Have we become a jaded nation, suspicious of
placing role models on pedestals? Or, are we making heroes out of
non-entities? Sheila Kumar tries to look beyond the cynicism that
pervades the day.I’m conducting an experiment. I start
with my neighbourhood, then move in concentric circles to the world at
large. This experiment consists of one question I ask the people I meet.
Who is your hero?
The answers come thick and fast, sluggish and slow, off the top of the head and well considered.
“I don’t have a hero. They are all frauds.” This from Venkatesh, all of 14 years old.
“No heroes for me. I used to admire Arvind Kejriwal, but he promises more than he delivers,” says Meena, 46.
“What do we need heroes for? We are doing okay without any heroes, thank you,” says Imtiaz, 24.
used to have role models, heroes. Then I started hearing things about
them, each and every one of them. All my heroes turned out to have feet
of clay,” muses Ajit, 43.
Sharada, 38, begins by asking, “Heroes? In
this day and age?” Thinking for a bit, she says, “I’m not sure I have a
full-on hero. I admire different qualities, different strengths in
I then turn to the Internet, ask a random selection of people the same question. The answers do not surprise me any longer.
Mahatma Gandhi, says one, then adds that ‘the whole experiment with celibacy thing’ put him off.
Bhagat, respond at least three people. However, it is not his writing
skills they admire, but his ability to make big money.
Hazare, say two respondents, and then get into an online argument about
how he frittered away everything he had going for him. A few lines down
and it is clear Anna Hazare is no hero to either of the two.
The current Pope, says one man, then feels impelled to add that he knows next to nothing about Pope Francis.
answers also run the gamut of the frivolous: Salman Khan for his
six-pack; Amitabh Bachchan for his voice; Deepika Padukone for her gams.
as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is a person who is admired for his
courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities.
An unassailable need
This brings one to the question: do we need a hero?
is Mathew George, 51, on the subject: “Well, we need reference points
to avoid being self-referential. Being self-referential is like being
dead, no change, whereas reference points which are high up and at a
vantage point, broaden one’s point of view. Heroes can be those
reference points. Heroes can cause us to aim higher and raise ourselves
to be the best we can be. So yes, we do need heroes.’’
Menon, 22, echoes the sentiment. “I think we need heroes,” she says.
“The ones who leave you with some magic or hope to aspire to do
something worthwhile. The world is so steeped in apathy that you need
people who push you out of that zone. Like they say, you need to be
‘bewitched, bothered and bewildered by life again.’ Only a hero you look
up to can make you do that.”
So, it’s not a paucity of heroes
actually, that the nation is suffering from. People have their heroes,
but they largely seem cavaliers with caveats. We are, consciously or
unconsciously, setting up transitory heroes, focusing on one aspect of
their personalities, their abilities, their success stories. These are
heroes of the moment.
More jeers than cheers
again, that is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a cynical wind that is
blowing through our nation. Battered and buffeted as we are by scams,
scandals, acts of violence, acts of injustice, we feel collectively let
down. Let down by our politicians, our bureaucrats, our judges and
godmen. Let down by the system. Condescended to by those who have
garnered more money, more power than us. Ignored or shooed away by those
we turn to for help. Our government has failed us, a large section of
our media has failed us. The very fabric of society is fast changing, we
are grappling with the business of living. What price heroes, then?
all our holy cows have stumbled and fallen, one by one. Everything we
believed in, everything we still, secretly or otherwise, believe in, has
come under siege. As we see the depredation and degradation of core
values all around us, we withdraw, pulling cloaks of skepticism and
pessimism around us. Cynicism has ridden in where heroes fear to tread.
journalist with an admirable ability to use words for change in
society? We hear that he’s preyed upon a young colleague, and worse,
rumours abound of slush funds.
That stout pillar of broadcast media? We find out she’s in cahoots with tainted politicians.
You admire a sportsperson, only to read one day that he’s being hauled up in front of the ethics committee.
writer whose works you so like? Turns out she’s involved in a scam that
involves bulk buying of her books to push them up the bestselling
Time and again, our heroes stand exposed. After a while,
it becomes easier not to have a hero. It becomes far easier to jeer than
cheer. After a while, even as you admire an individual, part of you is
waiting the inevitable denouement that you know will follow, sooner or
There is a pendulum momentum at work here. A people with
few heroes tend to deify those few heroes. See how we elevated Sachin
Tendulkar, admittedly a great cricketer, to the status of a god? Worse,
how we lavish praise on people for doing their job well? What we are
actually doing is, revealing how starved we are of people to look up to.
Hero for a day
again, it’s a whole new world out there now. It’s a whole new world in
India itself. A full 65 per cent of the population is under 35, which
means a section of society is finding itself having to adjust to those
younger to them, of having to keep up with gizmos that come with
built-in obsolescence, to live in a time when the loud and lewd seem to
be inheriting the earth. When you need to flaunt it, flash it and brag
about it, even when you may not have it. When attention spans,
linguistic skills and good manners have all given way to expedience,
The argot has changed, the currency of the old
culture is no longer usable. The Young and the Restless. The Bold and
the Brash; these are now sobriquets sans irony. The exemplars of the day
are people whose star dazzles for all too brief a time, then plunges
into complete darkness. After all, nothing has staying power any longer,
so how can heroes survive? And some of those people are so mediocre,
the very act of making them heroes is an act of unintended irony. The
Page Three heiress who works in her father’s Fortune 500 firm. The
playboy who squanders his father’s ill-begotten riches. The foul-mouthed
actors of television reality shows.
It stands to reason that our
obsession with trivia may well throw up trivial heroes. Also, we are
torn between disparaging our heroes and building improbably high
pedestals for them, clean forgetting that heroes are human too and we
need a more balanced view of them.
This is the Age of Offence as
Salman Rushdie put it, everyone is ready to take offence at the drop of a
phrase. This is the day of the lynch mob, on social media and on the
street. The problem is, even as we storm all the citadels that offend
us, we are, wittingly or unwittingly, throwing our heroes over the
A society needs its heroes. People need men and women
of sterling qualities to look up to, to point out to their children, to
try and emulate. Otherwise, we are just savages huddling together in the
Thunderdrome, that bleak, gladiatorial arena first depicted in the Mad
Max III film, and then replicated in many futuristic, apocalyptic films
So, let us pick our heroes, wisely or otherwise. But pick them, we must.