1918 - 2013
There's a tradition in Punjab, the land of the Sikhs -- now lost in the diaspora -- around death and funerals.
When a person who has lived a long and fulfilled life dies, leaving behind several generations of flourishing descendants, the funeral turns into a celebration of his/her life, instead of a mourning. Even the funeral procession is led by a baraat-style musical band, in the fashion of local weddings... or funerals a la New Orleans.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who died last Thursday at the ripe age of 95, leaves behind a better world as a direct result of his extraordinary life and personal sacrifices. He lived a life more fulfilling than anyone I know. He is survived not only by several generations of descendants -- affluent enough to be already feuding amongst themselves as to how to honor their patriarch -- but also by an entire world which has inherited his gift of courage and freedom.
Death is inevitable for each one of us. There are no exceptions, not even saints, scholars, potentates and heroes.
Hence, when Mandela died -- especially after a prolonged illness -- there is no reason to grieve. Only to celebrate an exemplary life so well lived!
He stood head and shoulders above all those who we call leaders -- both literally as well as in the highest meanings of the expression.
There has been no one like him in recent history.
There are no spins to his life story or the saga of his life's work. No need to sift through piles of dross to find the metal. No borrowed or inherited glory. No perversions to hide. No skeletons in the closet.
His was a life of unparalleled personal sacrifice. He spent 27 years -- his entire youth -- in the dreaded prisons of a repressive and oppressive regime. When he emerged, victorious, his tormentors collectively collapsed into a heap, relegated to the dustbin of history.
Today, a mere quarter century from the day he walked out a free man from the dreaded dungeons of the abomination known as apartheid -- having progressed from Robben Island, to Pollsmoor Prison and then Victor Verster Prison -- the names of those who led and managed the boorish regime that imprisoned him and held the nation captive, are unknown.
Overshadowed by Mandela and instantly forgotten. A whole population of neanderthals who claimed racial superiority has mercifully scurried out of sight and hopefully died, having proved beyond all doubt how wrong and misguided they had been.
Today, we celebrate the man who became the moral compass for not only his people but the world.
And, once given the honor that was due to him, he -- unlike all those who plague our respective countries today as politicians, leaders and religious shepherds -- did not turn it into a license to amass personal wealth.
There is so much to learn from him, to emulate from his life.
But today, we celebrate... the gift of Nelson Mandela.
Forgive me if I borrow once again from Will Shakespeare:
"...he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus..."