I was talking to an elderly lady whose late father had been an officer in the British Raj. In his library, she had come across a book about a certain Indian politician of the past century. She spoke highly of this man and assumed that he was still regarded as someone on a pedestal in India. Now I had grown up listening to several school speeches on his many virtues. He was known literally as ‘the great soul’, the Mahatma. The teachers at school composed and sang songs about his greatness. As idealistic undergraduates, we celebrated his birthday in the college hostel. Roads around the country are named after him. My grand-uncle fought for freedom under his instructions. My great-uncles named their houses after him. More recently, I had been repulsed reading the vitriol spewed on him by a foul-mouthed leftist poet who sang the praises of his contemporary leftist politician in the same breath. Then I had chanced upon the truth about both of these politicians who had been hailed as leaders in their time and wasn’t sure who was the worse of the two.
Naturally, I did not mention any of this to the lady who appeared to have a rather romantic view of the British Raj. I merely said that notwithstanding the ideals that fake historians had attached to this man’s name and despite his many statues that clutter many parts of the world, everyone now knew who and what he really was. For a politician the very mention of whose name evoked a kind of halo in the air, the chap had very few fans left in the country. At which this woman looked nonplussed.
This conversation reminded me of a poet who had been one of my heroes in a past life. I never cared much for his pedestrian prose, but his poetry had once connected to me like nothing else had. Through the influence of my Professors and classmates, I had come to see this poetry too for what it was. A few years ago, I used to attend literary festivals across the country just to hear him speak, though I stopped after the third one, having found that his interviews focused more on personal anecdotes rather than literary discussion, besides being tediously repetitive. Recently I was sitting in a pub with friends and someone mentioned that this poet was speaking at the Sheldonian, which was a few hundred metres away. It didn’t seem relevant anymore, after being exposed to the work of a hundred other writers who are better and greater than him.
It appears that there can be no heroes in the age of the internet.