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Mainstream, VOL LI No 52, December 14, 2013 | Focus on Challenge of Religious Fanaticism to Democracy in Bangladesh

Mandela (July 18, 1918-November 6, 2013)

Thursday 19 December 2013, by Badri Raina

What man or woman, friend or foe,
Could deny to you, even in the worst
Of pique, your colossal due as a man
Above the customary frailty of man?
That you could shake the hand that locked
In the best of your youth behind a dungeon,
And share the glory of your second coming
With the beast that wished you dead,
And open your heart, and a million hearts
Of diverse hue, to those that deserved
Not reconciliation but comeuppance—
This was staggering-human beyond
Belief or apprehension. In doing so, you
Blocked the rivers of blood that were set to flow.
 
Yet, O great Madiba, colour of skin was
Not an issue by itself, but the pernicious
Excuse for denying to your people
Their just dues in land, and schools,
And jobs, and in the running of the realm
As equal to those who were at the helm.
You struck noble peace with your tormentor,
And accepted a joint prize, but Sweto
And Steve Biko and the thousands
Whose lives were taken in the struggle
Ask whether you did not step down too soon
From office, busying yourself in social causes
Worldwide, looking back little to see
Whether the liberator ANC may have
Lost its memory to power and glory.
Or that the expropriator of old still
May not have relinquished his fair-skinned hold
On lands and assets that were taken from
The people, fearing no rebuke from those
That stepped into their shoes.
 
Mandela, why does greatness thus
Always fall short? We think of the Mahatma
Who shamed untouchability but would not
Take issue with an order that bred and
Sanctioned it through centuries of rot.
 
As you go, your sufferance and forgiveness
Elevate us as did those of Jesus; but the same
Question will haunt the wretched of your land
That still afflicts the fortunes of the holy land.

Badri Raina

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