HOW DO WE DEFINE ‘GREAT’?

Who is a great person?: The dictionary definition is someone who has achieved distinction and honour in some field. For example (clockwise from top-left) Sindhutai Sapkal (popularly known as mother of thousands of orphans), Mother Theresa (Albanian nun, extraordinary social worker), Ela Bhatt (Gandhian who started Self-Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA) in 1972 to help women labour in Ahmedabad), Florence Nightingale (she made a fine art of nursing care against all odds), Adv. Babasaheb Ambedkar (Dalit leader who wrote India’s secular constitution), Mahatma Gandhi (iconic crusader fro civil rights and freedom from British Rule), Nelson Mandela (South African anti-apartheid revolutionary leader) and Abraham Lincoln (abolished slavery in USA)

WHEN all the crocodile tears have been shed can we for a moment pause and think if the former IITian chief minister of Goa, Manohar Parrikar, whom so many adored but later became the king of U-turns really deserved an early exit in his early 60s? He did not! I imagine this is what politics and the kind of politics you practice does to politicians… IITian he was but he also had the ambitious khunoos of his RSS tribe to turn the country around to what it is not and can never be – that is, a Hindutva India.
Except over thousands of dead bodies! At least I hope it never comes to that, my dears. The dream of a Hindu or rather Hindutva (politicized, militarized connotations) Ramrajya is a just that. Euphemistic dream in today’s life and times. And what is Ramrajya anyway? Is Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi anything like our imagined perception of religious mythology’s King Ram, purshottamdas maryada, husband to the devoted Sita?
Did Manohar Parrikar measure up to our understanding of Hindu religious mythology’s King Ram?
Even if religious mythology rings with a touch of history from misty remote times when monarchies held sway over royal and common people, in times steeped in patriarchal hegemonies and perpetual warfare? Say Hinduism has truly evolved into something more sane in today’s modern-day India — we have imbibed a democratic spirit, the best of all political systems of the world giving a fair playing field to all residents of Mother Earth.
A just way of living in a civilization which seeks happiness for all…in pursuit of excellence, right, atithi devo bhavo, sabka saath-sabka vikas and the rest of the sub-continent’s history (keeping in mind world history too in recent times leading up to the present). We have the best reasons in the world to be more educated, kinder…but do we wish all happiness only for a Hindu majority and not minorities too integrated in the waft and weft of our civilization? Look at the myriad contributions courtesy our minorities who have enriched our life in contexts ranging from the cultural to literary to spiritual…culinary, art and crafts, health, and more!
Remembering all this can the majority be happy at the expense of minorities’ singled out for mayhem, hateful violence perpetrated on them for reasons and issues petty and long gone with the wind? I’m thinking about all this these days and it brings me to the question, how do we define the word “great”? Who is great? How loosely and easily we use the word, peppering our conversations with it…Manohar Parrikar was great? Sorry, not for me. When I think great I think Abraham Lincoln (even if he was mean to his wife)!
Mahatma Gandhi is great (he too demanded much from his wife by today’s standards and had his shortcomings), Martin Luther King, Che Guevera, Nelson Mandela, Ramurthi Iyengar… Siddharth Gautama Buddha is great (as is Nichirin Daishonin of the Nichirin school of Buddhism)…and a whole host of women I rate as great: Florence Nightingale, Marie Curie, Helen Keller, Mother Theresa, Ela Bhatt, Sindhutai, the list is long. This is just to say let’s not abuse the word “great!” Very few politicians I can think of are really great.
I LIKE my Hinduism, my dears, but not the politicized Hindutva version we have been exposed to for the last five years under the Narendra Modi regime — so much so we now have a Modi India and a Rahul Gandhi India (for whatever it is worth, never mind if the Rahul Gandhi family is not related by blood to more famous `Father of the Nation’ Mahatma Gandhi). Or are there several versions of India….say as in original Mahatma Gandhi India, say in Indira Gandhi India, or Lal Bahadur Shashtri India, I would even say former President Abdul Kalam’s India…come to today’s Narendra Modi India and Rahul Gandhi India.
To be honest, these days I think in terms of Kanhaiya Kumar’s India (it comes closest to Mahatma Gandhi’s India) which holds out so much sweet promise of boosting democratic thinking anew! Politics is not my cup of tea but it is becoming one regardless of whether I like it or not. The quality of the politics we practice in and out power affects us all high up or low down. This is to say may Kanhaiya Kumar’s India, which is a forward looking India, rescue us from the obsolete, backward looking, raking-up-old-ghosts, bleak and vengeful Modi’s (or Nathuram Godse’s) India in the ensuing elections around the corner. What will it take to make peace with Modi’s India? Please put on your thinking caps individually and collectively and think hard. Why do I feel as if the worst is not over yet?
TO move on to another subject a friend asked me what books I keep next to my bedside! What a question, but here’s the current list: For a while now I’ve had Peter Wohlleben’s ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ (trees can teach us many things of value); I have a ‘Basics of Buddhism’ (a Bharat Soka Gakkai publication); a book a dear friend parted with — ‘The Magic’ by Rhonda Byrne, all about how to wake up grateful and sleep gratefully as in I’m still alive and kicking, I can open my eyes and see, I can walk, I can talk, I can enjoy the trees, I have a few friends…never mind if my relatives leave a lot to be desired! Bless them for breaking my heart. I have enough money in my pocket to be happy today and tomorrow and after that mahadeo may take care of me. You get it?
And I have ‘My Grandmother’s Tweets’ by Geeta Gopalakrishnan which is all about stories inspired by Tamil poet Avvaiyar’s ancient wisdom in every Tamil household…I think every Indian family should invest in this delightful collection of easy to appreciate real life stories, it’s kind of bible for our modern day life. I’m utterly attached to grandmother’s tweets now. As a civilization we need to go back to time-tested old-fashioned values and not sneer and laugh at them…it is the real way forward!
On that note it’s avjo, poiteverem, selamat datang, au revoir, arrivedecci and vachun yetta here for now!

— Mme Butterfly

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