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Defining Greatness

Some people achieve greatness, some people are born into greatness and there is yet another class of people who have greatness thrust upon them. This has been the general understanding of mankind down the centuries, but a closer study will shed certain lights on the common thread that runs through these broad categorizations. The yardstick to measure or even to define what greatness is may differ from culture to culture and at different point of time in man’s history. What is deemed to be great or something extraordinary in the West may be interpreted as something insignificant in the East or may even be viewed as something which borders on the obscene. It is the same too in man’s history.

The Nehruvian idea of socialism or a system of Government, which does not believe in the market economy no longer have any takers today with even communist China abandoning its socialist model and coming very close to what is generally known as Capitalism or a market driven economy. Karl Marx attained immortality in the eyes of many Left wing champions because of the period in which he lived, when the industrial revolution was on in full swing in particularly in Europe and machines started replacing men at the work place. This naturally meant a growing trend of unemployment and the emergence of two distinct class of people, the haves and the have nots.

Marxists have termed the rich and the wealthy or the capitalist as the Bourgeoisie class while the impoverished lot came to be known as the Proletariat. Seen against this backdrop it is easy to understand why the term Capitalism or the Capitalists were interpreted as something obscene or dirty in certain parts of the world and at certain point of time in man’s history. This perception has today been turned on its head and what we see is the emergence of a market driven global economy. Hitler too may not have been able to climb the ladder to the top if there was no Treaty of Versailles or if he had not discovered the master of propaganda in Goebbels.

The logic behind us citing these examples must be clear to all those who have understood the finer nuances of the opening sentence of this editorial. Just as there are different yardsticks to measure greatness as well as the factors of the era, there are forces or factors at work under which greatness comes to be associated with an individual or an event. Mahatma Gandhi was one man who achieved greatness and yet at the same time we may also say that the world may not have seen the Mahatma if there were no Apartheid in South Africa or if the East India Company from England had not landed on the soil of India. In short, greatness cannot exist in a vacuum and there are numerous co-related factors at work that go to make a person or an event great.

In a few days time, to be precise on November 2, the world will be told the story of how a young woman has been on a fast unto death agitation since 2000 demanding the complete repeal or revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from the State, following the now infamous Malom massacre, when ten civilians were mowed down in indiscriminate firing by troops of Assam Rifles. The story that the world will get to hear is the tale of a lone crusader, who has been quietly waging a battle for the last ten years, without eating or drinking anything.

It is another matter that this young lady, Irom Sharmila, has been kept alive through nose feeding by the Government all these years. Greatness is what this young woman has achieved and herein lies the question of whether the world or even Manipur would have heard of a Sharmila if the Government of India had not adopted an Act enacted by their erstwhile British ruler. Would November 2 be of any significance if the Assam Rifles personnel had not opened indiscriminate firing, and killing ten innocent civilians in the process?

These questions are relevant when viewed against the understanding of greatness that we have raised and this is the time to realize why Sharmila is special or why she has attained greatness. First let’s acknowledge and remind ourselves that it is not Sharmila alone who have had to suffer the ugly face of AFSPA but the 25 lakh odd population of Manipur as well as the people of Kashmir, but unlike the rest, Sharmila did not take things lying down and the manner in which she has responded to the situation makes her special.

Likewise, the world witnessed the Mahatma because he chose to respond in his own inimitable style against a system which went against the principles of humanity. Same is the case with Hitler, who gained notoriety because he could not exorcise the demons in his mind. Ultimately it basically boils down to the question of the inherent character of the individual involved or concerned and how one responds to a particular incident or a system in vogue during a specific era. This is what separates the greats from the ordinary and this is what sets Sharmila apart from the rest.

Any medical science student will be able to easily explain how fasting means totally cutting off one of the five senses man is gifted with-taste and smell. It is not only about refusing to let a morsel of food down one’s gullet, but it also means being bereft of the ability to get the aroma of a Ngari being gently roasted over a slow fire. Think about it. Sharmila, as we had said earlier, has already won the battle, whether Delhi repeals AFSPA from Manipur or not. She has shown her true mettle and there is nothing more to prove. We also do not have the apt word to hail her single minded resolve.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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