The Heroes We Worship

Mohammad Azharuddin, known as Azhar, was my favourite hero without a mask.

I could reel off stats of his batting exploits. I tried to mimic his way of batting – lost my wicket every time I tried to square cut like him, walked around with a slouch with my collar turned up, and even spoke in a garbled manner, starting with, ‘My boys…’

I was an obsessed fan. One amongst millions who adored him. I remember getting into an argument with someone far older. Eons ago, he had watched Gundappa Vishwanath carve out a classic 124 against the West Indies at Chepauk. He started comparing Azhar’s artistry with Vishwanath’s and proclaimed that the latter’s stroke play was more ‘wristy’.

As this gentleman had quite a few decades on me, he had the last word. I was fuming the entire evening. How dare he lessen the halo around my hero?

The match fixing scandal happened soon after. The reputation of my childhood hero lay in tatters. I decided then that enough was enough – I’d never put anyone on a pedestal again.

This stand of ‘I have no heroes’ has actually been quite liberating. I’m not an expert, correct me if I’m wrong, but only our species has the tendency to hero worship. The animal kingdom has leaders – but those are strictly merit-based positions.

Psychologists say hero-worshipping is all about seeking validation about our shortcomings through our chosen idols. That makes a lot of sense. What we couldn’t achieve, our heroes achieve for us.

Also read: Charisma and the Will to Deceive is All You Need to Start a Cult

The modern world came into existence, bringing with it an entire pantheon of heroes to choose from – conquerors, world leaders, scientists, sportspersons, writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, social workers, religious figures and winners of the gene pool lottery. These stars soak in the mass adulation of their respective fan bases and as the saying goes, quietly laugh as they check their bank balances online.

There are obviously glorious exceptions, those who are heroes in every sense of the word. They are usually busy doing what they are good at – without drawing too much attention to themselves.

The problem starts when the lines start blurring, and the transition from being a fan to a fanatic happens. This usually takes place over time, but sometimes it happens overnight. But it happens – unless one is aware enough to resist and not follow the herd blindly.

This typically occurs in the case of powerful leaders of dubious organisations, silver-tongued politicians and charismatic heads of religious outfits. These ‘icons’ are acutely aware of the power they have over their flock. They have agendas, which they set in motion by drip-feeding their devious dogmas. Their followers are mesmerised by vitriol-laced ideologies that are hardly conducive for a healthy society.

Without realising it, one wakes up spouting their thoughts, doing what they hint at, and yes, a sense of achievement while at it. A slight sense of disquiet makes some feel uncomfortable – they know it goes against what they truly believe in.

But their belief systems have been hijacked. They have bolted deep down into the rabbit hole. Many of them don’t even realise the level of brainwashing that has taken place. They look in the mirror but they see only what they want to see. They start defending the indefensible.

In fact, there’s righteous indignation and unbridled anger if certain actions are pointed out. The absurd becomes the new normal.

The thing is, we tend to forget that the aforementioned heroes are also people like us. Imperfect like us. They are immensely capable of making mistakes. Just like us. It’s because of the ‘thou shalt not be questioned’ position we put them in that these mistakes have bigger consequences.

By all means, love them to death. But that shouldn’t mean you ought not make probing inquiries or think objectively if something doesn’t smell right. It’s not about our side and their side, or we won and they lost. It’s not a cricket match. And we’re not sheep. That grey matter between our ears? It works.

Someone wise had once said “choose your idols wisely”. Truer words have never been spoken, especially in today’s times. Certain heroes are more capable of doing harm to the world, rather than saving it.

Or just stay away from any kind of hero-worshipping – ask me, life’s simpler that way.

A traveler, dreamer, and everything in between, Mriganka Kalita earns his bun and maska at an ad agency.

Featured image credit: Arzo Cengiz/Unsplash