As a nation, we face an acute shortage of genuine heroes - at least the ones cast in the western mould. You know the type, strongest, tallest, swiftest, wealthiest, etc. As demand exceeds supply,we are willing to clutch at any straw, so to speak, and eulogise the most mediocre of achievements. Or, at the slightest provocation, go back to our ‘glorious’ history, selective in our choice of period and events, to delude ourselves that past performance is a guarantee for future success.
And who or what are our role models ? In sports, we still talk of our 1983 World cup victory in cricket, of P.T.Usha missing the bronze medal by a whisker in 1984 at Los Angeles ( in a truncated field, in an event boycotted by the Russian and Communist Bloc countries) or of “The Flying Sikh”- an epithet that only we would confer on an athlete who finished fourth in his race.Sania Mirza making it into the top 50 or reaching the third round of the Australian Open get such hype and mileage in the media as to embarrass even the less-objective and more-charitable reader or viewer.
Six decades after he departed from the scene, we still, at the drop of a hat,need to invoke Gandhi’s name. We romanticize and mythologise Netaji’s heroism and valour, based on folklore and unsubstantiated stories. With not too many sportsmen around to distribute our acclaim, we go into gleeful raptures at the very mention of the name Sachin Tendulkar.We sing paens of praise, idolise him and elevate him to the level of a demi-God . When we need some diversion, we turn to our celluloid heroes for help. The distinction between real-life and reel-life gets blurred and we wallow in an illusionary world, desperately clinging on to our few and far-flung heroes.
But,is there such a vacuum ? Don’t we have anything to showcase ? To be fair, we do. Flip through the Guinness book of Records and you will come across names of Indians who hold the records for sporting the longest beard, biggest moustache, longest nails and for the thickest face make-up ( Kathakali dancers) . We even have one for the maximum distance covered by 'rolling' on the floor. Yes, these are the indigenously-grown heroes, with those unique skills that are homespun and quintessentially Indian.These are the events where Indians reign supreme, having truly and indubitably conquered the rest of the world.
Alas, dark clouds are looming even over this field. In our misplaced complacency, we believed that we dominated this turf. I just read a newsitem last week that an American has entered the Guiness Book of records with the longest eyebrow hair (9.5 cm). I threw up my hands in righteous indignation, when I read this. This was a record that was rightfully ours, but was not to be. The last, nay only Indian bastion has indeed fallen.