Last year, we visited the Indian cities of Hyderabad and Bangalore, introducing Meeting Design to this vast and impressive country. It was an exhilarating and inspiring experience, generating fun and new insights.
During one of our workshops, we presented participants with a design assignment. They had to show a format design for a situation which required leadership. One of the groups came up with a fascinating solution: they enacted a Rachabanda, a typical meeting every Indian knows (of course, we didn’t…). Its purpose is that of solving controversies, especially in rural communities. A Rachabanda takes place underneath an ancient banyan tree or strangler fig. Stone benches stand around the tree trunk. They are the rightful place of the village elders. The parties to the controversy – the complainant, the presumed culprit and anybody else involved – gather under the tree, explain their version of the issue and their interests. The village elders hear everyone out, deliberate in public and in the end decide how the matter is to be resolved, in the best interest of all.
It works a bit like a court hearing in the West, but with more wisdom and a lot less formalities. In India, everyone knows how the Rachabanda works, what is the appropriate behaviour and the appropriate role for all the people concerned. It is a perfect example of what we call an Elementary Meeting. The banyan and the stone benches are the markers that help to generate that behaviour. (You can find an extensive explanation of Elementary Meetings in our book “Into the Heart of Meetings.”)
During our last weekend in India, we had the privilege of visiting the village in the countryside where our Indian counterpart Vishala Reddy had grown up. And indeed, in a relatively central spot in the village we found the banyan tree surrounded by the benches: the site for the Rachabanda.
The day before we left, we checked out the highly modern Bangalore Exhibition Centre, as the possible venue of a couple of meetings we would be working on. Outside one of the huge exhibition halls, we found what you can see in the picture accompanying this blog. Doesn’t that look like…? Yes, it does, doesn’t it?
The Director of the Exhibition Centre explained that they had several of these banyan trees on the grounds. When building the centre, they had kindly moved and re-planted them because they were in the way of some of the halls. They had even constructed the benches around them!
When asked if they ever used these trees on the grounds for Rachabandas, the Director looked very puzzled. He didn’t really give me a clear answer and that left me equally puzzled.
Controversies exist in urban life, too. Similar to the ones Rachabandas solve in rural communities. It was hard to believe that no-one had ever thought of using these wonderfully specific meeting venues right there in the Exhibition Centre for solving business issues. They had a gold nugget on their grounds but they seemed unaware of it. Or perhaps there was something I was unaware of…