THOUGHT SERIES – THE RAFTING GUIDE

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NIRANJAN GIDWANI, CONSULTANT DIRECTOR | MEMBER UAE SUPERBRANDS COUNCIL | FORMER CEO EROS GROUP DUBAI

NIRANJAN GIDWANI, CONSULTANT DIRECTOR | MEMBER UAE SUPERBRANDS COUNCIL | FORMER CEO EROS GROUP DUBAI

By good fortune, Vinod was able to raft down the River Ganges at Rishikesh, India, twice in 2019. Rishikesh is the hub of river rafting in India. One will find the River Ganges flowing at its fastest pace and surrounded by Garhwal Himalayas; making river rafting here a fun-filled yet thrilling and at times scary experience. The stretches Vinod covered were divided into two parts, which included Marine drive to Rishikesh covering an area of 24km and Kaudiyala to Rishikesh that covered 36km

The first expedition was led by “Bob”, an American guide, who was previously a successful corporate head, but also had a great deal of rafting experience and many stories to tell of mighty rivers such as the Colorado. With a leader like Bob, there was no reason to fear any of the great rapids on the Ganges.

The first half day, in the gentle upper reaches, was spent developing teamwork and co-ordination. Strokes had to be mastered, and the discipline of following commands without question was essential. In the boiling fury of a rapid, there would be no room for any mistake. The only thing Vinod and team realized soon was that, by temperament, Bob had a very short fuse and was a yeller. He had grown up associating his achievement and material success in life to yelling as a boss or a leader. When Bob bellowed or yelled above the roar of the water, an instant reaction was essential.

Vinod and team mastered the Ganges. In every rapid they fought against the river and they overcame it. The screamed commands of Bob were matched only by the fury of their paddles, as they took the raft exactly where Bob wanted it to go.

At the end of the journey, there was a great feeling of triumph. Vinod and team had won. They knew that they could do it. They felt powerful and good. The mystery and majesty of the sacred Ganges had been overcome.

The second time Vinod went down the Ganges, the experience he had gained should have been invaluable, but the guide on this journey was a soft-spoken Indian by the name of Krishna. It seemed that it would not even be possible to hear his voice above the noise of the rapids.

As they approached the first rapid, Krishna never even raised his voice. He did not attempt to take command of the team or the river. Gently and quietly, he felt the mood of the river and watched every little whirlpool. There was no drama, no shouting, no abuse, no yelling. There was no contest to be won. He loved the river. And he even equated his own existence to be like that of a flowing river.

They sped through each rapid with grace and beauty and, after at the end of the day, the river had become their friend, not their enemy. The quiet Krishna was not showing any external trappings of a typical leader, but only a person whose sensitivity was more developed than their own. Laughter replaced the tension of achievement.

Soon the quiet Indian was able to lean back and let Vinod and all the team take turns as leader. A quiet nod was enough to draw attention to the things their lack of experience prevented them from seeing. If they made a mistake, then the team admitted, moved on, and it was the next person’s turn.

They began to penetrate the mystery of the Ganges. Now, like the quiet Indian Krishna, they listened to the river and they looked carefully for all those things they had not even noticed the first time.

At the end of the journey, they had overcome nothing except themselves. They did not want to leave behind their friend, the river. There was no contest, and so nothing had been won. Rather Vinod and team had become one with the river.

It remains difficult to believe that the external circumstances of the two journeys were similar. The difference was in an attitude and a frame of mind. 

At the end of the second journey, it seemed that there could be no other way. 

Given the opportunity to choose a leader, in the present world scenario, everyone would still probably choose someone like Bob. Because, that is what books on management and sports write about.

Yet, at the end of the second journey, Vinod and team had glimpsed a very different vision and they felt more down-to-earth – and intensely contented with both, the journey and the end result.