The Telegraph
Thursday , February 7 , 2013
Since 1st March, 1999
CIMA Gallary


When I was little, I was terrified of a picture of Subhash Chandra Bose, which used to adorn the wall just above the thakurghor shrine at a relative’s place. I was too young to know who he was, and the sight of a formidable man watching over the many idols on the thakurer shinghashon would scare me. When my fear turned so debilitating that I refused to visit that particular relative, I was told that the picture was of a great, selfless warrior, and eventually, I stopped being afraid. However, I could never quite grasp why the picture had to be placed near the shrine. Later, I saw portraits of Rabindranath Tagore, or pictures of Mahatma Gandhi put up on drawing room walls in other houses, along with pictures of family gurus, gods and members of the family who have passed away. In many of these houses, the pictures were ritualistically garlanded. My four-year-old worldview could not decide whether Tagore or Gandhi or, as the case may be, Bose or Swami Vivekananda, was merely eminent, or also holy.

Soon, I was no longer too little to know more about the contributions of these men to the nation’s character. There were films and the television and history books. It was then that I realized that these men, and others, are the ‘heroes’ of the country. I finally understood the rationale behind the place that they were given in those households. Heroes have always been a part of all that is holy in a people’s consciousness. They are seen as ‘idols’ in their own right — icons of a collective consciousness that is proud of its sacrifices. In a country where everything good is sacred, these icons become gods. Indeed, isn’t the country itself seen as a demi-goddess — painted by children as a sari-clad, crown-wearing mother figure? Even the ubiquitous laddoo, or nimki, or any such snack that we used to be given after the August 15 and January 26 celebrations in school were like prasad — commemorative, almost blessed.

Stuck at a traffic signal, some days back, on January 26, I could see one of the many flags hoisted in the area — probably by young men associated with the club in the neighbourhood. At the base of the flag was a picture of Gandhi, half covered in marigold petals. The wall by the flag had been covered by a row of pictures — Chandrashekhar Azad twirling his moustache, Khudiram Bose and Aurobindo Ghosh, among others. The pictures were hazy with age; it wasn’t difficult to guess from where they had been procured. Most para clubs — otherwise little more than carrom-playing and cricket-watching spaces — have at least a couple of pictures of national heroes on their walls. Here, of course, they are not garlanded everyday, but are brought out on Independence day, Republic day, and sometimes the birthdays of some of these idols. Yet, there is an inviolable fondness, an assertion of a sacrosanct respect for these icons. Arrayed in complacent ranks, these great men and women overshadow names of ‘newer’ leaders on election posters, banners and, till sometime back, election graffiti. One wonders which such ‘new’ leader or public figure would be consecrated in public memory in future.