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My hero, your hero! Whose hero?

Some heroes are clearly identified with certain countries, but others get pulled and pushed around, writes Bhaskar Dasgupta.

india Updated: Mar 04, 2006 18:51 IST

Usually, heroes are well and clearly identified with certain countries; heroes broadly defined so to say. So if I throw the name of Mark Spitz you will think USA, if I mention the name of Winston Churchill, you will think the UK, if I throw in the name Charles de Gaulle, you will think France, Mahatma Gandhi, you will think India and generally you will be right.

Unfortunately, some heroes get pulled and pushed around, long after they are pushing up daisies. Let us take a look at some of the rather interesting and amusing incidents.

The first time I came across such a situation was when I read Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi, a wonderful writer and an absolutely brilliant book. I very strongly recommend this book; it's about the perpetual war between Don Camillo, a catholic village priest in the Po River Valley in Italy and the communist mayor, Peppone.

For those who want to compare, think of him as an Italian PG Wodehouse.

Anyway, I am digressing from the point. In one of the stories, there is a fight between Don Camillo's and another village about a local hero and Don Camillo wins the fight because he finds a hidden treasure trove of 16th century birth's and death's register, notes that show the hero was born in his village, and victoriously brings the statue of the hero home from the other village.

And then today I was reminded of it again, when I read that Afghanistan vociferously complained to Pakistan that all of Afghanistan's old heroes, like Mahmud Ghaznawi, Ahmad Shah Abdali and Shahabuddin Ghauri, were used to name various Pakistani missiles.

As it so happens, the reason for Pakistan to name their missiles after these great men, was because these chaps were rampaging marauders, who butchered, raped, robbed and pillaged across India and Pakistan wanted to send a message to India (very subliminal message).

Be that as it may, Afghanistan's Information Minister Sayed Makhdum Rahin has sent a letter to the Pakistani Government complaining that these chaps were actually Afghan heroes and they (ahem! And I quote), "Their names should be bracketed with academic, cultural and peace-promoting institutions, not with tools of destruction and killing and... had spread knowledge and civilisation from Afghanistan to the subcontinent of India."

I think the Indians may disagree, but that's not the point.

I can just imagine the shock and consternation when this letter landed on some Pakistani minister's desk. Here we are, symbols of national identity, named after some deep-seated atavistic desire for military might and rampaging and you take that away? How COULD they? Mind you,

Pakistan doesn't treat its own home-grown heroes properly. Think about another hero, a real bona-fide Pakistani hero, Professor Abdus Salam, winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics, was hounded because someone declared him a kafir (non-Muslim) and the poor chap had to leave.

Well, given the huge number of Nobel Prize winners in Pakistan, you could easily lose one or two without missing much.

Apparently, he was invited back to Pakistan to give a lecture after winning the Nobel Prize, but he didn't following violent threats by a religious party. So home-grown heroes are chased away and then you go about borrowing some from neighbouring countries who, in turn, moan about misuse of their heroes.

It is almost like the example of Moses. One of the most famous law-givers in world history but do Egyptians think of him as a home grown hero? Nope, he is Israel's son.

Israel gives lots of examples of this sort nearer to our time. Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, former minister of defence and Israel Labour party chairman - was born in Iraq; David Levy, former minister of foreign affairs came from Morocco; Silvan Shalom, minister of foreign affairs was born in Tunisia; Mordechai Eliyahu, former Sephardic Chief rabbi of Israel came from Iraq; Shlomo Ben-Ami, academic and former foreign affairs minister of Israel originated from Morocco; Shaul Mofaz, Israeli minister of defence was born in Iran and Moshe Katsav, current President of the State of Israel also came from Iran.

What do you think of these heroes being considered as heroes in their country of birth? I think Iranian President Ahmadinejad will have an apoplectic fit.

Take a peek at India, celebrating and even borrowing some national heroes from outside, not that there is any paucity of any home-grown and bred Indian heroes. Not by a long shot! Any time any chap has any Indian blood in him, he is definitely taken on board and chests are thumped. Forget the Indian born /origin Nobel prize winners, think of the latest heroine, Dr. Kalpana Chawla, the lady astronaut who died in the Challenger space shuttle crash.

While born in India, she became a naturalised American citizen, but hey, there was a feeling of pride back in India for her to be an authentic Indian heroine.

Here's another example, one which you all know and will recognise. Albert Einstein, the famous physicist. He originally had German nationality and then he took up Swiss nationality. He gave up his nationality because he did not want to be drafted into the German Army (at 17, if you were German, you would be forcibly drafted into the German Army and he was a committed and declared pacifist). Then after reconsidering and getting caught up into the Weimar Republic's dreams and promises, he took up German citizenship again.

Then again came the time that the Brown shirts were being heavy handed and Jews started to get targeted. So he again gave up German nationality, renounced it and took up American nationality (while, all the time, keeping the Swiss nationality), and the rest is history.

The amusing bit is, all three countries - Germans, Swiss and Americans consider him to be one of theirs. He is ranked 10th of the 100 greatest Germans of all time according to a recent survey while we all know how well the Americans think of dear old Albert.

Another German, Karl Marx, also falls roughly in this area. Marx, was rated to be the 4th greatest German of them all in the above mentioned survey (ZDF November 2003). While saying that, no prizes for guessing who else thought Karl Marx was the bees' knees? An entire ideologically based swathe of nations (the communist bloc) took him and his ideas as their founding hero.

First Published: Mar 04, 2006 18:51 IST