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Icons, Not Gods

Icons, Not Gods

May 27, 2011

When we don't let our heroes be human.

“You DO know that Gandhi was a freak right? He used to sleep with women naked!”

He smiles smugly, fully expecting his point would shatter the entire argument I have been making for the past 15 minutes about why Gandhi does deserve to be called the father of the nation.

All I can do is shrug and go “AAAAAAnd your point would be?”

See, I don’t care what did in the privacy of his bedroom. To me it seems pointless and petty, and unless you are discussing sex lives of national leaders (in which case, WHY??), not germane to any issue.What amazes me is the number of people who do care. India has no dearth of icons, of great, creative, strong, determined men and women who dedicate their lives to to a cause or an art. Unfortunately, Some people will insist on making them gods, of deifying them, usually for their own purposes – either to establish themselves as the prime devotees of the deity and exert a level of influence and power over society, or to simply feel good about their own beliefs at a spiritual level.

The problem with making gods out of men lies in the fact that it doesn’t allow them to be men anymore. When the greats and the leaders are found to have certain unsavoury or embarassing habits, when they slip (as human beings do), or when they make half-baked comments and observations outside their domain, their followers work themselves into a positive froth of indignation and condemnation. First, there is a desperate attempt to rewrite history, to simply deny the facts out of existence. Next, there is an attempt to somehow bend and twist the facts to fit into the halo people have created for the person. And finally of course, there is the whole “yeah ok let’s not ever talk about it” – the embarassing gay-uncle-who-went-to-Vegas-and-hooked-up-with-a-porn-star treatment.

All my life I have had a problem with icon-worship. Just because Newton spent half his life studying the occult does not mean I have to believe in the philosopher’s stone. Now, I understand the emotional need to hold on to an anchor, to believe a person is beyond reproach, to feel good and pure because our hero is good and pure. By bestowing all the qualities we perceive to be virtues on them, people aim to be virtuous themselves. Human beings, after all, are creatures of emotion, and logic has little place there.

But here’s how I feel. When my heroes fall, I sometimes admire them more. When I hear about the quirks and unsavoury details about Gandhi, Newton, Satyajit Ray or Terry Pratchett (yes he belongs there. Shut it!), it reminds me that they are not gods, but very much human and I am in awe of what they have achieved and how far they have ascended in spite of having human faults and failings. I admire them for changing the world and touching millions of people with their work. Work that is in no way invalidated by the missteps they took or the questionable beliefs they had or have in certain matters. They inspire me, not by making no mistakes, but by making so many and yet achieving so much. 


  • Rajendra Raikwar
    Rajendra Raikwar
    24.11.11 12:42 PM
    great efforts
  • God
    05.06.11 12:38 AM
    I am here to say that I am dying
    Save me!
  • Deepa
    04.06.11 01:17 PM
    Hi. Liked this post. I think the issue is complex and comes from the ideology that we subscribe to. Eg. this whole debate about Anna Hazare. He's good, he has mobilised an entire nation. Lets put him on a pedestal. He's bad, he has put draconian systems of governance in place in Ralegaon, lets pillory him.

    I like your style of writing. Engaging and humorous.
  • madhav mishra
    madhav mishra
    30.05.11 11:44 PM
    what makes them hero is the ability of normal man to connect wid them because at some point of time thy failed!
  • Amropali
    30.05.11 07:47 PM
    A hero is not a hero because he achieves what he does, he is one because he shows us that what he delivers- hope for apparent 'superhuman' feats.
  • umesh derebail
    umesh derebail
    30.05.11 10:33 AM
    We have a tendency to croon over iconic personalities like a herd, nevertheless it is good to know with their follies they are humans and not demi gods. Good post Anirban
  • Anirban
    29.05.11 11:51 PM
    @ Amar Thanks a lot. Our heroes are much more admirable when they are human, that's what I believe.
  • Amar Jajoo
    Amar Jajoo
    29.05.11 11:30 AM
    Rightly said! It's better to keep humans as humans and appreciate what they've achieved instead of creating them into God-men and then expecting a heap from them! When we keep people as humans we accept their flaws yet admire what they've achieved! :)

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