New Delhi: Many years ago Dr. Christian Barnard, the man who made history by doing the first heart transplant, at a time when heart surgery was just beginning to be the ultimate frontier for medicine, wrote an autobiographical account called One Life’. He recalls his childhood in his native village when on an annual festival the young in the village took part in a long distance race.

Raj Liberhan, Director, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi

The winner became a local hero and all the girls wanted to be friends with the village hero. Christian Barnard trained hard for the race as he had set his heart on winning it, along with his friend who was the Rabi’s son.

On the great day the race was run, but Rabi beat Christian Barnard by a couple of yards. Christian Barnard spent that night awake, thinking of a hundred ways to close that distance of two yards, but the race had been run. And he lived with that ache for a long time.

Many years later he went on to become a noted cardiac surgeon and was working on the replacement of the heart valve. This time while his research was in advanced stages, somebody else succeeded.

Dr. Christian Barnard was to exclaim in despair, no matter how hard you run, there will always be a Rabi ahead of you’. Yes, this is the ultimate truth. There is always somebody ahead. Ever pause to ponder, why we need to push, shove, nudge, elbow and shoulder to overtake one, then the next, then another, only to be overtaken by fellow humans who stayed alive at your finishing line.

It’s a trifle odd that we call it a rat race even though those who run it are humans. It is not restricted to developed or undeveloped countries or developing ones. Irrespective of the evolutionary status of the country, it is a race that is run everywhere. Perhaps, the more intense the race and the more it is contested, the greater is the claim to an elevated level of development.

By any reckoning, it appears to be a primitive stage, rather than an evolved stage of civilization. Competition, yes. Because that implies fairness, equality and may the best win. It is a devotion to the kindred spirit, a tribute to the indomitable human will that strives to conquer adversity and overcome its circumstances.

Rat race is all about getting past your rival, no matter how. It is more of your own making. While competition is related to the race for survival, the rat race is for thriving and prospering at the expense of someone else. Is there any race for being the most humane, is there any one running for being the most decent, for being most generous to the poor of this world or for giving most succour to the needy? Wonder if any one has heard of a race like that.

Sure, the world needs doers and performers driven by an intense desire to do something, get somewhere, and be someone. There is an innate human craving to find new mountains to climb, to go where no one has been before, to discover a frontier of knowledge no one knew existed until now.

There are a lot of deserving people, but the ones who count are the ones who dare. The pragmatic will consider and cogitate, the cautious will secure safety by sitting on the fence no matter how much it hurts the behind, the intellectual will present an anti thesis to every course you take, the critic can suggest improvements only after someone had the courage to create.

The doer knows only one way, and that is he has to do, usually against odds. These are the tales of the heroes. Their race is not about victory or defeat. In a sense, the mere running of this race against all odds is heroic, and the stuff legends are made of. The conquest of Mount Everest, the discovery of penicillin, the struggle of Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi belong to the legion of triumphs against all odds. Somebody had to run these races because the survival of mankind/humanity came into question.

But as a wise man reminisced that in the temple of fame, there will also be a place for rich dunces, importunate scoundrels and some of the successful butchers of human race. Such people stand apart, not in the rat race, but as those who fix the course and the result.

And we have come to such a pass that fixers’ have become permanently embedded in the landscape meant for the seeker of the unknown, for the traveller to distant lands, or for those who create answers in the service of fellow man. Con is the new art and to become an icon’ the latest in the lexicon of modern ambitions.

Advertise an image, push this image in society columns and pictures, preferably get identified with a fashionable cause whose mission is to help the poor and the downtrodden and you have ingredients of a budding icon. As to how high this balloon will go, depends on the hot air inside.

The competition out here is intense and each one is for himself. Is it any wonder that rats run this race? It is crowded, it is hard fought and anything goes so long as you come out ahead for the day. Even less of a wonder that only a prized rat comes out a winner. Raceism’ has come to stay in the world.

Raj Liberhan is Director of the India Habitat Centre at New Delhi. Send your reactions to