Tragedy of great men

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  • And how we betray and eventually are forgotten by our own ideals

Tragedy, traditionally speaking, revolved around lives of great men ending in dust, shrieks, bloodshed and tears. King Oedipus polluted the city he ruled and wanted to save it not knowing that he was the one responsible, King Lear was eaten by one wrong decision to disown his only ‘right’ daughter, Prince Hamlet went mad and brought doom and gloom to those he loved and loathed because of his indecision, Napoleon ‘met his Waterloo’ and perished alone on an island, Caesar trusted his best friend and his last words were regret incarnate, Richard III was willing to give his kingdom away for a horse when he sensed death breathing down his neck. Tragedy was the domain of the ill-fated kings, realm of the knights who were marked for perdition, and sordid tales of demigods reduced to mortals.

Great Men achieve greatness by use of force, inculcation of fear, or summoning great feats of shrewd persuasion. Most of the time combining all three as means to an end. Their tragedy is they are unmade by the same tools, techniques and tactics. Their tragedies are, thus, of mammoth scale. Permanence, an illusion, eludes us all. For lesser mortals like us history is zilch but the comings and goings of great men, their mighty achievements, their quests, their quotes and the way they made their quietus.

The great Bard envisioned three ways to achieve greatness in his play Twelfth Night. Where some are born great, some achieve greatness, and for some greatness thrust itself upon ’em. Same holds for tragedy. Some are destined to their eventual tragic fall. Some make mistakes and bungle up their existence. And then there are those who do whatever they could to escape their tragic fall but end up in its claws. Sans redemption. Sans reprieve. And only one exit.

We revere prophets for they tell us we have a divine purpose, we admire scientists for making our lives comfortable, we love poets for soothing our loneliness and giving meaning to pangs of incessant misery, we like leaders for fanning the flickering, diminishing hope that promises a better future and we worship saviors for they chart out ways to a new world where riches of all sort await us.

Great Men, lest we forget, are creatures of their time, children of their circumstances and challengers of the status quo. One can only achieve greatness if he surpasses what has come before, trounces the hardwired fables of mediocrity, traverse and triumphs over the territories previously deemed insurmountable or beyond reach. Great men, in short, are those few who command and steer the nameless, faceless multitudes of mankind.

Dostoevsky, the grand psychologist and knower of how mankind’s greatest fears trample its highest aspirations, told us about the joy sensed by masses when they witness powerful and mighty bite dust

Cause of their tragedy? The ordinary us outnumbering the extraordinary few.

A million men, women and children dying in a war, another million condemned to life worse than death were and still are realities — sad, gory, bitter realities that were to be lived not dramatised, that were to be endured not chronicled, that were to be wished upon others while praying for riddance in the past. In the present, they are to be reported, documented and presented in a manner where thumb-happy, screen-hooked, dissatisfied-by-proxy masses can have their fill of information.

Tragedy demanded power, riches and greatness. And once in possession of one who has them it gnawed at them with sheer, wanton abandon. It tore greatness apart, it made great men suffer mental agony, it bruised them through and through, reduced their innards to ashes, defeated their hard-won glories, made their strong facades hollow, and when nothing is left to consume, the much-awaited death comes as the last refuge, sole solace and eternal abode.

Dostoevsky, the grand psychologist and knower of how mankind’s greatest fears trample its highest aspirations, told us about the joy sensed by masses when they witness powerful and mighty bite dust. The fall from grace of the best among us consoles us. The end of fame in infamy soothes that we who never had tasted fame and only knew anonymity and travails of everyday life won’t ever end up in the similar situation.

We had our fair share of great men and our memories are littered with their tragic ends. We have been quick to forget the ones who lived long enough, didn’t fit in the frame of our ideology, dissented and denied the ‘greater good of putting state over citizens’. We deified those who were assassinated, hanged or their ambulances halted in the midst of nowhere.