You will have read a hundred articles on Madiba by now of his pivotal role in turning the tide against apartheid. The man who stood against an ideology. The one who had the guts to defy reality. He was a hero.
But, this blog is not about any particular aspect about Nelson Mandela. This is not a contradictory, anti-mainstream piece which aims to illuminate the once-feared “terrorist” (as my South African friend once quoted a source to me) or one which attempts to lift the covers on his long forgotten philandering habits.
No, this post is about what he meant to me. Who was Nelson Mandela to an Indian boy living in the less tempestuous southern coastal city of Kochi?
It was a very long time ago,
I was merely six years old but it is a memory that endures in my often forgetful mind.
Everyone was talking about Nelson Mandela. This ‘black’ president. Of course, I didn’t understand too much of what that meant, but I did know that this was a man who was loved and revered. Indian media tagged him as a ‘Gandhi’ like figure. To a six year old growing up in a myopic Indian society in the 90’s, equivalence to Gandhi meant instant reverence.
But it was in 1999, that I began to understand what he really meant to the people of the world. It was the year he stepped down from the South African Presidency. Mandela stood for the greatest good. Being an Indian, nothing resonates deeper than a leader who defied his masters, achieved incredible feats of unity and yet, did not develop a thirst for power.
I used to go to class and have excited conversations with similarly inspired friends who believed he was as big as our Mahatma Gandhi was. We only understood that he stood up to the ‘white man’ just like Gandhi did. Nobody had a bad word to say about him. Everyone from our teachers to our parents praised Nelson Mandela. This man was a living saint (as human a saint could be). He had to be.
Now, fully grown and soundly aware…
Madiba resonates on an ever deeper note. My judgement and knowledge has been tempered over the years. Books illuminated philosophical paths that, at one time, I never knew existed and documentaries have enriched my perspective. I have come to believe that Mandela was more my kind of hero, than anyone else in my time. He was flawed like any other human, but he aspired to an existence not many mortals dare to venture into.
His life is an inspiration to the average man. He was like any man in modern society. He loved status, he pursued prosperity and of course, he had an eye for women. But, one day his consciousness awoke and he never looked back. It was an ideal he refused to back away from.
He was the first, and probably the last, great leader whose inspiration reached us in our living rooms. Too many great leaders have been killed for selflessness. But, Mandela lived. The world slept safe knowing that a great leader for peace and equality lived. Watching over the world.
That smile. That wonderful smile birthed a billion dreams.