When heroes die young
Some are born great,
some achieve greatness and
some have greatness thrust upon them,''
The Bard should have perhaps added,
''some achieve greatness in death''.
This is more so in the case of those who die young.
snatched away by fate when he was
still in the midst of action, belongs to this class.
There is a certain poignancy in the death
of persons who are talented and show
tremendous promise but are
denied their full role in life by destiny.
John F Kennedy
was just 46 when he was felled by the bullets of an assassin.
At 43, he became the youngest
President of the United States and the first Catholic
to hold that high office.
He had already achieved fame as a Senator and his book,
Profiles in Courage, won the Pulitzer Prize.
As President, he had his successes and failures
and he had his critics.
But when he was shot on November 22,1963,
the whole world was shocked and saddened that
the life of a charismatic leader should have been so brutally cut short.
A traumatic event etched in the memory
of Indians is the tragic assassination of
Called upon to don the mantle of Prime Minister
on the sudden and tragic death of his mother,
when he had just completed 40 years,
Rajiv brought a whiff of fresh air to Indian politics.
Caught in the Bofors tangle,
he lost the election in 1989.
When he was preparing to stage a comeback,
he became a victim of a human bomb during
the election campaign in 1991.
He was no more than 47.
There are also those who never held high
office but were leaders in their own right.
They cast a powerful influence on men
and events but died before they could realise their dreams.
Martin Luther King,
the indomitable leader of the civil rights
movement in America,
who gave a sense of identity to the blacks ,
was killed when he was hardly 37.
An American writer has recorded:
''In death, he was celebrated as a hero,
a moderate who had sought to heal the nation's racial wounds.''
the famous brother of John Kennedy,
perhaps more brilliant and on his way to become President,
was shot dead after he won the Californian primary election.
Other Indian political leaders
who suffered premature deaths under tragic
and Madhav Rao Scindia.
Though in the realm of pure speculation,
it is interesting to surmise as to whether history
would have taken a different course
if such persons had lived longer.
Would Sanjay Gandhi have become the
Prime Minister of India in place of Rajiv Gandhi,
and if so, what would have been the shape of events?
Would we be as democratic as
we are now or would we have progressed much faster?
Had the Kennedys survived,
could Nixon have become the President?
would America have entered the gates
of China at the time it did?
Would Pramod Mahajan have
gone on to become the President of BJP
and given it a new orientation?
Such questions can be multiplied
and historians like us will have their own answers.
But a more curious question that comes up
in respect of such personalities is whether their
greatness would have enhanced in the remaining years of their lives.
One cannot answer such a question with
a great degree of certainty for,
in politics, a small incident can change
the fortunes not only of individuals but of nations.
It is somewhat easier, perhaps,
to speculate on the loss caused to humanity
by the premature death of creative persons
in the fields of art, literature and science.
When the great musical genius,
died at the age of 36,
he was still writing the Requeim Mass,
which he left unfinished.
English poetry is, no doubt, poorer
on account of the death of
Keats at 26,
Shelley at 30
and Byron at 36.
How many mysteries of Mathematics
would have been unravelled had not
whom Julian Huxley is believed to have described as
''the greatest mathematician of the century'',
died at the young age of 33!
Some of the religious leaders who died young,
however, seem to belong to a different genre.
It appears as though they had completed their
life's mission by the time they left their mortal coils.
was crucified when he was about the age
33-35 – his brief period on earth marks
not only the birth of Christianity but perhaps
the most significant watershed in world history.
the proponent of Advaitha,
who died when he was just 32 had trod
the length and breadth of the country and established
the four peethas in the four regions.
had carried the message of Hinduism
and the unity of religions across the world
and founded the Ramakrishna Mission in a short span of 39 years.
Was there anything more to be achieved by them?
Their mission accomplished,
they seem to have voluntarily departed from this earth.
The blessings of God or elders are sought for a long life.
Ayushman Bhava –''May you live long''
is how elders bless the young ones in the Indian tradition.
A desire for long life is inherent in human beings.
When a person dies young,
we usually attribute it to fate.
There is a belief, particularly among Hindus,
that one's life-span on earth is predetermined and can not be altered.
There is the story of how a King,
when told that he would die of snakebite,
tried to escape death.
A new palace was built for him where there
was no scope for serpentine disaster.
But lo and behold,
a snake emerged from a lime the
King was holding in his hand and ensured his death.
Modern science, no doubt,
gives hope for a long life.
But while science may help increase longevity
or minimise risks due to natural disasters,
how does one prevent death caused by man's inhumanity to man?
are the real weapons of destruction,
whether in case of individuals
is only a tool.
This is so, be it a brother as in the case of Mahajan
friend as it happened to
Julius Caesar (You too, Brutus!)
spouse (Desdemona in Othello).
Death may come any time.
At the end of it all,
what matters is not how long one has lived,
but how well. As it has been said,
''One crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name.
Hinduism is more a way of life than a method of worship.