and put in motion. Stories abound in the lives of great leaders where they have seized the moment and taken action which are inspirational. The most exceptional of civil servants who deal with serious issues habitually engage in this.

Next time when you really feel strongly about something based on what you have seen or felt don’t just make a promise to mend things. Think of the top three steps that you need to take to address the issue. Before the hour is out take the first action on each of those. It may be as simple as sending out a meeting request for your team members or writing a mail to appraise others of the situation and steps that you want taken or call someone with instructions to take action.

The moment of deep revelations happens in all our lives. Some experiences are more intense than others. More often than not we let them go. The lessons of ‘Shamshan Vairagya’ have far reaching implications if we can put them to action.                                                                           

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(Nitish Mukherjee is a Board Member, Advisor, Coach & Mentor. The content of this article is his personal opinion.)