Timeless History

Which histories are more difficult to write? While the lack of reliable sources plagues our explorations of the ancient pasts, the present is troubled by an overload of information surrounded by a political environment that has embraced the historian just as much as it has the reader. Also lingering is the unsolved questions for which any historian will have to resort to her moral/political judgement. What Nehru writes in his books, in the given political scenario of his time, is markedly different from what the imperial historians or the modern day historians will write of the ancient Indian civilisation.  In historical writings of more recent phases (such as the freedom struggle)- which bear a great weightage on any nation state- the challenge is even greater since the political environment is much charged up, and the rulers define what questions are legitimate.

During my college years, I had practiced the old saying- just learn your lessons from history without glorifying it. While I do largely agree to it, my recent readings of history have made me a little skeptical of lessons learned. Often what is taught as history is some person’s wet dream. Even the ancient past, that looks so far away from us that in our beliefs it could not possible touch us, haunts us through it murky ghosts. The nature of Hindu society, the Hindu-Muslim relations, and the status of Shudra in Varna system being some of the questions that need a modern political solution than the tainted justifications by historians.

The Aryans of early Vedic years were largely a pastoral people and gave little value to dates. Perhaps they knew of the futility of keeping record when men made the same mistakes in every day and age. Perhaps, then, the stories and parables of the ancient kings (even though untrue) are the only useful lessons  we can draw out of our pasts, the rest is just political manifesto.

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