It was after he died that I read about him in detail. I thought that it was good to be better informed than certain Ministers from Keralam.
There is no doubt that he was a great man. It got me thinking. What makes some people iconic?
Muhammed Ali was arrogant and brash. Some have accused him of cruelty. Many hated his guts.
He was good at his chosen field. The fact that he was a master at a highly visible spectator sport made him famous. But that was obviously not all.
He was a creative genius. Look at this supposedly spontaneous out burst from him just before a fight with Foreman:
“I’ve done something new for this fight. I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”
Almost as good as this famous one from Shakespeare:
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.
As a child, he was once refused water at a store just because he was black.
Soon after his return to America after winning an Olympic gold, he was thrown out of a restaurant due to his colour. He threw his medal into the river in protest. He left his name of Cassias clay, which he called his ‘slave name’, and became Muhammed Ali. The change of religion was a form of protest, at a time when America was proud of its own Christian identity.
When he was asked to join the army, he refused. The Vietnam war was on.
We don’t take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers.” He famously stated: “Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” Ali elaborated: “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”
He was sentenced to jail, though in an appeal, it was revoked. He lost his boxing rights. This was after his first Heavyweight title. He lost four precious years at the prime of his professional life.
He was no coward. And he took a stance.
All this made him Great.
But consider this:
He was not shot; nor stoned to death. He was not attacked and beaten up in front of courthouses. He didn’t have his hands cut off or testicles crushed. He was not banished to Siberian labour camps, where he was worked to death. He didn’t disappear suddenly; one day.
He lived and died an American hero. Some particular great men are product of great countries. One can criticise American neo-imperialism till one is blue in the face (Or red; depending on one’s political affiliation). I have done this myself; there is much to be criticised. But we have one reason, why they are also, great.
I do think, as a loyal Indian citizen, we are good, and we can be better.