When cricketer extraordinaire, AB de Villiers, decided to hang up his international boots, my heart felt a pang usually reserved for landmark moments when an Indian sporting giant announces something similar. ABD, as he is popularly known, is a man of many talents, having delved in many sports from childhood, although in his book, ‘AB-The Autobiography’ he famously quashed rumours of having been a junior national champion in games other than cricket.
There are few sportspersons who have regaled audiences across the world in as entertaining and unbridled a manner as de Villiers. Fans across the world have simply been bowled over by his fascinatingly versatile stroke play and his ability to score runs in all directions of the ground. His sobriquet “Mr 360 Degrees” was well earned and mind boggling at the same time. The sheer natural instinct and gift of timing which made him such a supreme example of craftsmanship at the crease, also enabled him to astound us with catches that he plucked out of thin
air, a la his famous predecessor, Jonty Rhodes.
Yet, even more admirable has been ABD’s demeanour off the field and his gentlemanly image as a family man and a great human being. Thousands of young Indian boys consider him to be their role model. Like Sachin Tendulkar, he will undoubtedly continue to be so. The likes of Vishwanathan Anand, PV Sindhu, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni too have inspired legions of youngsters to take up sports passionately, but where are life’s role models from fields?
Where is the politician or bureaucrat who truly brings out the goose pimples by sheer dint of leadership and magnanimity? Where is the lawyer, doctor or engineer who makes society ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ with his or her exemplary work? And what of so-called social activists or ‘champions’ of the underdog who ostensibly give their lives to a particular cause? Indeed there are some who have been game changers and have led exemplary lives of courage and contribution, but there are too few of them around.

TN Seshan, who transformed the election process in India, E. Sreedharan, popularly known as the Metro Man, and Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel Laureate, are exceptions to the rule, who broke all norms and defied status-quos to make a mark that truly mattered. Agreed, there are others like them, who too have taken up the gauntlet in their own fields of endeavour, and inspired society as a whole. Yet, not enough people in positions of power or eminence across the world are conducting themselves in a manner that makes them role models for younger generations to follow. Several political leaders have been found wanting and power has surely gone to their heads. The same is unfortunately true of government officers, CEOs and personalities who had the ability to make a positive difference to the world at large.

The youth of this era does not thus have reason enough to emulate successful personalities. Anyway, whatever greatness achievers, actors or sportsmen do garner these days, is often ripped apart by dark stories that keep emerging, of their misconduct. The ‘venerable’ Hollywood actor, Morgan Freeman, is sadly the latest example.
Yes Mr Freeman is human, just as we all are, but there has to be, in the eyes of an impressionable young boy or girl, someone out there who inspires them to reach beyond the stars. How do we find superstars with squeaky clean images in these glaringly transparent times? No one can possibly be above board in all respects, given the kind of scrutiny that media subjects all famous people to. Especially when that scrutiny comes with an agenda!
The real role model is probably to be found amongst the common folk then. The bus driver who never drives rashly, the school teacher who instills true values into his wards, the clerk who never demands an extra rupee- these are the examples to follow in today’s times. The mass media would do well to highlight many more of them.
“Example is leadership”, said Albert Schweitzer quite plainly. Let’s see if our world can come up with enough examples of the outstanding variety in the years to come.