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Nelson Mandela’s loss has  rendered him even more  iconic than the events that transformed his life. He  stands a giant in our  memories, and it is difficult  to graph him as a common  human being, one with  human failings and errors of  judgment. With his death, he has been relegated to  the pages of history as a  legendary warrior fighting  with the implements of  peace, patience and  political discourse and  instituting democracy in a country wracked by discrimination.

I visited Mandela’s jail cell in 2009. It was a small 8×8 square cell, and I remember examining the walls in an attempt to search for something of the man, a mark, a smudge, a scratch that would have been mine to keep and hold. I found nothing. Which goes to support what he represents. Nelson Mandela belongs to everyone and thus to no one.

Nelson Mandela often said that he was influenced by Gandhi, and indeed in the execution of his life, the pardoning of his jailers, embracing his enemies, and relentlessly bargaining for democracy in South Africa he resembled Gandhi in many ways. Both were lawyers and cut their political teeth in the great patriotic struggle and both grew to be legendary leaders. Where Mandela is different is in the implementation of his ideas. He did not believe in hunger fasts and sought a more inclusive society through pragmatic militancy.

The kind of utopian idealism that both espoused never really came to pass. Today, both India and South Africa are countries in distress with rampant corruption, poverty and high incidences of crime. However, both India and South Africa would never have advanced on the trajectory of change without Gandhi and Mandela. Their humility of manner and the grandiosity of their vision set them apart. Both Nelson Mandela and Mohandas Gandhi stand as great moral leaders for this generation and many more to come.

Jaya Padmanabhan

Jaya Padmanabhan is editor emeritus, contributing writer, and board member of India Currents. She is a veteran journalist, essayist, and fiction writer with over 250 published articles and short stories....