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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Interpreting a history

What’s happening to history [subscription?] in India? It’s been developing for a while and the latest article I’ve come across is from the NYRB. It appears that the aspiring super-power is struggling to come to terms with its history while developing a modern self-identity. Unlike the usual culture wars associated with the interpretation of history, usually fought in books and essays, the fights in this bun war get bloody and barbarous (communalism actually), if history is anything to go by. The latest noises should alert anyone who truly cares about India.

Pankaj Mishra has been the most visible (to the west) writer to focus on this. His recent writing also illuminates the many different religions that have developed in the region. Mishra's writing is really growing on me, more than many of the other South Asian writers of note.

Of course winning a culture war is never going to be complete without claims to scientific validity. So it appears there are half-assed efforts to bastardize science as well. Hey I'll even accept astrology if it is proven using the scientific method. You shouldn’t need much, only a sample of participants, their birth dates and follow them over a reasonable period. No tests or questions just observation. How hard is that?

India is such a diverse melting pot rich in histories, it has a unique opportunity to show the world that a modern nation can emerge with a multi-cultural heritage unlike the rest of the modern world where the path has been from mono-culture to multi-cultural. Does this make the problems of the modern Indian woman any easier?

Update: Re-jigged the content to emphasise the fact that this is about the history war.
images from here


  • At 3:10 am AEST, Anonymous Divakar said…

    Since a year or so the Congress and its alliance of "secular" parties have been ruling India. There hasnt been a communal violence since the Gujarat riots in Godhra in 2002. So how come this post pops up all of a sudden?

    Not all of India's history is about communalism, in fact it rears its ugly head only sporadically. Consider this, the current President of India--A Kalam is a muslim. The prime minister is a Sikh. The chief of army staff is Sikh. The richest Indian, Azim Premji (Wipro) is a muslim.This is not symbolism, it reflects ground realities. India has come a long way since the bloody riots sparked by the partition in 1947. I dont know of any country that has as much variety in terms of religions, ethnic groups, language groups living together relatively peacefully.

    I adore the fiction of Pankaj Mishra and Arundhati Roy. But the moment it comes to politics they get transformed into rabid commies. Their views are so slanted that they can't be taken very seriously. I would rather read leftist Indian historians like Romila Thapar and Partha Chatterjee who know what they are talking about even if I do not share their views than try pink-amateur history by Mishra & Co.

  • At 8:55 am AEST, Blogger ivap said…

    This post came out of reading the (March 2005) NYRB article and seeing the latest noises (see link in the main page) made by the BJP. I agree with what you say about diversity but the question is how far the right will go in trying to return to power the next time?


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