Colossal obsessions of an oriental kind

Ancient Greeks were the world’s best statue-makers. They sculpted comely statues of their gods and heroes, most of them life-size and lifelike. So lifelike that one wonders whether they were made by humans or the Gorgons—those three demonic sisters who looked so fiendish that one look at their faces froze you into a statue.

The Greeks made a few giants, too, like the Colossus of Rhodes and Zeus at Olympia. The Colossus collapsed in an earthquake; Zeus withered away in neglect after Roman emperors took to Christianity and shut down pagan temples.

Only three of the world’s tallest 100 statues are ancient—the Buddhas in Leshan, Ron Xian and the Mogao Caves, all in China. The rest, most of them in the east, are all erections of modern man’s ego, mostly 21st century, a few late 20th century, and one or two (including Ms Liberty) from the 19th century.

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

Smaller statues survive centuries because they are easier to guard and look after. They are also easier for the Elgins to cart away to museums, if there is a threat from vandals. Mayawati knows this. She made dozens of statues of Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and herself, all life-size.

The two Greek giants, though listed among the ancient world’s wonders, would look pygmies in front of the statues that modern India is building. The Sardar Patel statue, the tallest in the world that Narendra Modi unveiled a week ago, is five and a half times the size of the Colossus. The Colossus was 33 metres; Patel is 182.

Modern India is on a statue-sculpting spree. A Shivaji statue is coming up in Mumbai that will be 30 metres taller than Patel. Netaji fans have asked for a statue, though not a giant, at India Gate, perhaps where King George V once stood imperiously.

The latter is now dumped in the Coronation Park, a quaint corner in the northern marches of Delhi where he had laid the foundation stone for New Delhi in 1911. Giving him company are a few of his viceroys who once stood at New Delhi’s crossroads, now manned by men who fought them for freedom, Patel included.

Patel was a Congressman, but Modi and the sangh parivar have appropriated him. Congressmen have only themselves to blame. Obsessed with the Nehru-Gandhis, they have been neglecting India’s rightist patriots.

Modi and his sangh parivar are in search of icons. Faced with a severe shortage of freedom fighters, they think that anyone who walked on the ‘right’ side of the national movement before independence, or of the nation-building movement after independence, is intellectually theirs to appropriate. These national icons, they seem to think, need to be rescued from the illegal custody of the Congress and restored to the entire nation. They had got K.M. Munshi and Madan Mohan Malaviya alive; one had joined the Jana Sangh, the other founded the Hindu Mahasabha.

Having bagged Patel, they may now try Rajaji, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gobind Ballabh Pant, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Narasimha Rao or, who knows, even Sanjay Gandhi. After all, Sanjay was the first true-blue rightist in the post-1969 Congress, and his wife, son and several Emergency pals are now members of the sangh parivar.

Tailpiece: One of the scariest short stories of the 1960s was the little known Statues! Statues! by Malayalam thriller-writer C.S.K. Nair. It was about a shipwrecked crew, who had taken refuge on an Atlantic island, turning into stone statues one by one. The island had been the place where Prince Perseus had slain Medusa, the fiercest of the Gorgons. Her ghost was haunting the island.

Spirit of a spirit! Unholy Ghost! Isn’t it like poison after its expiry date?