Saturday, August 29, 2009

History. Or just His-story?

Who is to be blamed for partition - Jinnah, Nehru or Patel?
How much did LK Advani know about Kandahar action?
Was Pokharan-II successful or not?

Three cases of historical events becoming skeletons in the cupboard. All in one month. The irony is whether anything will ever come out of these (other than politicians getting their pound of flesh and news channels getting more 'breaking news, that is). More than 60 years have passed since the first event and all the three characters being spoken about are no more. The other two events will surely remain shrouded forever behind the doors of diplomacy, bureaucracy and defence. Allegations and counter-allegations will continue for few months and then it will all be put behind, till someone finds anther skeleton in the cupboard called History of India.
That brings up another point. Why is history so distorted in India? Or is it so everywhere? Why are events not documented as they have happened, without quickly adding our subjectivity to them, and promptly creating heroes and villains out of the event? Once the heroes have been honoured and villains castigated, it becomes the official record. Fifty years later, someone interprets it differently and all hell breaks loose.
Is there ever any such thing as an accurate description of an event? Is it possible - or does history as a concept always have to be subject to the state of mind of who documents it? Whose history does it then become, or does it only remain his-story.
Last week in Lucknow I saw giant monuments being erected, honouring Ambedkar, Kanshiram and of course Mayawati. I am not any history expert but I think Ambedkar's teachings have already been distorted and twisted and wrongly implemented by factions to gain their mileage. I believe Ambedkar never demanded reservation till posterity. So, fifty years from now, how will Mayawati be seen, with her statues adorning every other corner in Lucknow (and many other towns in UP)? Maybe she is smart enough to understand this aspect of Indians having a short term memory and is ensuring her place in history by skilfully writing her-story at the expense of taxpayer's money. So her megalomania might not find a place in our recorded history at all. The only thing that will stand out and be seen will be her statues. My friend commented on seeing the statues - "have you noticed? In all her statues she is carrying a purse....!" So will my friend's witty observation and the subtle interpretation therein be recognized by history? I doubt very much.
Another case - Prabhakaran and LTTE. How will he be referred to 50 years later? There are opposing views about him even in the present, so less said the better about what will happen in future.
Is history a reality of the past or simply a story of the past about which all we can say is - may or may not be true?
Just yesterday I was going through 'Horizons - The Tata-India Century 1904-2004.' The inside cover says that it is a "comprehensive and sparkling record of a hundred years of Tata in Indian history." Since it is a coffee table book, I was curious about how the not-so-sparkling events have been reported. I was glad to read the frank and clear account of three such events - the inglorious exits of Rusi Mody, Ajit Kerkar and Dilip Pendse.
So I suppose there are some people who are faithful to the reality. That's a welcome relief.


Vinay said...

History is an account of the victors over the vanquished. There is seldom going to be a neutral account of history. And with today's news channels bombarding you with their half-baked view points, do you think that the layman would be able to come to an objective conclusion? I doubt it.

Look at Rajdeep Sardesai and his flock. They are biased against the BJP and therefore all their stories come out with a flavour of anti-BJP stand. So, watching the junior Sardi-man reports, do you think you will be able to objectively judge BJP's actions?

Pushkaraj said...

@ Susan - Thanks. Yes, you are right. I was aware of this even as I was reading the book. But some relief is better than total despair!
@ vinay - Thanks for the comment. I have actually stopped watching Rajdeep and his channel. I watch NDTV for Nidhi Razdan and Sunetra Chaudhary. (And for news, I actually watch 9X. At least they have less commercials) My hopes so far rest on NDTV asking Barkha to take voluntary retirement...