One lives in hope of becoming a memory.” Is that true? Do we live our today with an eye on how tomorrow treats us? If we’re honest, many of us do. But since few of us can build a marble memorial on the bank of a river, we try and build our Taj Mahal in our offspring instead. The more creative souls among us strive for posterity by writing books, making music, producing films, generating works of art. Others collect patents for their innovations, scientific or otherwise. But is that enough?
Whom are you thinking about today? Whom will you remember tomorrow? Will it always be the same person? No, it won’t, for sure. People, dead and alive, pop in and out of our consciousness faster than a poltergeist. Even the memories of those we once loved desperately, and thought we could not live without, blanch with time. We don’t ever forget them, or love them less, but distance makes the heart go fainter. Then there are those whom we adore from a distance—the actors, writers, painters, innovators. Their creations, long after they are gone, still bring them to mind, but only if the one in the thrall of the memory is a fan.
So is there any surefire way to ensure that a person’s memory abides? To one with no interest in literature or poetry, Shakespeare is merely the name of a Sarani in central Kolkata, just like Subramania Bharati is the fastest way from Delhi’s Khan Market to Lodhi Road. Maybe that’s it. Given that a memorial guarantees a certain degree of remembrance, if only for that fleeting moment in time when you come upon it, maybe roads (owing to their names) make the best memorials.
There are varied reasons why we establish memorials. The small entities, like a wall of framed photographs or a bench in a temple or gurdwara, are put up as a way of coping with the overwhelming grief felt following the death of the beloved one. Big structures, like India Gate in New Delhi or the Tawang War Memorial in Arunachal, are created to remind people of an event, and to shape future generations’ understanding of the history of that time.
In India, besides the smritis created to commemorate our political leaders at Rajghat, most memorials take the form of statues. It’s not just our gods whom we idolise. From Rana Pratap astride his beloved Chetak, to Nehru to Gandhi to MGR to Ambedkar, we have statued memorials for all of them.
Which is probably why when I read that a loyal British aristocrat had commissioned a monument to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, I immediately envisioned a giant, gowned statue wielding a bejewelled sceptre. Only to discover—much to my surprise—that the Elizabeth Landmark will be in the shape of a 180-ft steel column that’ll merge with the “rugged and undulating landscape” of the Northumberland countryside in which it will sit.
Its creator Simon Hitchen says the memorial’s industrial look will reflect the economic history of Northern England, which once hosted bustling coal and iron mines, and thereby honour the countryside over which the Queen presides. How’s that for a memorial with a difference? Fitting, I guess, for a lady of mettle.