A lot of things have to be brushed under the carpet to create a hero. Many great monarchs would have been egotistical fools if one closely observed them. Many legendary warriors more of vagabond, bandits than the patriots history has made them out to be. It is only now that we have started talking a little bit about Mahatma Gandhi‘s eccentric sexual experiments, or Mother Teresa seeing something divine in the sufferings of poor as they died without medical treatment. Prince Siddharth’s treatment of his wife has to be overlooked to create the blameless Lord Buddha.
Individual facts may be disputed. But you have to be really desperate to keep your heroes, if you don’t want to accept failings of great people. You might still have had worshipable heroes if the faults were minor. Many a times those are not minor, not excusable.
When a Rajat Gupta falls from grace, the good and the bad parts of him are still reconcilable. Ambition in the world of business can become greed. The lines between right and wrong are anyway so often, so blurred in that world.
And then there are other kinds where the reconciliation is impossible. You as a fan, as a protegé, as an awe-struck youngster, as an inspired follower writhe in the agony of dissonance. And you are left to wonder how come the person in question does not feel that dissonance. You can try to wring yourself out of the halo effect when a Sanjay Dutt is convicted. He is an actor, a celebrity. That doesn’t mean he is a nice person. Yes – he can be a criminal, you satisfy yourself, even as your heart rebels on seeing an idol being carried away to the jail. But how can a Tarun Tejpal be a sexual predator? Tarun Tejpal – the journalist and activist, the man behind Tehelka, which goes about “exposing” cops’ attitude towards rape victims? Oh the dissonance!
Let’s try to reconcile. Let’s say that he is just an astute, shrewd businessman, who knows how to climb up by doing the right kinds of stories, and doesn’t really have the moral fabric, his professional work would have us believe he has. But where did that shrewdness disappear while choosing his victim? His own employee? His daughter’s best friend? His friend’s daughter? What was he smoking? If you are a powerful person, trying to abuse your power this way, remember not to smoke that!
And yet – am I surprised? Unfortunately not. If you are a female, your male heroes fall from their pedestal way too often. You can spend your life trying to wonder about that excellent teacher, so inspiring in the classroom; that accomplished uncle, so nice and cordial to everyone; that high-profile boss, so authoritative, yet so charming; that potential mentor, who is so appreciative of your potential and drive…. And then the same people in that moment alone… Not in a drunken stupor, not in a momentary lapse of judgement, but in a premeditated way, with complete awareness… Appreciating you…. People whose appreciation you would have craved, cherished…. Except that it is not the kind of appreciation you were looking for…
You are shocked, stupefied… You are young, nervous… You don’t know what to make of all this… The hero’s fall is heart-crushing in itself. The loss of belief in your abilities comes next. All that attention wasn’t about your abilities, was it? Do you have those abilities at all then? Or have you been fooling yourself all this time? Then sometimes you are scared that nobody will believe you should you complain. At other times you are worried about your own future. Twisted as it sounds to an outsider, sometimes you almost feel guilty that you could cause the fall of this great man! Why should it be you?
And then there are times when you don’t have to be a woman to experience this. Sometimes they are child predators. Sometimes they are homosexual predator. And while you don’t hear much of it, who knows! Sometimes they might be women!
And then there are times when you don’t have to be a victim to experience the dissonance. Sometimes, it all comes out in the open. There is a possibility of slight relief. You can question the motives of alleged victim. But that goes only so far. Somewhere at the back of your mind you know. The heroes fall.
There was a time and age, when it would have been possible to brush it all under the carpet. It is difficult, close to impossible in today’s connected world. Before one had time to realize that a leak has happened, much before the cleanup can start, too many copies have been made to contain the news.
It’s good, isn’t it? They shouldn’t go unpunished. And yet – here is the thing. You won’t have your heroes, folks. They will have inexcusable faults, and those will be exposed, shoved in your face. You can’t hide away from them. Sometimes you might almost want to go back to a time when victims stayed silent, when it was possible to do damage control, hush everything up, and save the heroes’ fall from grace. But you know that it was wrong. You know that it isn’t happening again.
The only thing you can do is to learn to live without your heroes. I am not asking you to not aspire for higher things in life. Just don’t expect someone else’s halo to light up your path.