The Heart of Product Development and a poet

The greatest poet-wordsmith of Bengali language and one of the greatest poets of human civilization – Rabindranath Tagore traveled to Europe sometime in 1922. It was the period of the golden years of passenger shipping and he took the route via Red Sea with a port of call at Aden.

His writings on the ship and later in various parts of West, later published as a collected works in Bengali entitled Pather Sanchay ( Collections on Road) has some observations which connect technology, European (or white man to be more direct) superiority in discovering and managing technological marvels like the ship he was on, Indian nationalism, Culture and Human Civilization.

While reading the collection in my last vacation in my ancestral home in Silchar (1000 km North East of Calcutta, the Eastern Termini of the heart of Modern Europe in the Age of Tagore, culturally speaking), I found some startling observations by the poet whose very simple and casual description made me shudder as how relevant the message is and how practical for product development it is in the Age of Outsourcing :

I find it little embarrassing that I have just bought the ticket to be part of this enterprise (the whole running  of the ship) and nothing else. Whereas the European passengers feel this whole thing a part of their life, the whole energy of their nation has worked to make this happen and they are aware that whatever was needed to be done was done and whatever will be needed will also be taken care of. The ship is not only a vessel for them to use for passage by paying the fee but something greater. I felt that to assimilate  something, the idea of thinking the purchasing power as necessary and sufficient condition is a crude understanding. We can only own and control something as much as we have done the  tapasya for it. For me, the ship is just moving using burning coal in this great ocean with all our necessities as an embodied being taken care of but to them (the European passengers, predominantly British) the whole tapasya of the nation, strewn with many sacrifices are actually propelling it.

I would ask every Indian thinking of developing any product to pay close attention to what the poet is communicating. He is a disinterested observer and so far removed from your time that you do not fall into the vulgar habit of being slave of the present, the worst form of slavery.

In the same collection, the poet observes something more striking. He refers to the sinking of The Titanic and draws our attention to something no documentary of any channel can ever discover. He talks about the mystery as how extremely rich men actually followed the knightly principle of ‘Women and Children first’ on that terrible night of the Atlantic. The price of upholding this principle has been sure death and those extremely rich men who had been accustomed to life of comfort and ‘priority’ did not flinch. The poet concludes and this becomes an elegy not of rich men or men of courage of that night but announcing the glory of Man

 ..This sacrifice cannot be accidental, random or situational. The whole tapasya of the culture, of the whole past has come triumphant over death on that night of terror.

What the poet, divinely disinterested touched on two eternal and fundamental aspects of a product

a) The product to be effective must have a whole cultural backing, not only of the individuals or the group but the whole past of that community. Without this backing, the product will not be able to stand the test of time.

b) Irrespective of one’s position as an outsource destination, outsourcer – nothing significant can be achieved by situational advantage, short-cuts or clever sales techniques.

In the age of instant success and growth, a true poet’s wisdom is rare and is so illuminating that its radiance is coming as if from the soul’s heart and time can never dim that light.

Another Bengali poet of post-Tagore generation and one of the finest laureates of Bengal  of all time, Buddhadev Basu while talking about the relationship between Bengal and British interaction for more than 300 years. He concludes in one of the grand conclusions of an essay on this :

.. After so many years, the eternal surplus of these interactions is literature

He used a memorial phrase in Bengali  imbued with poetic dust : amlan udbritta [ unfading surplus]

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