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What Really is History?

Chinmay Chakrabarty

By Anurag Mehta
Nita Mehta Publications, Delhi, 2014, Rs. 295.00

By Subhadra Sen Gupta
Puffin Books, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 177, Rs. 225.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 11 November 2008

This is undoubtedly an excellent production, the overall qualities of get-up conforming to international standards. Even the contents, with simple lucid text adorned with bright multicoloured illustrations in each of the approximately 180 pages have left hardly anything to complain about. Children eyeing it from across the shop window glass would readily aspire to get it; and elders in search of a not-so-costly gift would feel relieved on locating the volume at a price of Rs. 295 only. The publishers who have brought out several similar quality publications earlier deserve due credit.   But before raising a toast, I have problems with two words in the title, i.e., ‘Glorious’ and ‘History’. The inner jacket and the ‘Introduction’ informs buyers that stories from the rich mythology have also been incorporated. Then, why not call the book stories from Indian History and Mythology?   The writer and the publisher apparently felt that the young readers should be inspired to become patriotic Indians proud of their glorious past. This was an effective method used by nationalist historians over a hundred years back. The latter had to contend with two serious problems. On the one hand they had to contradict highly biased imperial scholars like James Mill, Macaulay and others, who found hardly anything good in the legacy of India. On the other end, there were the subjugated Indians living in the morass of servility and inferiority complex, admiring everything associated with the West. They needed a heavy dose of stimulant to wake up from their stupor. But do the siblings of proud, self confident and assertive Indians of 2008 still need such stimulation?   The book again follows the traditional scheme of 19th century imperial historians of a narrative on dynastic lines and sequences. A host of names of rulers and dynasties and kingdoms are mentioned, just to conform to an archaic history-writing process. In these colourful pages, the only entertaining things are the colours, but hardly anything but names, to fondly remember. In that process, many things worth knowing and remembering are not incorporated. In a book to be read as a supplement to what is learnt in school, the scheme followed is surely not admirable. One can entertain, inform and elevate better with factual, interesting and inspiring stories, having universal appeal, from both history and mythology. And there are stories which can inspire to help contain the present all-around divisiveness threatening to tear us apart. Besides, ...

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