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|Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban, Dhaka. Why it's here is explained in Part 2|
Nothing sends me to sleep faster than to mull over a conundrum, often of my own making. The one that's occupied my mind over the past few days has been: whose deaths do I feel have made the greatest impact on or shock to the world in my lifetime?
There are a few criteria I had to decide on here. I'm not talking about those who have lived a full life and achieved greatness in some field. When they die, those are people whose lives we would 'celebrate'. I'm thinking of those whose deaths seem to have saddened people deeply throughout the world.
So they'd have to be famous, for one reason or another. They'd had to have died before their time. That element of tragedy would be essential. Oh, and probably violently. Nothing adds to shock and newsworthiness more than violence.
Are they people who, in my view, have been unjustly glorified, or only those I regard as worthy of the mourning heaped upon them? I'd have to include both. This dispenses with any need for moral judgments. If there's one thing that my thoughts on this exercise drove home to me, it's that prudish moral standards simply don't apply when it comes to public grief – but let's not get into that.
Should I also include, on what I see as the dark side of humanity, deaths which seem to have pleased as well as saddened many people? Saddam Hussein and Obama bin Laden, for example. No, I've decided against that. My blog.
Should I do it chronologically? Or in order of merit, as it were, with the greatest last, of course. One must build up to a climax. What I'll do is a mixture, so there.
My first only just scrapes in on several counts. He was old, and I hadn't had my first birthday, but he did die violently and a huge shock wave travelled round the world when he was killed. I'm speaking of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), the Mahatma.
I'm not doing biographies here, merely tiny justifications for inclusion in my personal list. Few others have been more misunderstood (or wrongly spelled!) in the west than Gandhi, judged by people who don't have a clue about India and by standards that simply don't fit.
In my final Honours in History at university, I did a year-long unit under the guidance of my academic guru, Damodar Singhal. He and his wife Devahuti were my mentors in every way and I've written about them elsewhere and with great affection. Damodar ran this unit, called India 1935-1947. It was just twelve years of history (theoretically), but ones so momentous for India that at the end of the course, I felt we'd barely scratched the surface.
My point in mentioning this is that I studied, with great intensity, this paradoxical man – Gandhi, his life, philosophy and contribution to India and the world. Think satyagraha (non-violent non-cooperation) and leaders like Martin Luther King.
I have to include Gandhi.
What about King himself? (1929-1968) He deserves enormous respect for his contribution to the hopes of minorities everywhere, not just African Americans. His brutal killing sent shockwaves of grief and anger through the world.
Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) meets all the criteria. Admired, envied, misunderstood, cruelly treated like dirt at times, the mysterious circumstances of her death only add to her mystique and goddess image. I was just fifteen, testosterone coursing like fire through wherever it courses in adolescent boys, and there seemed no-one as beautiful and desirable in the entire world as Marilyn, and nor would there ever be again. Not while adolescent memories remain, at least.
JFK. One warm November morning in 1963 round 6 am, my mother woke me, bearing tea and toast as she did daily before I went off to the dairy. She rarely swore, but she was outraged.
"Some bast... swine has killed President Kennedy," she stormed. A child can't fail to be influenced by his mother's explosion of grief. As for most people in this country as far as I recall, Kennedy was even more godly than Menzies. (OK, Menzies was King Ming, but JFK was, in our little corner of the world, near to perfection incarnate. Or was.)
So John F Kennedy (1917-1963) meets all my criteria too. Aged 46 when assassinated, at the height of his political career and personal popularity, lauded, lionised, and loved, his less savoury secrets still hidden from too much public scrutiny, it is hard to imagine his legendary status ever being dented too much. I'd dearly love to see the true FBI records, though – if they still exist.
The great irony in choosing these two is the link between him and Marilyn Monroe. I mean, the truth about them both, singly and together.
I guess those of us hit by the media attention to these icons for half a century have our theories on their deaths. In the absence of clear evidence, mine are no doubt driven by my own prejudices and suspicions, and therefore worth no more than anyone else's.
Robert F Kennedy (1925-1968)? Assassinated just two months after Martin Luther King. Although in terms of intellect and social conscience a better man than his murdered brother, the shock of high political assassination had worn off somewhat by the time of his death. But both are on my list.
In case you're wondering, this isn't all about politicians or charismatic populist leaders. A brief mention of a couple more and we'll get to the business end of the story – the top two. And a candidate I didn't think of. You can read on, or save it till later if you're still interested.
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