So there we are in a village in Tamil Nadu when someone asks the question what is logistics? How can it transform our lives? As ever, we search for a bit of local context to make the point …
Hinduism has 330 million or so divas (gods); those knowable aspects of the formless phenomenon, Brahma. Some personify natural phenomena, evil forces or even a disease; some are humans deified and others, the local deities of a town or a village. The gods are many headed , many limbed and often fantastical but despite this superficial polytheism there is an underlying belief in a single deity that drives the rest.
The Gods appear as pairs … [hang in there, we will get to Logistics in a moment] … and the male aspect needs the female, his shakti (consort) to be complete. And each god and goddess has a vahana, a creature considered the vehicle on which they ride.
The most important gods are the trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva embodying the cycle of Creation, Preservation and Destruction. Brahma, seated on a lotus, has the vahana of a goose or swan – though he is rareyl seen. Vishnu’s vahana is Garuda, a man-eagle and, his shakti Lakshimi, the goddess of wealth, rides around on an elephant. Shiva’s vahana is Nandi, the bull.
And then we have Ganesh, or Vinayaka in Tamil, the elephant headed logistician par excellence. This is the much vaunted son of Shiva and Parvati. Even the gods must worship him before they embark on any task, for he is the remover of obstacles. Any journey, performance, business venture or any Hindu celebration or ritual must begin with a prayer to Ganesh; whose vahana is a rat.
The rat, mushika, was caught to be Ganesh’s vahana as a symbol of crushing endless useless thoughts – that multiply like rats in the dark. And, working with Ganesh their other attributes add to his strength. For example, rats can gnaw through most things and enter even the tiniest of crevice thereby adding to Ganesh’s ability to destroy any obstacle. Ganseh and his vahana could be the logistics diva par excellence.
As the assistant or attribute of a god, the vahana serves the function of doubling his or her powers. And this is where the logistics parallel emerges – an ability to combine physical, financial and information flows to take even the humblest box from end-to-end better, cheaper and faster. Crucially, to remove obstacles as we progress and never give up.
But perhaps the clincher is the old Jain story of the elephant. Five blind men wanted to find out about this magnificent creature. Each one approached and felt with his hands that part he found within reach. One felt the trunk – “it is like a snake”; the next, “it is like a wall”; the third, feeling the tusk, was convinced: “it is like a pole” and the last one grabbed the leg and yelled: “you are all wrong, it is like a pillar”. Finally, a wise man arrived to enlighten them. You are all right, within your own reach; a full understanding of the elephant (or India, or a supply chain) comes with the perception of the whole as the sum of its parts.”
So much for the physical movement of gods …