By Nanditha Sankar:
The first celebrated hero in China was a civil engineer. He lost his father because the man was unsuccessful in devising a method to check the fury of the great destroyer, The Yellow River, from flooding the lands. The responsibility for the same passed upon the shoulders of the son — The Great Yu . He toured the entire length and breadth of the River and devised the formation of channels. This was not just a revolutionary idea in terms of novelty. Building canals meant that it required a large-scale engineering process. It could not be carried out with a handful of tribes. Yu’s plan required a large number of warring tribes to come together, cast aside their differences for a greater cause — that of saving their fates from the fury of the lashing waters. The plan was a success and Yu was anointed as Yu The Great. He did not renege on the promise he had made his wife — to step foot into his home only after he had succeeded. Even though this required him to stay away from home for 13 long years, the Great Yu , according to Chinese legends, became a legend thereafter.
Not everyone outside of China knows the Great Yu. Far lesser known are stories of men and women around the world, faceless and nameless, who, at some point in history, changed our lives. Rewind to about 32,000 years ago. Inside the Chauvet caves in France, a few peopleÂ decided to chalk out drawings of the animal kingdom — horses, mammoths, bison and 5000 years later, more drawings followed. The explorers who visited the caves vouch for the freshness of the paint — they look as if they were etched out recently. Lost are the faces of these artists, possibly some of the first ever in recorded history. Hidden in oblivion are their faces, unless of course some of them pull a Man From Earth on us (The movie The Man From Earth is a story of the life of a man who claims he has been living since 14,000 years and borne witness to all major events that shaped modern history).
Similar to the Chauvet caves are the hand paintings in Argentina. There is nothing which shows one’s presence and identity more than the trace left by our hands. Unique as they are, handprints are often used to fill up spaces, as simple substitutes when in dearth of ideas and even as stamps of identity in the case of thumb prints. Like in the case of the cave paintings, we know not who they were or what propelled them into creating those prints. We can vicariously relive their lives by joining hand to hand but their faces will remain alien to us.
Throughout time, there are many such nameless and faceless beings who have shaped the course of our lives. Hardly any of us would know that the Idukki Dam in Kerala, one of the largest arch dams in the world, was built after Shri Kolumban, a tribal chief, led the engineers to a spot which saw water gushing forth from a space between two hills. The Dam lights up an entire state, thanks to Shri Kolumban, who has a name and face, but nevertheless, forgotten.
Great deeds do not come from the famous alone. A million years from now, there is a chance that the legends of today will be forgotten. Akin to the cavemen who created the cave paintings, the person who invented the first ever needle made of bone and saved the people of those times from a deadly Ice Age, or the first ever farmers; the faces of today will be lost in oblivion. What remains a comforting fact is the belief that someone in the future will understand that they were living, breathing people who contributed to a butterfly effect.