The Fruit Laden Tree

Ministhy Dileep | October 22,2013 02:30 pm IST

There is a sage old saying in the vernacular:

"Stones are pelted only at a fruit laden tree." *

Indeed, who would bother to stone a dry and desolate one? This seemingly innocuous proverb has parallels in many of the Indian languages.

And mostly they are aimed at the Leader. To tell him/her not to get depressed, when the enemy strikes. With allegations, accusations, character assassinations, threats. The ubiquitous human envy strikes only when the object is worth striking at, right?

I remember an erstwhile mentor, who responded rather dryly to the gossip on his apparently dictatorial ways: "I would rather be a dictator, who delivers, than a wimp who is a walkover." Well said. As Anita Pratap, the award winning columnist wrote, "You can either use up your life energy to combat your detractors or use it to build up something solid." **

Leaders are a very tough lot. Like Bapuji, giving his famous speech against the Compulsory Fingerprinting of Indians in South Africa (and the law declaring every marriage but the Christian marriage, invalid). "According to this law, everyone here is a bastard." *** Was there a leader more lionized and pilloried as the Great One? "A half naked fakir", laughed Winston Churchill. Yet he continued, undaunted.

When Fanny Blankers Koen****, decided to compete for four athletic events, in the first Olympics after the Second World War; her detractors called her crazy. When they saw the mother of three, at thirty, getting ready to run on the stadium, the crowd apparently booed, "Frumpy housewife, go back home." She did, with four gold medals.

No great thing was ever achieved without opposition. Look at history. Every King who bowed to pressure is forgotten in the pages of the textbooks, with hardly a line or two devoted for his efforts. Yet we study in detail about Tipu Sultan, who, like a true Leader, roared, "A brave man dies once like a lion and a coward dies thousand times as a sheep."

I believe that it was in "The Finest Day" by David Fischer, that I read the comment about Lord Ripon's tendency to withdraw when faced with pressure. (Ripon, the Father of the decentralized system). The author wrote succinctly, "Had it only been Lord Curzon, with his iron will..." Even though he divided up Bengal, our man was supposedly a great leader, who cared two hoots for the detractors who bayed for his blood.

In management, every grand effort was fought and won over howling opposition. Sometimes subtle, sometimes loud. Whether it was Lee Iacocca saving Chrysler, or Ricardo Semler***** designing a flat organization for Semco - it was achieved by swimming against the current. With a lot of very greedy piranhas waiting to grab a piece of their flesh, on the way. Yet, they prevailed. Like true leaders.

So next time, someone throws a piece of dung/stone/missile at you, shaped in whatever sweet/sour language, be cheerful. For they are indirectly acknowledging that you are worth something. They are downright envious of the potential they see glimmering inside you. All you need to do is to enjoy the attention. Without getting bothered and hot.

Because the proverb also happens to have a twin. It says,

"A fruit laden tree always bends low."

I shall leave you to ponder over the inherent humility and detachment in that one.

* Malayalam proverb. Equivalents found in many Hindi dialects.
** Quote from memory.
*** From Richard Attenborough's "Gandhi".
**** Celebrated as one of the greatest Olympians of all ages. She practiced by riding her old bicycle, with her toddlers in the front and back baskets!
***** Semler, "Maverick" and Iacocca's Autobiography. 


Ministhy S. is PG (PM&IR) from XLRI-Jamshedpur, and currently, an IAS officer working in the UP cadre. She has written five books - 'Unequal Equations', 'Learning with Tippy Tortoise: Tales for Kids', 'Happy Birthday: Poems for Kids' and a novel published by Dronequill Publishers, Bangalore....