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At the time of the 9/11 tragedy, during a period of high American grief and emotion, few raised objection to the idea of a memorial to the dead. Maya Lin, the architect of the Vietnam War memorial, was the lone dissenting voice that explained with a chilling clarity that without the value of memory, the place did not warrant a memorial.
As emotion-charged Shiv Sainiks demand the construction of a memorial to Bal Thackeray,
it would be foolhardy to remind them of Maya Lin's line. The rabid, intensely narrow-minded nature of Indian adoration takes on a tone of religious fanaticism when the stakes are political, and the battle is pitched between opponents vying for municipal space.
In a city with a constant undercurrent of sectarian violence, the voice of reason has always been muted. Four years earlier, the government proposed the idea of a 300-foot statue of Shivaji striking a pose on a rearing horse set in the Arabian Sea. It had taken the Shiv Sainiks time to recover from the shock of Thackeray's own admission that the Rs 350 crore memorial was "a waste, as a perfectly good memorial existed at the Gateway of India". Citing environmental reasons, the state government eventually scaled down the project to a small statue that would be built in the waters off Marine Drive. Now, however, it may be more difficult for the Mumbai Municipal Corporation or the chief minister to take a similarly hard stand in the case of the Balasaheb memorial.
In India, the glorification of political icons is seen as wholly incongruous when viewed against the backdrop of their lives. The fact that Thackeray lived an isolating life, promoting sectarian ideals and a divisive leadership, will doubtless be overlooked in the heat of the moment. The rabid followers of his separatist philosophy will just as surely demand a physical reminder of his presence, the more monumental the better.