Imitating and Following

“What day is it?” I asked as I picked up the newspapers. Jack, my Great Dane, came and rubbed himself against me. Jill, my Siamese cat lay coiled on the sofa.
“It’s today!” said Jack.
“My favourite day,” I said and glanced at Jill.
“Oh, you repeat this every day! Stark plagiarism!! Everybody knows that this was in the Pooh comics. Not the original stuff, huh.” Jill said as she gave us a condescending look. Cats have this habit of cutting you up and then watching your wound. Low on EQ! Fit candidate for interpersonal training, I told myself.
“Not the original stuff,” I repeated. When you repeat the insult, it kind of reduces its sting. It is one way the mind softens the impact. You try to convince yourself that it was not directed at you. And perhaps you store it in memory to shoot back at the appropriate time.
“I also believe in imitation, not just in innovation, my dear! There is great value in being a copycat, if that adjective can be given to men. The Japanese have realised this long back. They build this in their management style. They value imitation and innovation, both.” I responded and looked at Jack triumphantly. Invectives must be countered with reason. It punches them on the nose and silences your bitter critics. This is what my Guru had imbibed on my mind. From personal experience I can tell you that there is nothing like following your Guru. Always produces great results. Impactful.
“Why are you talking of the Japanese? Our own countrymen marvel in imitating. The bazars are full of fakes – or duplicates – or spurious products. I think half of our legal professionals are engaged in fighting fake products cases. And both lawyers as well as fake producers have made good money.” Jack said. If ever there was a dog who could qualify to be called an ass it was Jack. He had a knack of saying the most inappropriate. Here I was building up an argument for the value of imitation a la Palkhiwala but Jack comes in and destroys it in a second. It became necessary to distinguish my point from Jack’s.
“Yes, yes, I see your point. Our countrymen seem to be endowed with great competence in imitation.” I began with a note of agreement. Clever men will know the trick. Begin with a note of agreement whenever you wish to disagree; it is like sugar coating of an antacid tablet. Patient likes it and ailment is cured. “But, Jack, I was referring to the positive aspect of imitation. You do great work somewhere first and then you do similar elsewhere. Don’t spend time ‘reinventing the wheel’ as they say.” I continued, “This imitation is welcome unlike spurious stuff you are referring to.”
“Every imitation should be unwelcome.” Jill thundered with her sharp comment. When Jill speaks everybody listens attentively, for somebody usually comes under her scalpel and one has to make sure that he is not the one. “See what is happening to remakes. They go down in the history as biggest flops ever. Ram Gopal Verma must have learnt his lesson, why can’t others learn from that episode?”
“Hmm… I think you are taking a very extreme view like you do always. I don’t agree.” Jack said. Jack and Jill were permanently opposed to each other. There are some tendencies that are genetic, nothing to do with facts and reason.
“You will never understand this aspect; it is a bit too complex for you. One must do excellent work. And then analyse what made it excellent. Once you understand the factors which contributed to excellence then you have the key. The key to excellence is “understanding,” and not imitation.”
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – you will remember that quote, right? Good work must be imitated. I mean why not? I agree.” Jack registered his dissent. “As they say, one always begins by imitating. That is how all great artists began.”
“Oh, you don’t really understand. The disciple may begin his learning by imitating, and that is where he begins his journey of understanding, and great learners will always be in search for his individuality. That is the path to greatness. Not just imitation.” Jill said with a tone of authority. This is what I like about Jill. She seems to make a pronouncement on everything. She always has a view, a final view, on everything. A hallmark of a cat meandering at one of the management institutes. “Typically this is more evident in the case of musicians. See how Bhimsen Joshi and Hariprasad Chaurasia created excellence in their work.”
“What happens when you join industry? No boss ever likes his junior to show his individuality. That is a fact, an unspoken truth. Promoting individuality of people requires highly evolved and assured person, it is not the job of an ordinary soul.” I observed.
“I agree, there is nothing worse than working with a man who has limitations of intellect and vision. They are unfortunately underdeveloped managers. But I was responding to Jack’s statement.” Jill said. “Imitation is not flattery. It only shows that you understood only the style and not the substance. Those who show understanding will not follow, they will not imitate, and they will follow their understanding. Like Sachin not imitating or following Sunny, yet understanding what it takes to be a great player.” Jill once again pronounced the final verdict.  

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