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June 19, 2017

It’s Time We Stopped Associating Glory With Power

Text by Madhu Jain. Illustration by Gouri Katdare

While both humility and arrogance involve power, arrogance only contains a semblance of it, a fleeting thing…. It is humility which makes it true and lasting

Whenever I think of power, the word ‘glory’ pops up, unsummoned. Perhaps, it is the title of Graham Greene’s soul-searing novel The Power and the Glory. Perhaps, it is the memory of bullies in school and college who used backbiting and sharp tongues to gather around them acolytes to force the timid to obey their dictates. And, by so doing, prop themselves up and preen in the glory of their power.

Perhaps, it also evokes the power games of colleagues in the various publications I have worked in, where bullies and those-in-a-tearing-hurry-to-get-to-the-top intimidate colleagues whom they fear would be an obstacle in their ascent to the pinnacle. They usually do this with the help of a band of groupies and cronies who bask in the glory of the ‘bulliest’ of them all. American popular culture brims over with instances: television series like Gossip Girl and The Office or films like Mean Girls, and the many Harry Potters.

Closer to home, in the countless Hindi films set in colleges and offices, or in the arena of the joint family (between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, between sisters-in-law and certainly between brothers and cousins), power struggles noisily occupy centre stage. Our epics pointed the way. The Mahabharata has served as a template for hundreds of Hindi films. Kalyug (1981), Shashi Kapoor’s masterful film directed by Shyam Benegal, was a modern-day adaptation of the epic and highlighted the battle for power and domination within the larger family — extended to those unfortunate enough to have been born on the wrong side of the blanket. The modern-day Karna character was brilliantly played by Shashi Kapoor.

Outside the arena of the family and clans — and the workplace — power games go on less obviously, but often just as deviously. All you need to do is to take a closer look at card players in clubs or homes; at people during social interactions (especially weddings); or at the busy, often status-enhancing playing fields (friends and colleagues wielding tennis rackets or swinging their golf clubs) to get a true picture of the subterranean little battles for power that are going on. Games bring out the inner, competitive selves. Winning gives a momentary high and sense of power — a power moment if you will.

The showground for flexing the competitive muscles, powering up so to speak, includes weddings, social soirees and office parties. Social climbing is another sport to unleash the power-hungry animal in you. A Delhi socialite was once not so affectionately called ‘the Edmund Hillary of social climbing’ behind her back. Elevating herself to the summit of the social hierarchy wasn’t only because she wanted to be invited to exclusive parties and hobnob with diplomats, billionaires and the international and desi ‘chatterati’. The higher perch gave her the power to advertise her abilities and convince people to commission her to redo their homes and wardrobes — even their tableware and the accessories for their bathrooms.

And please note I am not even going anywhere near political power gymnastics. That would require a book, and a cliche-ridden one at that.

Wishful thinking
With power comes glory. The two might as well be joined at the hip. Glory is probably the ultimate goal for the power seekers. It is a given that those with clout are surrounded by a chorus of admirers singing their praises, burnishing the haloes with which many leaders, bosses and reigning socialites of both sexes accessorise their personas. Perhaps the glory seekers want to grab a bit of immortality in this life because they fear that in the afterlife they will be toppled from summits of all kinds and end up in some obscure, unlit corner, ignored by the rest. So, they grab all they can now and lord it over others while it lasts.

This column is an exercise in wishful thinking, with many ifs. If only one could snap the ties attaching glory to power. If only one could move grace into the vacuum. If only one could attach the harness of grace to power so that it can be steered away from pride and arrogance. If only one could bestow the power of grace on those with influence or in positions of authority. And, I am not using it in the biblical sense of the ‘grace of God’.

Humility and class
Grace on earth requires humility, which is on the opposite end of the spectrum of behaviour from where arrogance sits. The powerful are usually generously endowed with arrogance and its companion, pride. Yet, while both humility and arrogance involve power, arrogance only contains a semblance of power, a fleeting thing. It is humility which possesses true and lasting power. The power to matter, the power to do good and the power to be remembered. Power in the good sense, that is.

The image that springs to mind as you put together the two words power and grace is of Roger Federer playing tennis. He moves like a dancer, his face tranquil, while his famous forehand packs a punch and the ball moves at (I wouldn’t dare hazard a guess) umpteen miles an hour. No wonder that the words that sportswriters use to define him usually include class, humble and, of course, grace. The cliche which hovers around him is grace under pressure. That is real power.

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