Book Reviews


What is worse than desecrating a temple of God? Why, it is constructing a temple for a man that is what is! Indians lag behind people of no other nationality in lionising their leaders, celebrities, fashionistas and iconic sportsmen and women. How far do they go in doing so? Why, they don't hold back and pull out all the stops in expressing their admiration for their idols and icons. Unfortunately, there is no stopping them from going overboard and deifying the men and women they look up to. Did you ask whether it is right to convert mere men and women into mighty monumental figures to take pride of place among the pantheon of numerous Gods and Goddesses that people in India worship? Well, who is to tell what is right and what is not, in matters of mind and heart?

Advent of Gandhi 

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a true leader of the Indian people who had impassively remained under the yoke of colonialism for hundreds of years and before that under the rule of ruthless invaders of Turkic and Central Asian regions. He was but a spark which ignited the passion of patriotism lying dormant in the people, to rule themselves and live as a free people. His unflinching faith in universal ideals like liberty, equality and fraternity and age-old principles such as truth and non-violence, in contrast to his frail physique and frugal lifestyle, spurred an entire generation of Indians into overcoming doubts, inadequacies, and apprehensions in their struggle against the mighty British Empire and reinventing themselves as the proud rulers of their own destiny. In a sense, all that he did was to set an example by leading an austere life characterised by lofty ideals in the course of realising a nation's tryst with destiny. That understandably made him the supreme leader of his times.

Birth of a Mahatma

But did it make him the final authority on whatever he spoke about including spiritual matters and contentious issues like communal harmony and Secularism? Food for thought! His countrymen revered him to the extent of lapping up every word of his as the gospel truth and unquestionable finalities in every sphere of life. Gandhi became a touchstone and a reference point in the Indian political and social circles. The other freedom fighters and political thinkers of his time, holding contradictory views and opinions, were dwarfed by his colossal stature only when they had not been totally eclipsed. He had swept a people who had been languishing in a spiritual and cultural void after centuries of slavery and subjugation by invaders, marauders and unscrupulous imperialists, off their feet by his unique ideology and ingenious ways. He captured their imagination like no other leader immediately before or after him. People's affection and adulation for him swelled up and culminated in a crescendo with the bequeathing of the titles of "Mahatma" and "Father of the Nation" on him.

Temples for Gandhi and Godse 

Gandhi's end was sudden and violent. He was killed by a fellow countryman who claimed that he simply had to do it out of a sense of over drive and love for his country. The assassin paid for the killing with his life. Without prejudice to the unpardonable act of one man taking away another's life, who could question Godse's patriotism? After all the years of the killing of Gandhi in 1948, a group of people have made out a case for building a temple for Nathuram Godse. Despite opposition from the followers and ardent admirers of the "Apostle of Peace," who felt revolted at the outrageous proposition of a temple for the assassin, Hindu Mahasabha has been busy championing its cause. A temple for Godse would make a good contrast to a temple which is already in existence for Gandhi in Orissa, to say the least. Apart from rekindling unpleasant memories and keeping the embers of hatred alive, what other purpose would be served by such temples is a big question mark before dispassionate people whose view is free from the cobwebs of prejudice to the bygone historical events and the personalities involved in the events.

Temples Galore 

There has been no dearth of heroes in modern India who deserved to be deified and have temples constructed in celebration of their glory, aver their fans and followers. Some of the famous personalities in the fields of cinema, sports and politics, for whom temples have been built, are Rajini Kanth, MGR, Amitabh Bachchan, Khushboo, Sachin Tendulkar and a foreign-born Catholic Sonia Gandhi. It is not unlikely that in a vast country like India where the mindset of the people allows emotions to rule the roost at the cost of a woeful neglect of reasoning and rationality, more and more temples will keep coming up with alarming regularity for celluloid heroes and communal and casteist netas.

Temple for Modi 

Although Mr. Narendra Modi has been in active politics and holding positions of power for nearly two decades now, and has been feted and felicitated as a people's leader, someone thought of building a temple for him only recently and went ahead and constructed one in the leader's home state of Gujarat. Mr. Modi was reportedly appalled at the news of the temple and expressed his shock and dismay at the act which he said was against the country's great tradition and culture. He expressed his sense of sorrow and made a fervent appeal to the concerned persons to give up the idea. The state authorities have since removed the 'idol' and asked the developers of the 'temple' to give up its inauguration. Coming closely at the heel of the controversy of Mr. Modi's 'expensive suit' which turned out to be anything but expensive, the absurdity of the latest cause de célèbre, namely the temple episode, has been put to rest.

Mindset of a Temple Builder

What is it that beguiles or bedevils the mindset of the people of India who build temples for mere men and women, no matter how big or great? Is it gullibility, absence of objectivity, lack of education or downright stupidity? In truth, it is none of the above.

If you call the people who built a temple for Sachin Tendulkar uneducated fools, what do you call those who have a decent education, don war paint like some African tribals all over their face, wave the tricolour and dance to the beat and frenzy of music, chants, cheers and yells of adulation at the Cricketer's matches? What do you call those who have christened him the "God of Cricket" or proudly refer to Cricket as a "religion" and not a mere game? What do you call those who deemed it fit to make the reluctant and unwilling Cricketer, who incidentally lacks formal education beyond schooling, a member of the upper house of the Indian Parliament on the sole basis of his spectacular sports career - beacons of wisdom?

Is it only the front-row audience at the cinemas who made Amitabh Bachchan an iconic figure? Why is it fashionable when a Yuppie calls Rajini Kanth "Thalaiva" but not when the front-row audience do so? When starry-eyed young professionals are inspired by a political leader like Narendra Modi, quit their well-paying jobs and join politics, they are supposed to have dedicated their lives to the service of the nation. The poor grass roots supporters of the same leader who do all the ground work of the party and participate in rallies are dubbed misguided youth who waste their time and neglect their families. Why the discrimination and application of different sets of standards to the white collar and blue collar fans and followers? Aren't we a bit too unfair or unkind? How different are the mindsets of these two sets of fans and followers? When it comes to appreciating personalities who are perceived larger-than-life-figures, the fans and followers tend to get carried away! There is a bit of a crazy streak in everyone; a small child hiding in every adult, waiting to burst into the open and drool and scream in ecstasy at the sight of their 'God'. There are no limits, no boundaries, no borders, no bottom lines.....It is hype, hyperbole and superlatives all the way! There is no such thing as modesty or restraint between the hero or star on the one hand and the fan or follower on the other. The same as between a God and the devout!

Leave it to the Object of Worship 

The equation between the worshipper and the worshipped is neither to be ridiculed nor to be scoffed at. The ecstasy resulting from the equation is the new high which is beyond the purview of reasoning and the reward for the exultant worshipper. Somewhere along the line are discernible the contours of a temple through the hazy mist of the joie de vivre. It's for the Object of Worship to exercise his prerogative of self-abnegation and decline the status of immortality being perpetuated on him in the form of a temple, as Mr. Modi did.

There being no room for others in the hallowed precincts of the temple, the outsiders may simply eat their heart out and gloat in their state of obscurity! "There is an enduring freshness in what remains strange and obscure which the clichés of greatness can only evoke nostalgia for." - Bauvard, Some Inspiration for the Overenthusiastic.