To be, or not to be

The way heroes are made and modified has always been a topic of interest to me. On other blog posts here and elsewhere (http://www.theworldisenough.in/2012/08/heroes-are-made.html is one example), I’ve rambled on and on about the topic, and the root for many of these thoughts is ‘The Invasion that never was’, which I was given to read at an age where I still was impressionable :) An entire invasion was apparently fictionalized, and our history thoroughly distorted (though there are others who think the invasion really happened and was reported accurately) within a single generation! Think about it — our entire history, the biggest source of our pride, was distorted by a bunch of over-educated fools who found it fair game.

The same applies for our heroes too. Whether we worship them or vilify them seems entirely dependent on our narrative. Afterall, the image we put up for a hero is what causes future generations to idolize / demonize him / her. The post mentioned earlier was written in 2012. It’s been 4 years, and with age, I should’ve grown wiser. However, I’ve only grown cynical, and I guess that’s often a synonym and an acceptable alternative to appearing wise! We have now had a right wing government in power for over two years, and a whole new bunch of heroes have come into vogue. While that isn’t much of a problem (except for those preparing for quizzes and UPSC examinations!), the real problem is that heroes we’ve grown up idolizing have become like he who must not be named!

Most of India has grown up in an environment where Congress has been presented as the savior, and the people who brought about India’s independence and identity. Along the way, some folk from that party split and formed a different wing, And another, and another. Our civilization has always judged us on the basis of our history, and so they changed their history by bringing in people who weren’t a major part of it till then. Dead people, remember. We keep bringing in people who are no longer alive, and use their history (or distort it) to help create and protect the image we’d like to portray to the world.

After a right wing absolute majority govt was formed at the center in 2014, icons who we were made to idolize were gently (and sometimes roughly) pushed to the side. Gandhiji’s image started taking hit after hit. And it built and built till today I would get skewered if I made a simple statement like ‘Father of the Nation’ on my social media profile. Lesser known heroes suddenly came into vogue. Nehru became a proper villain. The cause for all our troubles. Think about it — his legacy has hit rock bottom 50 years after his death! And is plummeting further.

Chinese whispers isn’t just a party game. It is true, and affects the psyches of entire generations! A normal chap from a rural village who is still in college, tweets obscenities on long dead leaders because it is in vogue, and gets him to be popular!

Going back further, Tipu Sultan was portrayed as a hero of the country, and that image was bolstered further by the eponymous TV series. For the last few years, however, that image has been thrown under a battle tank. Right wing Kannadigas have come out in force with facets of Tipu’s life which weren’t mainstream till then, and it is a fact that most young folk of that region today hate Tipu and if given a choice, would destroy his palaces.

In Andhra, there is a different kind of a malady. Of caste. Sri Krishna Devaraya was treasured as the guardian of culture, language, and heritage for the Deccan. Then a caste took over his persona to bolster their own image, and all the others started finding ways to destroy their newfound fame as descendants of that great king. The result is a broth of half-truths and absolute lies, which, as time goes along, will get embedded in word-of-mouth, and become the basis for impressing the next generations.

In this process, we make heroes out of people who are ill-suited to it. History is replete with examples of folk who destroyed entire generations because they were incapable of handling that responsibility. Every day, our media monster makes new heroes in order to keep feeding the frenzy. Malala became a hero for doing something which wasn’t common in Pakistan. Several others opposed the regime, but it was she who became the poster girl and got a Nobel for it. We made her an icon, added a chapter about her in our children’s books, and put her up on a ‘Great women of the world’ poster. Then she came out last month in support of Pakistan during the Kashmir unrest, and the entire nation went up in outrage against her and called her a fool! We want those chapters removed rightaway.

We are quick to worship, and quicker to loathe!

Human Beings are a weird species. We seldom live in the present. Either we are caught up in the past, or worried about the future. Most actions that we do, we do either to continue a legacy, or to protect our coming days. Creating an image is like building a brand. In order to do that, we pick up stuff from the past, and weave it into a narration which we hope will carry us into the future. In order to do that, if we have to distort actions (and their results), or even to throw long dead people under the juggernaut, we don’t hesitate to do so. A hero (or a villain) is remembered only till his image serves some benefit to the living people. Characters from the past are dug up and polished whenever the present needs them.

All through our childhood, 31st October was Indira Gandhi’s death anniversary. At school, hardly anyone knew it was also Vallabhbhai Patel’s birthday. That was how it was back then.

And today, Narendra Modi tweets about Sardar Patel’s birthday first, and then pays tribute to Indira Gandhi on her death anniversary. With a gap of one minute between them. That minute’s more than enough!

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There is a game conducted in training sessions where participants are allowed to pick up any of the objects in the room and use them to achieve the objectives set by the trainers. We use anything from the past to further us in the present. Our next generations will do exactly that. Our history will always be fluid and flexible, because the history in the books is not the history that people remember. Facts will be overwritten by fiction. Rumors will become legends. Our entire lives’ works will get cast by the roadside as time goes along and there is no longer any need for the image we nourished. Needs change, and history is made to adapt to those needs.

Great is the man who lives a life without caring for what the future generations will think about him.

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