The response to Anna Hazare or the Indian team can’t merely be dismissed as the excesses of an over-emotional nation, even if you think cricket is just a game and even if you think support for Hazare’s cause is just lip service. If you read between the lines, I’d say it’s about finding heroes we can look up to, emulate and put on a pedestal. Not since our pre-Independence years have we found the people who could move us to tears, who could hold sway over the collective emotions of an entire country and when we find anyone who promises to lead from the front, we grasp on to him, and cling to him like the last straw. Or perhaps, it would be more appropriate to say that the generation that sprung up in the 1970s and after that, had never before found the heroes they read of in school books, around them. Of course, there’ve been the lone rangers – one inventor here, another writer there, the ’83 World Cup, the war heroes – who’ve brought us glory, and have had newspaper editors wax eloquent about their feats. But nothing I’ve witnessed that could get a million hearts beating together.
I don’t know if we latch on to any semblance of heroism because we’ve never witnessed any first hand, or because we are just made like that. But it’s a pattern you can see through the years. The moment we know that an Indian called Sabeer Bhatia made that revolutionary tool of the internet of the late 90s called Hotmail, we quickly lay our claim on him. We zealously forward messages about how Microsoft, Google and other leaders in geekdom have people of Indian origin at the helm of their affairs. We still don’t miss a chance to gloat on how the ‘zero’ was invented by an Indian. And I think we often talk about Gandhi, or give the status that he enjoys in our country, because to the world, he is the face of the India that could achieve anything on its own merit. When a 26/11 happens in Mumbai, we are quick to go looking for the men who saved us and to make them heroes, even if temporarily. We are quick to glorify and probably quicker to pull down people who don’t live up to our expectations. But as a nation, we’ve never stopped looking for our heroes wherever we can find them – religious gurus who promise miracles, scientists who do pioneering researches in their field, men on the Forbes 100 list who can boast of money and power, NRIs who get invited to the US President’s dinners… If you’ve noticed, sporting feats have been regularly making headlines in our country and mostly for the right reasons. Because for long spells, there’s nothing positive to put on the front pages of our newspaper, except a record broken, a medal won, history created.
But this time looks different. Despite the cynicism of so many, this stepping out of homes to support a cause, it’s heartening. It’s proof we can still find our heroes in this world.