Great Achievers
By Maxwell Pereira
maxpk@vsnl.com

A recent 'Outstanding Achiever' Award humbled me like never before! Just comparing and observing how insignificant were my own so called achievements against those of others similarly recognized and awarded, now and earlier… And more importantly, of those many others who had not received their due recognition, despite achievements, which I suspect were far far greater than my own.

That set me thinking. Are achievements subjective? ….like beauty is to the eyes of the beholder? …Or biased and prejudiced, depending on the area of activity focused on, or the area of interest of the Benefactor, Philanthropist, Group, or Agency that evaluates and confers the Award!

It is noble to recall what's transpired in the past and evaluate the great achievements of men and women whose actions have brought honour not only to themselves, their own family, social group, alma mater or community, even country! But it is far more worthy to recognize those whose achievements have also benefited humankind as a whole.

Off hand, the name of Mahatma Gandhi springs to mind, as one Indian of world class recognition to honour and revere, since to us Indians he is the Father of our Nation, having freed us from the yoke of colonial rule and spread the message to the world of achieving through non-violence. Likewise perhaps for the Americans it is George Washington and Abraham Lincoln who fought against slavery; and for the South Africans Nelson Mandela who fought apartheid.

Two years ago, I learn, the British formed a panel to select the greatest Britons of all times. And after much thought and deliberation zeroed in on ten greats, and one among them, the greatest Briton over all ages! Across the board, the principle and guidelines that underlined the selection are noteworthy.

The first of the ten was Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), who became a national hero for his victories at sea in the Napoleonic Wars. His crowning glory came from the Battle of Trafalgar in which he was mortally wounded. It was recognized and said that had there been no Nelson, there would have been no British Empire.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) featured as the next name. An English general and statesman, he opposed monarchy and fought for democracy, leading the victorious Parliamentary forces (Roundheads) in the British Civil War. He was named Lord Protector of the Commonwealth in 1653, a position he held till his death.

Elizabeth-I (1533-1603) was the third name. Daughter of Henry-VIII, she was crowned Queen of England and Ireland in 1558, succeeding her Catholic sister Mary-I. In a reign dominated by conflict with Catholic Spain, she re-established Protestantism as the State religion, parting ways with Rome.

The panel then voted John Lennon (1940-80), the pop icon, to the fourth place among the ten greats! He was the leading member of the Beatles - the famous 1960s rock group.

The fifth on the list was Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859), the Chief Engineer of the Great Western Railway and designer of the Clifton Suspension Bridge at Bristol. He also started the trans-Atlantic steamship in 1838, known as the Great Western. Belonging to the period of the Industrial Revolution, he invented useful machinery and locomotives for the East Bengal Railways.

Charles Robert Darwin (1809-82) is the sixth. A naturalist, he propounded the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, and authored the Origin of Species and Descent of Man. His theories that man's ancestor is the Ape, better still, that both Man and Ape had the same ancestor, challenged the Christian belief of 'The Creation' according to the Bible, and revolutionised the thinking about nature and man's place in it.

The Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) claimed seventh place. A dramatist and poet, his plays and comedies made him immortal; also his sonnets, more than 150 in number.

The latest darling of the masses - Diana, Princess of Wales (1961-1997) was the eighth. Of stuff fairy tales are made up of, her death in a car crash in Paris catapulted her to greater stardom, giving rise to intense national mourning. Britons identified her as a mother all children would love to have.

The ninth place went to Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) the British Conservative Statesman and Prime Minister of two terms (1940-45 and 1951-55). Heading the British Wartime Coalition Government, he was instrumental in leading the Allies to victory. Remembered for his ever present cigar in a mouth that mouthed words like "I have nothing to offer you, but blood, sweat and toil", he opposed the Independence of India. In his youth, he had served in the British Army at Bangalore and in Bengal. He was knighted after retirement.

Lastly, for the tenth slot, was Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1747), the great mathematician and physicist known for his laws of Nature, Mechanics and Gravitation. He discovered that white light was made up of a spectrum of different colours, developed the differential calculus for mathematics, proved that every object exerts an influence over other objects, and that Gravitation is the power that rules the Universe. Most modern technology depends ultimately on fundamental laws discovered by Newton.

In selecting the greats of all time, the British were not parochial. The test employed: "Have the achievements benefited the entire world!?" By this very application, Sir Isaac Newton was declared the greatest Briton over all ages, of all times!

Will someone among us measure up? …to select ten great Indians down the ages? And among them, may be some, who have benefited humanity as a whole?

900 words 24.01.2005: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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