The art of Executive Summary

It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.
Friedrich Nietzsche

It is easy to ramble on and on to make a point (we maybe guilty of that here and there!) but it takes a lot of effort to condense the message and be to the point. An excellent management consultant is often one who has mastered this art.

Greek mythology has Gods for various professions. If we were to define a God for management consultant, Hanuman would be a shoo-in for that position. We had mentioned a few posts back on Hanuman’s consultant skills. Today we will delve into another excellent example on what we can learn from Hanuman about the art of providing a powerful executive summary!


The Scene

The scene in rAmAyana is a pivotal one. RAma has sent Hanuman to find where SIta is held captive. After many days, Hanuman gets back to where RAma and the monkey warriors are staying. He first apprises Angada – the prince of the monkey clan and the news about Hanuman’s return and him having found SIta eventually reaches rAma, but he wants to hear from the source to be sure. Now, Hanuman comes over to rAma to meet him in person and deliver the news.

Take a moment to imagine this scene. Here is a young guy who is recently married whose beautiful wife has been kidnapped by an evil person. He hires a private investigator to try to find out who has done this and try to get her back. What would be going through his mind?

  1. Where is she?
  2. Is she alive? Has she been harmed in anyway (including potentially sexually)?
  3. Does she still have good feelings towards me (or have I fallen down in her eyes because I could not protect her)?

Valmiki RAmAyana

In Valmiki RAmAyana, these are the questions that rAma asks to Hanuman.

क्व सीता वर्तते देवी कथम् च मयि वर्तते |
एतन् मे सर्वम् आख्यात वैदेहीम् प्रति वानराः ||

kva sIta vartatE dEvI katham cha mayi vartatE
Etan mE sarvam aakhyaata vaidEhim prathi vaanaraah

Where is SIta? How is she disposed towards me? Please tell me everything.

Since Hanuman was the one who actually saw SIta, the other monkeys asked him to respond, to which Hanuman replies,

समुद्रम् लन्घयित्वा अहम् शत योजनम् आयतम् ||
अगच्छम् जानकीम् सीताम् मार्गमाणो दिदृक्षया |

तत्र लन्का इति नगरी रावणस्य दुरात्मनः ||
दक्षिणस्य समुद्रस्य तीरे वसति दक्षिणे |

तत्र दृष्टा मया सीता रावण अन्तः पुरे सती ||
सम्न्यस्य त्वयि जीवन्ती रामा राम मनो रथम् |

samudram lanGhayitvaa aham shata yOjanam aayatam
aagachcham jaanakIm sItaam maargamaaNO diDhrikshayaa

tatra lankaa iti nagarI raavanaasya Duraatmanaha
Dakshinasya samuDrasya teerE vasati DakshinE

tatra Drishtaa mayaa sItaa raavana anthah purE satI
samnayasya tvayi jeevantI raamaa rama manO ratam


With a wish to see SIta, I crossed a hundred yOjanas of the ocean and reached the southern shore.
There at the southern shore of the southern ocean, there is city called Lanka of the evil-minded Ravana.
There, in RavanA’s quarters for women, your chaste wife SIta, keeping you in her heart, was seen by me.

Thanks to translation source: Valmiki Ramayan

Let’s take a few moments to analyze the genius of these words before we move forward:

  • Before RAma were all the monkeys including Hanuman as well as his superiors such as Sugreeva, the king, and Angada, the crown prince. However, when RAma asked a question on the specifics – they respectfully asked Hanuman to provide the details. How many times have we been in C-Suite meetings where there is the lowly developer who has slogged to develop a product not being asked to open his mouth, while the Manager or the Director babbling on as if they did all the work and trying to take credit?!
  • In his “Executive Summary” to rAma, Hanuman first states the objective, then the approach / methodology, and finally the outcome – a classic management approach
  • In the “findings”, he answers all of rAma’s questions in two short sentences, reading rAma’s intentions behind his questions:
    • SIta is chaste (she has not been harmed / assaulted by RAvana)
    • She is still thinking of you
  • The use of word “Drishtaa mayaa SItA” (SIta was seen by me) is a beautiful use of Sanskrit – He could’ve said “I saw SIta”, but doesn’t. The difference is in the humility of the statement. As a staunch disciple of RAma, Hanuman believes that he is simply an instrument in the greater scheme of things. Hence he relinquishes his ego (“I saw her”) and instead simply states that he was a mere instrument in having played his part of conveying the message to RAma of having seen SIta!

Beautiful words indeed! Now, you might be wondering why I am quoting Sanskrit in a Thamizh blog – a potential blasphemy! Fear not!

Kamban’s take

A few posts back, we talked about the guiding principles to consider in translating a masterpiece. As before, Kamban proves without doubt, his mastery in this space. As we saw above, the original text already covers so many nuances. How can one possibly make this any better?

In Kamban’s interpretation, the scene is slightly different. Here, RAma does not ask any question. Instead something else happens.

எய்தினன் அனுமனும்; எய்தி ஏந்தல் தன்
மொய் கழல் தொழுகிலன் முளரி நீங்கிய
தையலை நோக்கிய தலையன் கையினன்
வையகம் தழீஇ நெடிது இறைஞ்சி வாழ்த்தினான்.

‘கண்டனென் கற்பினுக்கு அணியைக் கண்களால்
தெள் திரை அலை கடல் இலங்கைத் தென் நகர்
அண்ட நாயக! இனித் தவிர்தி ஐயமும்
பண்டு உள துயரும் ‘என்று அனுமன் பன்னுவான்.


eiDinan anumanum; eIDi Endhal than
moi kazhal thozhugilan muLari neengiya
thaiyalai nOkkiya thalaiyan kaiyinan
vaiyagam thzhiee nediDu iRainji vaazhthinAn

“kaNdanen kaRpinukku aNiyai kaNgaLaal
theL thirai alai kadal ilangai then nagar
aNda naayaga! ini thavirDi aiyamum
paNdu uLa thuyarum” enDRu anuman pannuvaan.

Hanuman came near rAma. Instead of touching the anklet adorned feet of rAma, he turned towards the southern direction where SIta who – as if a lotus has been removed from its nourishing stem – was held in captivity, and fell to the ground and prostrated in reverence of her before he spoke.

… (there are  couple of verses we have skipped here for sake of continuity)

“I saw the chastity personified sIta with my eyes and identified her by her eyes.
She is in a city in the southern part of the island of Lanka.
So, please get rid of any doubt and worry in your mind”. Then explained further.

Many thanks to primary source of translation – Tamil Virtual University.

We will let that sink for a second. … Ready?!

There are two big deviations from the source here – first, rAma does not ask any question and Hanuman seemingly does some weird stuff and second, the philosophical beauty of Sanskrit (“was seen by me” versus “I saw her”) seems to be lost on Kamban. Or is it?

Non-verbal cues
In Kamban’s interpretation, Hanuman prefers non-verbal cues instead of verbal ones first. Before even uttering a word, he answers rAma’s questions (Is she alive / safe? How does she feel about rAma? Where is she?) by a mere action.

Prostration or sAshtAnga namaskaram (சாஷ்டாங்க நமஸ்காரம்) has a special significance in Hinduism. There are different ways in which you can bow in reverence. sAshtAnga (sa + ashta + anga = with eight limbs) means bowing in such a way that eight limbs (chest, head, hands, feet, knees, body, mind, and speech – according to one interpretation) touch the ground. This specific posture is supposed to be done only to God or those who have Godliness embodied in them by having achieved enlightenment (through devotion, knowledge, or action – broadly translated to be those more enlightened than the person such as parents, elders, and scholars) and are mature enough to know that the reverence is not to them but to the God inside them. This excludes people who are dead (since there is no soul and hence no “Godliness” in a dead person).

So, by this mere action, Hanuman indicates four things to RAma:

  1. He is bowing to someone who is alive (hence SIta is alive)
  2. He is bowing to someone who is Godliness personified – since this action is to RAma, it can only indicate SIta, as no one else can be  more revered than rAma himself.
  3. In turn, this also implies that SIta is still “pure” (not assaulted or more specifically has not changed her mind to be adulterous and is still thinking only of rAma)
  4. SIta is somewhere down south

Having seen this rAma instantly feels relieved (இவன் கண்டதும் உண்டு; அவள் கற்பும் நன்று; எனக் கொண்டனன் குறிப்பினால்  – RAma realizes by this gesture that Hanuman has seen her and that she is chaste / has not been harmed).

Imagine walking into a C-Suite and impressing them without saying a word and making everyone erupt in amazement at the sheer genius you displayed! Reminds us of the George Costanza moment in Seinfeld!

He goes further to confirm rAma’s understanding. The approach is quite different from the classic management technique deployed by ValmIki and instead uses a “Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF)” technique.

First he says that he saw SIta, then he confirms that it’s her, then he gives additional details such as location, and lastly comforts RAma.

A few key things to note here:

  • In the very first words spoken, he is direct in addressing rAma’s concern – “I’ve seen her” – and gets that out of the way – no time for eloquence here. He knows what rAma wants and delivers it right away. This answers rAma’s first question (Is she alive?)
  • Then he says she is chastity personified. This adjective he uses for SIta addresses rAma’s second question (has she been harmed in anyway?). Hanuman understands the internal discomfort of rAma that he cannot ask outright and answers it directly as a matter of fact.
  • We first didn’t understand the word கண்களால் (by eyes / through eyes). First we thought it was just further confirmation that Hanuman saw sIta. But the explanation in Tamil Virtual University is much more eloquent and plausible. The “eyes” here refer not to Hanuman’s eyes, but SIta’s!! Wait, what? What is the proof that Hanuman saw SIta? RAma had earlier described how SIta looks to Hanuman so he can spot her. However, many days had passed since SIta was abducted and so SIta was physically emaciated and mentally exhausted without proper food intake and excessive worry and so she couldn’t be identified by RAma’s physical description. So, how did Hanuman know it was SIta? He knew because he could see RAma in SIta’s eyes (because she was always thinking of RAma and no one else!) The same concept is described in ValmIki rAmAyana (SIta, who has RAmA in her heart), but Kamban has expressed all that in a single word! This answers rAma’s third question (Is she still thinking about me?)
  • Then he goes above and beyond and plants a gem – “remove any doubt and sorrow in your mind”. Like any husband who would have doubts about his wife’s status in an abduction scenario, Hanuman understands that even the mind of most righteous rAma might be gnawed by the doubt of whether RAvana has assaulted sIta and in turn, his helplessness about the situation. So, he addresses both these thoughts in one single master stroke – remove doubt and sorrow (not just sorrow)!

This once again proves the genius of Kamban! He completely re-imagines a critical scene in the original literature that is already a masterpiece and adds his unique touches to the re-imagination, all without compromising the integrity of the story-line and the thought process of the original text!

Modern day ‘scholars’ and self-proclaimed mythology gurus can learn a thing or two (and a lot more) from Kamban!

This post was inspired by an old post from an excellent Thamizh website kaRka niRka (கற்க நிற்க) that recently surfaced in their Facebook site. We do encourage you take a look at their site for some great analysis of Thamizh literature.


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