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History Retold for Child Readers

Nivedita Sen

By Subhadra Sen Gupta . Illustrated by Priyankar Gupta Rupa
Rupa Publications, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 452, Rs. 500.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 11 November 2015

The blurb at the back of Subhadra Sengupta’s A History of India for Children clarifies that it is sufficiently updated with the relatively recent approach to the study of history. ‘History is … about how ordinary people lived—the houses they lived in, the food they ate, the clothes they wore and what the children studied in school … it is the story of our past.’ Such a sensitization has also marked the rewriting of history textbooks in schools. My generation that grew up reading History as a subject in school in the late sixties and seventies recalls how we were subjected to memorizing the eight-fold path of Buddha, the dates of various feats during the reign of the Mughal dynasty, points on why Mohammad bin Tughlak failed as a ruler and the like, and therefore found it very irksome. The present generation is lucky to have escaped such a tedious, fact-filled chronicling of Indian history. Instead, children today who have to go through the compulsory capsules of Indian history all the way up to Class 12 have refreshing topics for study like the history of cricket, how the English language gradually became an official Indian language in India or an analysis of how and why certain fashions and sartorial habits grew in certain places. NCERT textbooks on History, credited with having revamped the entire system, however, are still guilty of recounting history in a kind of language that children find very boring. Subhadra Sengupta who is a prolific, reputed, Sahitya Akademi winning writer for children, has said in an interview recently that her book could serve as a textbook as well as reading for pleasure. Charles Dickens’s History of England for Children in three volumes (published over 150 years ago in England) was among the first of this kind. In India, Sheila Dhar’s Children’s History of India (originally published in 1967) or Roshen Dalal’s Puffin History of India for Children in two volumes (2002–3) have earlier also tried to combine instruction with amusement in the telling of history. When it says that it is not just about kings, battles and dates, the book demonstrates that its author is trying to recreate for children what the adult world of scholars, academics and historians have been trying to reconstruct and rewrite as history, challenging and dislodging in our records the centrality of men, the West, the whites, the first world, the middle ...

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