Nothing beside remains
In the quest to memorialise human transience, statues become endowed with unnecessary value—breaking them though, is still hooliganism
When logic is lost one seeks solace in what others wrote long ago. Remember how Browning's Patriot had to ''go in the rain."
A rope cuts both my wrists behind;
And I think, by the feel, my forehead bleeds,
For they fling, whoever has a mind,
Stones at me for my year's misdeeds.
The poet did not have Manik Sarkar in mind but this applies to many such patriots in the past, present and certainly will apply no less in the future. This is just what Yudhishthira told Yaksha. Yaksha had asked, "What is the greatest wonder in the world?" Yudhishthira responded, "Everyday people are dying and reaching the abode of death. Still the living desire to live forever. Could there be a greater wonder?" A leader who wins an election thinks he will continue as long as the sun shines. More than the leader the followers turn assertive, in fact, more than assertive they touch on hooliganism. The toppling of the Lenin statue in Tripura is just an example.
Statues get erected and then remain neglected before turning into ruins, with or without external force. Lenin is just one such personality who passed through the timelines of history before fading into the oblivion of scholastic debates. In fact, the presence of his statue in a geography which in all likelihood was unknown to him and to the residents of the geography, a mere concept shoved down their throat by a ruling political entity, is as much incongruous as was that of Ozymandias, the king of kings. For the uninitiated, it will not be out of place to quote: I met a traveller from an antique land, who said—"Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert.... Near them, on the sand, half sunk a shattered visage lies…. stamped on these lifeless things, the hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; And on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Nothing beside remains."
The great advantage of modern debates is that in the cacophony of varied opinions, mostly irrelevant, and the collective ignorance the core issue remains untouched. The toppling of the Lenin statue in Tripura is an example. The defenders are citing the innumerable similar incidents in Kolkata when the Naxals had been ruling the streets. How they had beheaded the statue of Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar—a great educationist and philanthropist—and elsewhere in the world, how statues were vandalised by irate crowds emerged as the defence argument. While the critics kept citing this as an attack on democracy. One even concluded that Lenin is one of the tallest leaders of the world and toppling his statue is a grave violent act. To sum up, logic remained confined within the narrow self-interest of the commentators. The outrage of some right-thinking persons saw some damage control effort by the winners. BJP president Amit Shah tweeted: "I have spoken to the party units in both Tamil Nadu and Tripura. Any person associated with the BJP found to be involved with destroying any statue will face severe action from the party." Had this come in the wake of the news break this would have been more appreciated. In any case, better sense is welcome even if it comes late. Even Prime Minister Modi figured in the news for condemning such incidents. The point that can humble leaders, even if they are culturally far removed from Shelley, Browning or Vyasdev, is the unavoidable truth that what goes up will come down someday. The Berlin Wall is perhaps one of the most glaring examples of modern times.
If one explores through the pages of history and the ravages of time, one will come across many incidences to overwhelm even the most egocentric leader. The rise and fall of communist leaders like Lenin, Stalin, Mao or countries like the Soviet Union are not mere anecdotes of history. Great leaders elected or not exactly elected all have a limited period under the sun to dazzle the followers—but time never stands still. The problem is as Yudhishthira told Yaksha—the desire to live forever, if not in life but at least through statues and mausoleums. In the national capital, there are so many protected and unprotected monuments and tombs which lie in neglect to remind the megalomaniacs that: "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls off." They should do well to pause and ponder over the fate of history and the ravages of time that even the greatest men and the empires they forge are impermanent, their legacies fated to decay into oblivion. True, this simple concept is beyond the ability of the party workers cum hoodlums to grasp. What is painful is that even sharp minds refuse to accept the truth, so immersed are they in propagating their cause. Dr Subramanian Swamy cannot be faulted on the grounds of dearth of intellect. Yet, Dr Swamy's response to the plundering of the Lenin statue was a cryptic "Lenin was a foreigner and terrorist."
Such reactions indicate that just as statues are memorials of persons who proclaim their towering superiority and essentially try to tell their role in creating history, the toppling of statues are often spontaneous reactions of people who cannot feel that greatness but despise the person captured in the statue. Instances are galore as the US soldiers had torn down a statue of Britain's King George III after the declaration of independence in 1776. The tearing down of Stalin's statue in Hungary in 1956 is another footnote in history. Greatness is time-dependent. Statues and memorials, therefore, cannot be time-independent. Like Stalin in Hungary, Lenin in Tripura is incongruous. It should not have been erected in the first place. That too as a symbol of triumph of the CPM government. By toppling the statue, the crowd has not insulted the historical role of Lenin, but merely illustrated the incongruity of exhibiting the memory of a person who had no role whatsoever in the geography.
Still, the point in a civilised discourse remains. Such actions should be taken by a properly authorised institution or body, not by unruly hooligans.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)