Vantage point

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

I am a history buff, as most of you must be knowing. I think that if we can learn from our history and not repeat our mistakes, we would be so much better off.

Other than this sermonic reason, I like history simply because I read it as a mosaic of different stories. As the age old cliche goes, truth is stranger than fiction, and more often than not, history is all truth. So reading "well written" history is sometimes more enchanting than reading fiction. But the words "well written" are crucial enough in the scheme of things to desrve the quotes I put them in. Being "well written" does not mean that it should be written by a master storyteller, for more often than not, the facts are fascinating enough to hold their own sway. But "well written" means that the history should be told just with the intention of letting the others know it, and not with the intention of indoctrinating or brainwashing. When this ulterior motive of fashioning someone's beliefs and ideas comes into play, history becomes nothing more than the press releases in George Orwell's '1984'. Reading it becomes as cumbersome as carrying lead slabs across a desert in June.

Now some might say that truly objective and purely narrative history is never possible. The writer will always give the writings a subconscious spin according to what he was taught and believes. That is true. That is why the history we are taught in school seems so drab and unpopular. Whenever I tell people that my secret wish was to do a PhD in History, I hear a groan. This didactic approach towards teaching history has made people look at it as a pain rather than a joy. I myself started liking history only when I started reading stuff outside the school textbooks.

I am no zealous messiah of history who will go around urging people to take to reading history. But there is this amazing link I came across. See, basically, for some reason we Indians grow up with this mentality to associate everything Muslim in history with the Mughals. The expletive sometimes used to refer to Muslims contemptuously is "Babur ki aulaad"(son of Babur). There is also this impression that Islam was spread in India mainly by force. Now while all this is not completely false, it is not completely true either. There are various aspects of it which we are not taught about in greater detail. Then there are Hindu kings whom we know little about. Who among you had heard of King Chach? He was Brahmin king who lived in the 7th century, and was the first king to successfully repel a Muslim invasion. Who has heard of the intriguing story of the Princess Suryadevi who took revenge on her father's killers by using just her brain and tongue ( in fact it inspires me to weave up a short story based on what she did)? How many of you knew that Brahmins were exempted from the jaziya tax that the Koran prescribes for non-Muslims from 700 A.D to about 1400 A.D? How many of you knew that a Hindu eunuch (yes, an eunuch) opportunistically converted to Islam and actually won a lot of territory all over India?

I bet not many. It's because we are taught this extremely limited version of History that gives a little too much focus on our struggle for independence from the British. If I had a rupee for every time I wrote a short note in some exam on 'Lal-Bal-Pal', I'd be holidaying in the Bahamas right now. So anyway, here's an account of the portion of Indian history that we are never really taught about very well, except for "Mehmud of Gazni attacked us 16 times". Will make good reading.

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