Don’t be seduced into thinking that that which does not make a profit is without value… Arthur Miller
Have you heard of Mahavirprasad Saraf? Unlikely, because he is not the latest Bollywood entrant, a new telly-filly from the K-stable, a cricket hopeful, a hockey reject, or the next emerging voice of India. He is an ordinary man like you and me, except for one crucial fact. His tally of donated benches to Mumbai recently crossed the 15,000 mark.
The word hero today attracts an entirely new buzz. For most in the genNext, it is someone either from cricket or Bollywood or Page Three. What chance do common mortals have when even the Mahatma could become hero material only when he arrived on the scene via Munnabhai?
There was a time in the not-so distant past when the average person looked up to a class of people who exemplified commitment. Commitment to their art or profession or discipline, as well as to the community and society. Heroes went beyond the call of duty. The models to emulate then, were the visionaries and artists, scientists and inventors, swamis and acharyas, gurus and sants, writers and philosophers and the avatars and immortals whose lives and work forever pulsate in our collective consciousness.
Also, there were tycoons (the Tatas and Birlas) who eschewed mere profitability and brought in social change; there was a princess (Mirabai) who became a bhaktan; there was a simple barrister (M.K.Gandhi) who stood up for the rights of his countrymen; there were educationists (Annie Besant, Vivekananda) who taught little minds to soar and not hoard. India has the highest per capita of temples and holy sites in the world. But never in a previous age, were temples and shrines built to film stars and politicians.
Yet, there are true heroes amongst us. We have a journalist who covers farmers’ suicides more than fashion weeks; we have a rare and unparalleled music guru who, (forget about giving interviews and appearing on talent search shows), has not stepped out of her home for the last 40 years; we have a yogacharya who has put in more hours in perfecting shirsasana than the number of hours some so-called gurus have spent in self-propagation. Oh yes, we do have such heroes. But I doubt if any KBC participant would get their names right. (Just for the record, the names are P Sainath, Smt Annapoorna Devi and B K S Iyengar.)
Mahavirprasad Saraf? Well, little chance of this name ringing a bell even for today’s well-informed netizen. And this after 50 odd years of truly caring for the city that he lives in. Yet, for a moment, consider the work of this not-so-common man, who has donated 15,000 benches, 98 water tanks, 366 PCOs, 1,412 wheelchairs and tricycles, 400 ambulances, 2,260 sewing machines, 27 sewing institutes, 400 Jaipur foots and 400 canes for the blind among other things. This is not the largesse of a King (Shahrukh) or a Queen (Rani) or a Prince (Saurav), but of a Mahavirprasad Saraf. It is entirely another thing that we (the so-called king-consumers) still crave for a king, badshah or a shahenshah to advise us, define us, taste things for us and sell things to us.
After all who are the remembered heroes today? Definitely not the freedom fighters of yesteryear or even the valiant martyrs of recent years. You’d need to boost the imagination tremendously to come up with a name other than the cardboard one on a city’s billboards. Still we need to stop and think. Do we really want to proclaim and perpetuate a society where we see many people but meet less of them; where breast implants probably outmatch nursery plants, where hair-bonding takes precedence over human bonding, where an anorexic model starving herself and a hungry farmer starving for want of food, both make for award-winning photographs and where the rush-hour peak and the rush to the peak leaves one equally breathless?
Or do we want a place that nurtures, values and celebrates the ordinary guy who has created a new benchmark for urban living: providing a space to sit in peace. To be still.
Think you can remember that name?
(The writer is a practitioner and teacher of Iyengar yoga)