when giants bid farewell


Something which killed the years for Nelson Mandela in Robben Island were the complete works of Shakespeare.

Smuggled in by Sonny Venkatrathnam pictures of Hindu deities cut from Diwali greeting cards were pasted on the cover to avoid confiscation. Subsequently called the Robben Island Bible prisoners marked out their favourite passages. Nelson Mandela marked out Caesar’s speech to his wife Calpurnia before the Ides of March. … “Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once”.

Ceasar was a constant companion to Mandela. In 1944 when young africana politicians lead by Nelson Mandela formed the Youth League of the African National Congress its first manifesto ended with the lines from Julius Caesar, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves that we are underlings.”

But each literary analogy has a limit. This is also true in this case. Though both ruled hearts one was wiser than the other. In his political prime, Mandela demitted office. Maybe he knew Shakespeare better than others. Maybe he knew that a path of continuous power would lead to his own Ides of March.

To me he not only signified hope through a political process but also in philanthropy and giving.

“Be absolute for death; either death or life
Shall thereby be the sweeter.”

Measure for Measure, Act III, Scene I.

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