Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, August 01, 2010

There is a consulting firm which loves to advertise. Once upon a time, they were represented by a brilliant golf player. The advertising suggested that the firm was as good as the sportsman. But then there was a scandal. The brilliant sportsman with a gentle grin and schoolboy charm turned out to be a serial womanizer, sleeping around, with the arrogance that comes with success. The world was shocked; the consulting firm dropped him from all advertising. He was no longer a suitable brand ambassador. Fearful of celebrities, the new brand ambassador of the firm is a wild elephant. Animals, unlike humans, do not live double lives. What you see is what you get.

At around the same time, another scandal broke out. There was this politician who gained popularity and respect because he spoke for the environment. He became the champion of the global green movement. His talks touched the chord with the youth. But today, the same man is accused of at least two sexual misdemeanours; his wife of several decades has filed for divorce.

The sportsman is still a brilliant sportsman. But his smile is no longer charming. The politician is still a brilliant speaker. But today, when he walks in he lacks the respect he once commanded.

The tragedy is that because of the action of these two men, and others like them, one does not know what to believe. Now whenever, I see a ‘wholesome’ celebrity, I wonder – what is he, or she, hiding? What lies behind the mask? Every role model, one feels, is projecting part of the truth. The whole truth is not so wholesome.

And so one remembers the story from the Ramayana of the golden deer that Sita wanted to possess. It turned out to be a demon whose sole intention was to lure Sita’s husband away from Sita. One remembers the story of the hermit who asked Sita for alms, who turned out to be the demon-king, Ravan, in disguise.

Later in the epic, Laxman says how he has lost all faith in animals and hermits. He feels they are all demons in disguise. And Ram says, “What is worse than kidnapping Sita, is that Ravan and his minions have destroyed our trust in the innocent.” Every time future generations are attracted by something beautiful, they will fear it is Marichi in disguise. Every time a hermit comes knocking asking for alms, people will wonder if he is actually what he claims to be. Destruction of faith is the worst of sins.

But expecting celebrities to be perfect is putting too much burden on them. They are ultimately human beings and all human beings are flawed. I think somewhere deep in our hearts we resent the success of the celebrity – the attention they get, the money they make. We want to punish them. And we do so by placing them on a high moral pedestal. We impose the burden of perfection on them. And they have to grin and bear it if they wish to retain their exalted position. They are like Atlas of Greek mythology holding up the sky. We will not allow Atlas to shrug.