It’s done again!” exclaimed a reader. “This time at the entrance of her newly built impressive mansion, not one but four statues of hers gazing in four directions!” He sounded excited and offended while reacting to the latest achievement of the supremo of a party. “Isn’t a living leader making her own statues absolutely indecent?” he asked.
“Indecent to whom?” asked this writer. The reader’s three-minute-long effort at defining his anguish could be summarised as a few questions: Is it not ridiculous that one should impose one’s illusory importance on one’s own as well as the future generation? Doesn’t such a tasteless deed amount to contempt for the people’s taste? Is it not for the posterity to create and adore a statue of one to whom it felt beholden?
I answered him in a lighter vein that the leader may be compassionately trying to unburden the future generation of their holy responsibility!
But the issue surely merits some reflection, for, however odd it might seem, if one does not use public money on such a fancy, his/her indulgence is neither a moral nor a legal issue. It is one of the umpteen ways in which we satisfy our ego, though more crude. We may feel embarrassed thinking of the impression the show was likely to create in the minds of visitors from abroad. Never mind; the impression some of our leaders give them speaking on India’s domestic problems while abroad would have adequately prepared them to look upon such monuments, along with Taj Mahal, Ajanta, etc., as picturesque facets of our “Incredible India”.
But I read in it a clean innocence;if the maker of the phenomenon terms it as an exercise in self-confidence, it may not be hyperbole, because similar deeds by the doer must have yielded result earlier; we the people of this vast democracy have sections among us who are impressed by sheer pomp. We are accustomed to worship idols of Gods and Goddesses. The same awe may be stirred in many when they look at the statues of our living leaders. And the leader stands thrilled beholding himself as a deity.
We can see the play of innocence also at a deeper plane. According to psychologist Otto Rank man satisfies his craving for immortality in four ways: he hitches his wagon to the star of an ideology which, he knows, will survive him, or creates a splendid work of art that should outlive him or simply leaves offspring behind through whom he imagines his own continuity. Fourthly, there are people who trust in the immortality of their soul.
Now, we can add to the list a fifth law: some satisfy this urge by installing their own statues. What we know in history beginning from the ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian traditions till our time is that no monarch had excelled Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 (receiving more votes than the number of voters!) and rapidly used the country’s resources to become probably the richest man in the world, in return gifting the natives his statues numbering two thousand. They glittered till 30 May 1961 when he was assassinated while, according to the author of The Tyrants, Clive Foss, “while heading for the house of his current girlfriend”.
That should remind all statue-seekers what the Roman statesman Marcus Cato said back in the 3rd century B.C., “I had rather men should ask why no statue had been erected in my honour than why one has!”
It was wise of the aforesaid leader to install the fresh batch of her statues in the safety of her own compound. Thanks to our current state of political environment, several statues of noted personalities have been disfigured or discoloured in the recent past. Alas, unpredictable are the ways of our desires and yearnings. There is a story about a leader, Sharmaji who, while in a seat of power, had indirectly inspired his followers to erect his statue at a prominent spot.
As time passed he was demoted to the station of a forgotten demi-hero and the spot sporting his statue too lost its eminence. Meanwhile statues of new gods had sprung up in the city. A time came when a gang of anarchists began damaging the statues and Sharmaji feared the fate of his own. Using a fake identity he alerted the authorities about their duty to safeguard his statue, but was assured that the anarchists were after the statues of national leaders only!
Frustrated, one moonlit night he visits the desolate spot stealthily and is thrilled to see three or four figures approaching his statue. But to his disappointment, one of them only climbs his statue to survey a nearby bank behind a wall. As the gang retreats, Sharmaji yells at that them challenging them to answer if the statue did not deserve their attention. Taken aback, the fellows throw a bomb towards his hiding spot; it explodes on his statue made with inferior stuff and it crumbles to pieces. Sharmaji returns home and lives his statueless days in peace.
That may not happen to all. Here is a suggestion: we have helpline for those feeling a passion for suicide. Can’t there be one for those suffering from an irresistible passion for having a statue? It should only recite Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ to them:
“I met a traveller from an antique land/Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone/Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,/Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,/And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,/Tell that its sculptor well those passions read/Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,/The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:/And on the pedestal these words appear:/‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:/Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’/Nothing beside remains. Round the decay/Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Eminent author and recipient of several awards including the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship