July 30, 2020
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A Race Without Heroes

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A Race Without Heroes

Heroes have survived as an institution in our country and elsewhere. In the west, the cult of heroes runs strong in France, where Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles De Gaulle continue to exercise a hold on the popular imagination. There have been anti-heroes, too, some very attractive ones, but they do not concern us here.

It is said that Bengalis and the French have many things in common. Perhaps. But I recall seeing Brigitte Bardot buying a magazine from a streetcorner news-stand-cum-flower shop on a Paris sidewalk - neither did any heads turn, nor did people pause in their stride. In other words, heroes are assimilated, accepted in the West. With most people busy with their own work, any emotive display in presence of anyone eminent is taboo.

But in Bengal, hero-worship has certainly been carried to outrageous extremes. Things have been blown out of all proportion. It is more like a disease and, in some ways, is more dangerous than aids. Sometimes, average people have been put on a pedestal and many have fallen prey to a pernicious kind of megalomania which would not have happened to them normally.

Now it’s Saurav Ganguly’s turn to ascend the pedestal. I think he has many things to prove, but I also feel he will deliver. Being a fair-minded, intelligent, well-educated person, he runs no risk of attracting bouts of megalomania. Among sportsmen, he comes from a rare breed, the kind that is focused on a win, but never becomes excitable. I must, however, confess to be a mite worried about Saurav and all the hero worship that now surrounds him. I pray he is not overwhelmed by this tidal wave of mindless adulation and keeps his cool - though it is a tall order.

After Tagore, Netaji and Shyamaprasad, no one really lived up, the billing of a hero better than Uttam Kumar at the common man’s level. True, there was Satyajit Ray. His height and deep bass voice seemed physical aids to his creativity and he was never out of media focus. But towards the end, over-adulation at times turned him into a megalomaniac. Some hero-worshipping Bengalis seem to have mastered many things except the work they get paid for doing. Some worship Tagore without having read much of him, just as there are people who pretend to be golf experts without ever having taken a swing with a club! Proud as I am to be a Bengali, I cannot but comment on this. I am only trying to indicate the kind of people one sometimes deals with when talking abut the tribe of hero worshippers - may their tribe decrease!

Saurav apart, there is of course Amartya Sen, who until recently could occasionally cycle his way around the cool, shady ambience of Shantiniketan (a most useful exercise). Until, that is, he won the Nobel. Poor man now has to use a helicopter or a railway saloon every time he comes visiting his mother. The state

government too seems more interested in showing him off as a prize, instead of trying to promote similar excellence in any sphere of life. I personally think Sen would have been better advised to skip some of the official functions and suchlike he has been attending - being an eminent economist he is best positioned to differentiate between a stable and an unstable equilibrium. An excessive and blind hero worship ultimately hurts the object of adulation. To my fellow Bengalis, I, therefore make a humble suggestion: let Saurav get started, instead of working up a shindig before anything has happened. Let us all (especially state government employees) concentrate more on our work, improve our performance and punctuality, and add to our own self-respect. Not only shall we appreciate our heroes more effectively, but better still, will keep on producing them from within own ranks...

(Buddhadeva Guha is a Bengali novelist)

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