Dr. DJE Ravi Thilagan
Metaphor Artiste

“Metaphors are great. Metaphor is all about connecting things that are not normally connected”

This is an excerpt from ICT Academy Dialogue with Dr. DJE Ravi Thilagan, the Metaphor Artiste. He shared with us, what he found out about AR Rahman – The musical storm, studying the Oscar winner for his metaphor modules.

About 15 years back, I got interested in these metaphors. I didn’t call them as metaphors at that time. Actually, the metaphor word, I picked later. It all began when I got struck by one movie; the movie named “Troy”, which was loosely based on Homer’s “Iliad”. I saw that movie in the theater without subtitles. I did not understand much of it initially; but I was impacted by that movie. I liked it so much. So I bought a DVD of the movie that had the subtitles and I watched it. I watched it for 50 days, 50 times continuously. So, I became familiar with the script completely and knew it by heart. It was a bit of hard work; because once you know the script, it is pretty hard to watch the movie again and again. However, as you get interested watching the movie repeatedly, the mind goes little deeper, understanding the context of the story, the background of the story and tries to connect with something else. That opened me into creating a module “Leadership Lessons from Troy”, which was my first venture. It took about six months for me to make my first module, which I presented at Madras Management Association (MMA).

It was a very fascinating experience for me; I loved it. It did go very well. Then this interest picked up slowly. This is like intoxication you know. But I’m a very slow guy. For the past 15 years I’ve been working on these, and I’ve created on 21 modules so far.

Especially one metaphor, which I’m fond of, is the metaphor of Mr. AR Rahman. I was doing research on him for quiet sometime. I was very fascinated with him; of course everyone is fascinated with his music, which is so good. But not just his music; I was fascinated about that person also. I was trying to profile him actually. I read various biographies of him, and articles on him, interviews by him, and interviews on him, given by others.

One day, I was travelling by train from Chennai to Bengaluru. I was sitting in the train, and I saw Mr. Keith Peters, a guitarist with AR Rahman in front of me. Though I knew Keith Peters so well by reading his quotes about AR Rahman in one of his biographies, he did not know me; yet we had a connect to talk about AR Rahman and I literally interviewed him for the next two hours on Mr. AR Rahman.

I got enormous amount of materials from him, which I cross-checked in the book, Kamini Mathai’s book. But, metaphor is essentially about connecting things, which are not normally connected. It is not just telling the story. It is to tell a story and connect it to something else. So, I was looking for some connection to make the metaphor authentic. I use to browse through book shops, and I stumbled upon a book, whose title is “Talent is never enough”, by John C Maxwell. I just stumbled upon it, I do not know whether I was looking for the book or the book was looking for me.

John C Maxwell says, “Talent is important; talent is God given”. But, there are plenty of people that are talented but were unsuccessful. But, John C Maxwell states that there are some people who have the talent and also made the right choices, who made it very big in their life; that is the crux of effectiveness. He puts forward 12 choices that successful or effective people make in their life.

Suddenly, it struck that Kamini Mathai’s book on AR Rahman, “The Musical Storm” tha t I had read was also talking about the same 12 choices that John C Maxwell has mentioned in his book. Kamini Mathai says that AR Rahman is living those choices. The peculiar aspect is that John C Maxwell and Kamini Mathai are from two different parts of the world, but have come up with the 12 choices in their own unique way. So, I combined the theory of Maxwell and the life of AR Rahman to create my module titled “Talent is never enough, even for the musical storm”.

For instance, I’ll give you 3-4 choices that AR Rahman is practicing that are proposed by Maxwell. According to Maxwell, the first choice one should make is the ability to focus. Talent is God given, and the case is same with everyone; we have no say in that. Unlike most other talented musicians, AR Rahman has made the choice to focus. Kamini Mathai says, AR Rahman was so involved into what he was doing, even at the early stages of his career that if one had to make him talk other than music, one had to force him. There is an incident quoted in the book, when AR Rahman was working for the musical maestro Ilayaraja; while other players went out during the tea breaks, AR Rahman was practicing on and on, so that his fingers became much better on the instruments than other talented fingers; he was working for 18 hours a day. Even in the recent times, in one of his interviews he says, “If I’m listening to Tambura, and playing another raga, and if there is another thought, I go flat”, and he goes on to say, “I constantly cleanse my mind, and keep it empty”; this is a choice. If we develop such capability to focus, though we cannot make music, we can do better, in whatever we do. If we can completely get lost into whatever we do, then we can excel; that is what John C Maxwell says, and that’s what AR Rahman does.

I did another metaphor on teamwork using live concert. Eventually, I attended a concert of AR Rahman at Chennai. The way it was conducted astonished me. There were about 200 to 300 people on the stage and I learned that those 300 people were working for three months to put 3 hour show on the stage, “300 people, and 3 months of work, to put 3 hour show!” Those musicians on the stage are the best ones of the world, because they are very competent as well as competitive and work hard; the attribute that fetched them a place to work with AR Rahman. 100 of them worked together as a team. Organizations also are exactly like that with highly competent and highly competitive people working together as a team, only then the organization will do well.

Nevertheless, this is not happening on the concert,but this is happening in organizations; why is it happening? The theme is this; the concept of teamwork is the same in the concert as well as in any organization. The concept is same, but the difference is that on the stage, during a concert, if the musicians are not working as a team it will be seen immediately; the song will fall flat immediately. Whereas, the organization, if you are not working as a team with all the people, the effect will be seen after sometime, say 6 months; whereas, in a concert, the effect will be seen in half a second. Because, the musicians know they cannot fall. Somehow, they blend together, even if they don’t attend a program on teamwork. Perhaps, we should learn the principles of teamwork from a concert.

Dr. Ravi Thilagan concluded with a famous quote of AR Rahman about criticizing others or finding fault with others:

“I have no time for that because I’m constantly evaluating myself; I have no time to evaluate others” that is perhaps must be his strength also; his self-understanding must be very high.