The concept of status symbols is changing rapidly these days. There used to be a time when being invited to Salman Khan’s sister’s wedding at Hotel Faluknuma would make all your friends and neighbours green with envy. Or, being on the no-frisk list at airports was enough to mark you out as someone very, very important. Even being raided by the Income Tax was a sign of your wealth and influence. All that now belongs to the Stone Age. Every Tom, Dick and Robert walks through airport security these days. Businessmen being hauled up for tax evasion are a dime a dozen. If you want to be noticed and talked-about, you have to get yourself arrested as the mastermind of a billion-buck ponzi scheme or the owner of a bankrupt airline company. At the very least, you must be an anonymous online recruiter for the ISIS or IM or some other sinister international organization. Otherwise you might as well flaunt the latest smart-phone or Apple watch or imported unisex aviator sunglasses. These things are no more than trinkets. They don’t count for anything any more. You have think big or be really innovative and imaginative. You have to achieve something majorly earth- shaking, like hack into the computer system of a global corporate giant like Sony Pictures.
Satire Julian Assange did something like that a few years ago. He managed to get his hands on top secret cables of the US State Department, millions of classified documents, and uploaded them free ofcharge for all the world to see. He became a hero and icon overnight. It’s a different matter that nobody talks about Wikileaks nowadays and nobody knows or even cares if he’s still in hiding in Ecuador or somewhere. But that’s the hazard of the Cyber Age. Attention spans are short-lived. The public responds spontaneously to your dramatic achievement, you go viral on Facebook and Twitter for a week or two and the public moves on. That’s the name of the game in modern times. Fame and fortune don’t last very long. Shakespeare wrote his plays 400 years ago and his name is still a synonym for English Literature. Napolean is still remembered as one of the greatest military commanders in history nearly 300 years after his death. Shivaji was a Maratha king in the 17th century and is still revered for his qualities of head and heart. Those days are also gone. In the Space Age. few if any, recall the names of the astronauts who were the first to land on the Moon or even whether there were two of them or three of them. Only quiz whiz kids remember who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year or the year before. A budding young Bollywood heroine famously did not even now the name of the current President of India.
It is not her fault. This is the Twitter Age. Ideas have to be expressed in 140 characters, including spaces. Five million Tweets are sent every day. The average user sees or reads about 500 of them, at the most, and then instantly forgets 99 per cent of them. The point is that fame in the 21st century is fleeting. Only obscurity is forever, as Napolean said (remember him?). So, coming back to status symbols and trying to attract attention, envy and admiration, forget Apple watches and fancy footwear. Zap the world by pulling off one big mega-outrageous achievement. Enjoy your brief moment in the sun. And then slip back into the annals of anonymity.