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Pride Leads to Self Destruction

Men like Ramalinga Raju are their own worst enemies & are the last ones to realize it, writes the author

The Greeks have a word for it - Hubris. According to the dictionary, it means excessive pride or self-confidence, the sort of excess that led to the downfall of Richard Nixon, Joseph Goebbels and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, not to mention, though not in the same breath, our own Ramalinga Raju.

They were doing very well for themselves until they started believing they were invincible and the usual laws didn't apply to them. So did Ramalinga Raju in his own backyard of Andhra Pradesh, as he kept totting up all those fancy residences from New York to San Francisco, and thousands of acres of real estate in the heart of Hyderabad and other Andhra cities, all paid for by his company, which had nothing to do with houses or real estate.

I may have met Raju two or three times in the last ten years but he never struck me as a man who cared for such things. He was minting money through his various companies but so were many other computer firms. But nobody thought the numbers he put out from time to time were phoney.

Immediately after the end of the last war, I was in London, along with the very first batch of Indian students to go abroad after the war. A few of us who were studying politics and economics, were taken to Germany, which was, at the time, not so much a country as a vast ruin. Some cities had just vanished off the map, and but for the assistance provided by the occupation army, or armies, for there were more than one, we would have been totally lost. The only valid currency in the bazaars were chocolate bars and cigarettes, and since we did not have access to these, most of us literally starved.

At the end of the visit, we were taken to Nuremburg, a small town, where some leading Nazi leaders or ex-leaders, were put on trial. Hitler was not among them, for he had committed suicide as the Red Army had closed in, but most of his colleagues were. And the most prominent among them was Hermann Goering who had taken over from Hitler just before the Nazi collapse.

I watched Goering from the gallery. He was not at all like the man whose pictures we had seen during the war, and even before that. Without his gaudy uniform, he looked like a caricature of himself, but for his haughty mien and the general air of superiority with which he watched the proceedings. He behaved as if he was still the Nazi leader he used to be and everybody around him in that hall, including the judges, were his minions.

This is what hubris does to you. Goering probably thought even then that he would get away with murder, and that he and his accomplices had done nothing wrong. And who were the British and the Americans to judge him? I am told that Bhutto also believed right up to the end that nobody in Pakistan would have the guts to hang him, and when he was dragged out of his cell to the gallows, he cried like a wounded bull. Goering escaped the hangman's noose by committing suicide.

This is what hubris does to you. History is replete with stories of men like Goering and Bhutto who were felled by hubris. They were, as the dictionary says, excessively proud and self-confident who, in the end, lose contact with reality. Our own Jawaharlal Nehru did not realise, until our armies were forced to retreat in the northeast in the face of the Chinese assault, that our defences, despite several warnings, were simply not up to the mark.

Men like Ramalinga Raju are their own worst enemies. Once you start believing that you can get away with anything, you have taken the first step towards self-destruction, though you are often the last person to realise it. And then it is too late.