Monday, December 26, 2005

Trilogy part 1: Demystifying Fame

My vacillating mind gave me all kinds of ambitions in life at various stages of childhood. I wanted to be an actor after I saw heroes pulverize the baddies to dust. A heroic inning by Kapil Dev left me yearning to be a cricketer. During a visit to a doctor, I was impressed by the plush interiors of his clinic and the respect he commanded from my parents; I then wanted to be in his shoes. Other times saw me dreaming of becoming a scientist, a contortionist, a circus joker and God knows what else. An overwhelming similarity in all these ambitions was a feeling of being recognized by others and of becoming so good at my work that people come to see me perform and appreciate me. Money, until then, wasn’t quite a parameter for the ambitions. Finally, I took up engineering. It was something I never dreamt of or understood as a child and doubt whether I still do. I am not an exceptional engineer. Other than my superiors, nobody comes to see me do my work. So do I sulk that I’m not living any of my dreams? Not quite. For I know better.

Fame is but a simple arithmetic. Simply put, it is a subtraction of the number of people you know from the number of those who know you. People spend their entire lives in pursuit of making this difference positive, and once there, they sweat to magnify this positive difference.

The problem with fame is that its entire perspective revolves around ‘others’. Fame ceases to exist the day these ‘others’ become inexistent. While the entire inspiration or idea that leads to an invention or a masterpiece comes from within, it invites problems when the fruits of the act are sought from without. Fame is like a sweet poison. You taste it once and you’re hungry for more, but at your own peril. You get addicted to it before you blink. Shahrukh khan, the Bollywood superstar, is a self-confessed addict of adulation. A beautiful and sensuous Indian actress of the 80s was so enamoured by the fan following she had that she became eccentric when the fickle fans dumped her for younger actresses. She couldn’t get out of that comfort zone. She then ended up ‘demanding’ compliments from the washermen, milkmen and other vendors. Fame is good to vie for, especially when it is a by-product of success, but it needs a mature head to straitjacket the mind from over-indulgence.

At times, people go to any extreme to achieve this. A teenager called Saurabh Singh took the whole of India on a flight of fancy by claiming that he had topped a NASA exam. The shrewd boy added a pinch of realism to the whole story by saying that even the current Indian president Mr. Abdul Kalam had taken this exam during his student years. And the Indian press went gung-ho glorifying this teenager’s unsubstantiated achievements. It was only later when the president himself denied having taken any such examination that sleuths woke up and burst the balloon. This was the boy’s quest for becoming famous in his country and a nation’s quest for becoming famous in the world. Both of them were in a hurry. While this might sound like a harmless April fool game, such quests often take ugly turns and ruin people’s lives when their lifetime’s work is plagiarized by treachery.

So is this quest for fame and recognition such a bad thing? Not quite. Historically speaking, fame, as an ambition or an incentive, would not have existed until the development of human civilization. Nomadic man probably had more similarities in lifestyle with the animal world than differences. And fame has no value in the animal kingdom. So, the earliest discoveries of fire, agriculture and primitive weaponry were more out of survival instincts than anything else. But having formed the civilization and having mastered the survival instincts, man probably would not have progressed further had it not been for his quest for fame and recognition, among other things. The later discoveries and inventions had fame as one of the pivotal incentives. True, from time to time, rulers waged bloody wars and mercilessly killed millions when greed combined with this quest for fame. But the entire process was a churning to reach an end that we see today. The churning is still on - for fame and greed still rule the psyche of quite a lot of us.

Fame is but a necessary evil for humankind. It needs to be nurtured with the right moral fabric within the society, for, after all, it is one of our primary causes for progress. A good way to start would be to develop an emphasis on ethics during early education of children. Success should be emphasized; fame should be exemplified, but the innate human tendency of taking vanity too far should be nipped in the bud.