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. A failure to admit changes in there organisations’ eco system. The good clueless idealist who did not or could not or would not see the looming iceberg. Of course this person will go down with the ship (note the Titanic reference). The heard of elephants in the room just build and builds. There is always the climatic event when the back breaks. The tradition of these tails demand that one one can agree what that moment is.
Of the cast of minor characters there are a few. The faithful ones who gave it their all only to get burned. They end up as bitter cynics or wounded veterans. The heroes who kept things going to the very end. The stronger/cleaver ones who rode the waves. After the fall they reinvent themselves. They have the resumes and the contacts to fly higher.
Each tale has its own variations. I have kept to the most general descriptions. Which I have overheard too many times from friends of my parents. The uncles in the palace have stories that are a class of their own. The more 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 that the tragedies of organisations is a purely Sri Lankan thing. No wonder the history of republican Rome seems so familiar. It’s almost Sri Lankan. 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.