You must have heard the story countless times. A Sri Lankan builds an institution from nothing. It could be a company, government department, an organisation or a movement. Success makes it significant in its field. Then the vultures descend. Ending in a tragic collapse/demise before its time. What survives is the rubble of forgotten achievements. Choked by the weeds of bitter recriminations from those who care to remember.
Before the fall there is the golden age. A flowering of growth, hope, idealism and toil. The founders are diligent. They delegate. They organise. Even create sane standard operating procedures. Thought impossible in the face of the mad variables of Sri Lankan life. Which makes the high standards of their routine work look like miracles. Making it all happen is a loyal smart often idealistic core of true believers. They give it their all for a higher cause.
On the outside the organisation is held in awe – the acceptable expression of envy. Everyone wants a slice of the glory. To stand in its glow. To say: “I work there”. With its growth come more people. Operations expand with growing complexity.
Then things start to go wrong. Sometimes the rot is slow. Other times it’s a sudden train wreck. The core narrative is always described as a clash of personalities. Grim trails of anecdotes of escalating animosity over petty things. Subordinates are forced to pick sides. Personal loyalties become the sole gauge of any decision.
At this stage the facts become hard to find. Interpretations are clouded by who tells the tale. These are littered with familiar characters. The villain who loots the organisation for personal enrichment. The demon whose ego hijacks the whole enterprise. The zero sum clash of geniuses at the top. Who fail at and/or refuse making vital changes in their organisations’ eco system. The hard working loyalist(s) who did not or could not or would not see the looming iceberg. Of course they go down with the ship (note the Titanic reference). The elephant herd in the room build and builds. Then the inevitable moment: the back breaks. The tradition of these tales demand that no one agrees what that moment was.
Of the cast of minor characters there are a few. The faithful. The idealists, The naive. The heroes who kept things going to the very end. All get burned. Becoming bitter cynics. Or broken survivors. Or scared veterans strengthened by their wounds.
The exceptions are stronger/cleaver/better connected ones. They ride the storm. Or seen early enough to get out in time. Then rise from the ashes of the fall in reinvented selves. Anointed with the oil of evolutions winners : the ability to move on. Plus the LinkedIn profiles and endorsements leading to greater things.
Each tale has its own variations. What I generalised are thing I overheard too many times from friends of my parents. The uncles in the palace have stories that are a class of their own. The common stuff get chatted about at weddings, funerals, dinners, post alms giving lunches and late night veranda chats on outstation strips. Nothing brings out stories like armchairs in the shadows of a moonlit night. Perfumed by Lion Lagers and the crash of waves in the breeze.
I doubt such tragedies are a pure Sri Lankan thing. No wonder the mess of history has a familiar ring.
Have you heard your share of these stories? I hope you are so far lucky like me to avoid experiencing them first hand. The comment box awaits.