Why do we need heroes? Or villains? Why are our films, our epics based on battles between sharply divided halves of good and evil? Why do we idolise certain people, ignore or revile others? Maybe because we seek to understand this world via simple metaphors. We idolise heroes because they inspire us. Today however, the inspirational quality of a hero is not as important as his marketability. Before the information explosion, our heroes were not sold to us by the media and reams of airbrushed prose. They were created by what they did and how their actions impacted us. We knew why Gandhi attracted a sea of followers. He quietly brought into our hearts, an idealistic vision of our nationhood and ourselves and that is what we took to battle against the British. Yes, there really was a time when our heroes were self-made and not fashioned out of hype.
And the heroes we have today? A popular film star accused of a hit-and-run accident has a following that makes his films into Rs 100 crore runaway hits while a freedom fighter and a patriot like A K Hangal died unsung.
Today, the making and unmaking of heroes is not a natural process. The profusion of media platforms selectively build up public images and mass manage perceptions about people who can afford to hire image managers who in turn infuse carefully selected information bytes into newspapers, magazines, websites etc. So we come to believe what we read, hear or see over and over again. So a certain actor is an intellectual with his heart in the right place. Another actor is a humanist despite a jail term to his discredit. No one wants to put tough questions to people with influence and clout.
In a recent NDTV interview, a certain superstar refused to answer any questions clearly, insulted the interviewer with a statement like, “Aasmaan se utari ho kya?” (Have you descended from the heavens?), asked for green tea right in the middle of the conversation and almost obstructed his co-star from airing her views clearly. Was he pulled up for that? Not really because he went on to deliver this year’s biggest hit film and you cannot mess with someone who can generate that kind of profit at the box office.
How is it that unresolved tragedies like the Bhopal gas disaster, multiple scams, the 1984 killings in Delhi, crimes against women, murders of whistle blowers, vanishing forests, relentless mining of natural resources, tribal rights, the ever increasing number of street children, farmer suicides do not occupy our national mindscape as much as Sachin Tendulkar’s current batting form, the latest film in the Rs 100-crore club, the number of followers Amitabh Bachchan gathered on the day he joined Facebook and trending topics on Twitter that range from serious to ridiculous? It is because we buy what is projected to us. We let the media and image managers decide who we should follow and who or what is less important.
Do we have heroes amid us at all? Yes, we do. Look at what Mary Kom has achieved despite great odds. Or Girisha Hosanagara Nagarajegowda who brought us India’s first medal at the Paralympics. Look around and you will find quiet trench warriors, fighting for animal rights, sharing their time and resources with the less privileged, taking on corrupt leaders with Right to Information applications. Mothers like Neelam Katara and Chanderpati Berwal who fought corrupt systems to seek justice for their murdered children. Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez who in a nation of passive onlookers chose to defend their girlfriends from eve teasers and paid with their lives. Sabrina Lal who kept fighting for years to put the killer of her sister Jessica behind bars. Govind Jaiswal, the son of an illiterate rickshaw vendor in Varanasi who recently cracked the IAS examination. Nature enthusiast Hari Chakyar who is spearheading Project 35, a mission to plant hundreds of trees across India. And many more Indians who will never be as famous as cinema idols or trending celebrities but are making a difference to our lives with their courage and determination.
Yes, we need heroes. We need them to remind us of our own potential, to show us how we can be the change that we want.
(Reema Moudgil is the author of Perfect Eight, editor of unboxedwriters.com and an RJ)