Monday, December 9, 2013


 It is better that I start with some disclaimers:
  • I’m not against systematic and merit-based wealth creation by the individuals - of course when done in a legal - and more importantly the right way.
  • Although, I have great respect for individuals of clean character, operating in the social and political arena, I’m not necessarily enamored merely by their characters alone. Because, I believe that without an institutionalized mass movement, efforts of such individuals often return limited and short-term results.
My discussion today is mainly centered around the Indian realities. Yet, I see a similar pattern covering much other geography.

To begin with, let me put forth my working definition of an Icon - mainly to set a context to the discussion.

To my mind, an Icon is a person / personality, who enjoys an important place in the hearts, thoughts and lives of a large number of people, because, Icons represent and possess their ideas about ideal characteristics that must be present in a person of that profession / calling / field.

Just to ensure complete clarity, I’m going to take two examples:

Sachin Tendulkar, is undoubtedly the most prominent Icon in India. People admire him for his towering cricketing achievements - and more so, when they are seen in the light of his humility. But is that all? Of course, there are many other things for which he is revered - his proudly wearing of the Indian tri-colour on his helmet, his ways of respecting the elders and so on.

Amitabh Bachchan is admired for his acting prowess for sure. There are many more reasons for his gaining the iconic position. His successful fight with adversity, his versatility and command over any medium through which he interacts with the audience, the family values he showcases et al.

One can go on and on to call out iconic names from David Beckam to Bill Gates, from Amir Khan to M S Dhoni.

And this is where I am amazed to notice an unavoidable co-incidence - which is, every (read "almost all") Icon of present day happens to be living in the absolutely top economic echelon. It virtually leads to an implication that people do not confer ‘Iconship’(if that were a word!) unless  their Icons demonstrate success in the form of economic prosperity.

No matter, how harsh or even absurd and far-fetched the above observation of mine may sound, it is a stark reality today. You no longer find extra-ordinary doctors who aren’t phenomenally wealthy. You don’t have the successful politicians who are not stashed with seriously large sums of money. You don’t have big sports personalities (from popular sports), who are not highly rich. And examples are available aplenty from many other spheres as well.

The discussion so far, by any means, is not meant to draw a conclusion that every person who has made it big in his / her own profession is necessarily extra-ordinarily rich. My only simplistic observation is that folks hailed as popular Icons have at least one thing in common - their extra-ordinary financial status!

And this is where I want to add a twist / new dimension to the description of an Icon.

An Icon is a person / personality who enjoys an important place in the hearts, thoughts and lives of a large number of people, because s/he represents and possesses their ideas about ideal characteristics that must be present in a person of that profession / calling / field. And most importantly, people often times either dream of becoming such Icons themselves or look at such Icons as their dream achievers.

That’s why parents would invariably say to their aspiring cricketer children to idolize Sachin. And that’s why a young politician would like to buy a white SUV at the first available opportunity upon entering the political arena. And that’s why most of the aspiring actors want to advance their careers through a Bollywood route than through the stage and they would more likely choose TV serials as ladders than working on acting / staging plays!

I am merely highlighting a truth! Not passing an explicit value judgment. Although, my readers, by now, would surely have sensed my latent concern. Hopefully, many more will share it as well! All in the interest of a purposeful, long-lasting and healthy advancement of human societies!   


Amit Mardikar said...

An inevitable (co-)outcome of being an icon is financial success in the 21st century; So in my mind its not a contributing or qualifying factor, rather an effect of being an icon. If you agree with that submission, then economic success does not necessarily become a factor in conferring an "icon" title. I think it might hold true in the examples we looked at in the blog.

Unknown said...


Rahul Mulay said...

Good point Abhay, that is the unfortunate reality.
Anna Hazare is considered an icon of the anti-corruption movement in India. People will wear the "Anna caps" and participate in rallies. But when it comes to their children, they will still ask their children to emulate affluent icons.

Unknown said...

What points and examples Abhay Sir you have shared are true.

I would also agree with Rahul Sir's point. I have heard of this saying in Marathi : "Shaivaji Janmala yeude, pan shjaryachya gharat!"

We have studied Mother Teressa, Sindhu Tai Sakpal, Sant Gadge Baba and many more as Social entrepreneurs,who have done great work to be considered as an Icon by bring change in the society and for betterment of people, who are not forgotten but "i feel" are not on top of the mind as Icons.

I also feel it differs from person to person, to their backgrounds, to what they are exposed to, and even what they aspire to do in their Life.

Many would consider Anna Hazare and other social workers as their Icons because they would like to work similarly and many would consider Sachin or Amitabh an Icon who aspire to be in those fields.

Unknown said...

Very True Sir!!!

waman ainapure said...

Dear Abhay,-The word icon has many shades.Relevant to your discussion,the following two meanings come to my mind.1)An object or a person of uncritical devotion:idol.2)A person who is very successful and admired.Geniuses may not be successful i.e.economically, but all the same they are admired universally.Think of many scientist and poets.--Appamama

Ninad said...

Let's begin with which icons we are truly talking about. I feel that you have focused on 'popular' nationally recognised icons where in my opinion money has tended to follow their iconic status.

So, in this cut throatingly (I made that up...sorry) competitive world, iconic status = success = wealth, which is a beacon for aspirations. I don't begrudge their wealth as long as their iconic status is used for good causes, not necessarily in the Gates fashion or scale but in someways that touches life, brings a smile, makes you pause and admire. What you are then doing, is not harbouring aspirations towards their wealthy status but towards what they do despite it.

And then there are the Amte family icon in their own right without the baggage of wealth. They are an icon albeit to a much smaller section of society.

If your argument between the lines is that one needs to acknowledge the fact that there exist such people who do yeoman like work in their field, which I suspect you are hinting at, then I couldn't agree more.

However, concluding that in India, Icon = wealth would be simplistic as you rightly suggest.

I consider Ghalib to be an icon. He died in relative penury! OK, that was a century ago and material aspirations have come a long way since..

More recently, wouldn't you agree that Milkha Singh remains an icon despite not being phenomenally wealthy? Why is a film being made on him otherwise?

To be even more contemporary, maybe consider Gulzar, does one take him to one's heart and then consider that he should be iconised so that riches will follow? Do we know what he is fiscally worth at all? Do we care?

Hence, to my mind constricting our argument to icons=money may cause disservice to the countless others who are iconic for significant parts of society.

It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in today's India, that your premise seems to hold water more than mine.

Unknown said...

There can be no Icon without very rare level of vision, dedication, efforts,achievements,hard work, conviction,willpower,grit,honesty,humility, etc.. Financial success is a byproduct for some depending on field of activity.In certain professions financial gains are simply a taboo like social service. See what happened to Vikram Akula who is no more an icon.How can you say that people dont try to emulate icons without financial success. Those folowers are different subset of society not considered by author. Look at followers of Narendra Dabholkar, who is no less an icon in terms of impact on society. There are many who follow him and want to emulate. Vijay Karkare

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thank you very much.

Amit, Rajeev, Rahul, Sanket, Vaijanath, Appamama, Ninad & Vijay.

Vijay & Ninad, Excellent points. I fully agree with you that there is a subset of the society I have not considered. My observations were related to overwhelming majority. And I must say that the subset I ignored are the ones that I admire the most.

Thanks to Uday, Mangesh & Sunil folks as well who separately wrote to me.

Keta said...

Thanks for sharing this perspective Abhay uncle, it is very insightful! Although it can be interesting to note if the financial success is the pre-condition or outcome of being an icon or both. Also a common theme might be that - these icons (with financial success) belongs to the fields or profession which common man/mass can relate to or are influenced by media like sports, cinema,etc and also mainstream jobs where financial success gets lauded. There are fewer icons which are relished without their financial success which are of the likes of APJ Kalam and such others. As you have mentioned in the comments, these are rare breed now but equally or more appreciable, but the trend of the mass/majority is painted well by your observation.

Unknown said...

I totally agree with your point. But to become an Icon in the society, it requires a lot of hard work, sacrifice & dedication and perseverance in whatever field you strive to achieve something big. It is saddest part on our society as a whole that we only give examples of wealthy Iconic figures and ignores the social iconic figures like Anna Hazare, Baba Amte & others social workers. After all we are living in materialistic world where spirituality is slowly evading.

Suryakant said...

In case of Sachin and Amitabh economic success is the result of their talent and ability to influence people. They have proved their magic again and again.
But economic success is not a must. As already someone have stated people like Baba Amte, Veer Savarkar, Tilak have worked with different value systems when money was not very important.
But for now regretfully we have to agree that money matters.
I think money does influence but doesn't hurt.
We feel space of history around Sachin and Amitabh.

Unknown said...

Well written, though I would tend to argue that icons are always in context to their area of influence. And therefore those in the world of entertainment (& I include Cricket in that) are bound to gain in their wealth profile as they climb the ladder of iconship. Sachin Tendulkar for example or even Amitabh Bachchan had a very humble background. On the other hand, there are icons in their respective field of social service who arent wealthy but if you wish to call for selfless service, you think of Mother Teresa or a modern day icon would be Anna Hazare for his ability to mobilize masses to bring in focus corruption in high places or Damini or Nirbhaya would always remain an icon even in death for mobilizing mass support towards highlighting women's safety in India.

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks Shashank..Good observations..


Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks Kantaram...