Monday, March 1, 2010

History - a commentary

History has always fascinated me. Social science was my favorite subject in school. I used to spend a lot of time in my study room going through all the varied guides CBSE X had to offer me on the subject and would somehow feel empty after going through them. I would read the history sections of every guide again and again, somehow yearning to learn more every time. Not for the grades, but just to satisfy my curiosity and inquisitiveness. I thoroughly enjoy the subject. The only trouble I had in answering the paper was in not knowing where to stop. I would go on and on when answering questions on this subject. Whether it was the French revolution or laissez faire policy of the government, the Indian fight for freedom or ancient civilizational stories, I loved them all.

All right I am no historian and I have no intentions of showering self praises. I’ll get to the point straight away. An article today and a documentary yesterday provoked me to pondering over history in a completely different sense.

The article was about three figures of Indian history – Salim, Khurram and Khusrau. While the third one maybe a little unfamiliar, all of us know the first two – albeit with different names – Salim as Jehangir – the successor of Akbar and Khurram as Shah jahan – he who epitomized love with his monumental Taj Mahal. Khusrau was another of Jehangir’s son who posed a threat to his own father – Akbar it seems was more in favor of handling over the throne to this young lad than to the lad’s father and Akbar’s son Jehangir. And Shah Jahan took great troubles to ensure this blinded man (blinded by his own father when he rose in rebellion) was kept out of bounds when his own turn came to seize power. The article I am referring to is “Khusrau – the shadow of power” which appeared in “The Hindu” dated Feb 28th 2010. Can be read here -

The author brought forth an insightful account of history’s leading figures and I was spell bound. This man should have occupied the cover pages of our history textbooks for his bravery and courage and his unflinching love for his wife. On the contrary we are taught of a man who had the dimmest of respect to love as the man who stands for love. Well, I do not wish to comment on history. My point is different.

The documentary I watched yesterday night on the history channel was Saddam’s tribes. An account of Saddam’s life and family leading to his capture and torture by his own daughter – Raghad Saddam; Check the video here -

it was another interesting account of a piece of history offering a completely different paradigm. Having gone through the gulf war with my sister barely few months old, I can truly relate to the horrors of Saddam. I was brought up in Kuwait and every now and then we would have these funny threats from Iraq. Of course, every time Uncle Sam would be there to help. All the while the image of saddam – the character I held in my mind was one of utmost cruelty and ferocity. Stories were circulated in plenty to affirm such an image into my mind. I had no reasons to question them as well. History of course would etch him out as an evil who occupied our times and from whose threat a savior of lord rescued us through divine premonition. This documentary however portrays Saddam as a completely different person – a kind father and a King who thought of his nation and who made decisions in the best interest of her people. Well, let me not make him seem as a hero. That he is not. Of that I am sure. Just that the documentary showed his as a different person as well.

The two incidents made me ask – who writes history? Can history really be unbiased and unprejudiced? Frankly, what is the incentive for a person recording history to speak of the events the way it happened? In any case, the person himself might not be present in all of the situations, so it’s only through the eyes and ears of different people that he would record his own version of history. And much would depend on the publishers of the work for the records to go unedited. A work coming out of such a process; can it be taken for absolute truth?

Look at the two situations above. Both seem to alter the image of the characters. The more popular version would seem like a cruel joke. If you went through the first article, the fact that a mausoleum on love should have been created by Shah Jahan would appear to be a monumental joke. And all of Saddam’s crimes might perhaps weigh down when compared to the happenings to the nation post the savior’s arrival. Looting and killing, endangering living; let me not speak more;

My father used to tell me – don’t trust history blindly. Every historian would only give his account of history. The textbooks you read and the popular sentiment you hear is what the powerful want you to know. Whether from religion or politics, every character would be etched out by their many followers and it would be literally impossible to get to know the real faces of men if they have been carved out by their disciples’ or loyalists.

Well – a thought I could so well relate to… Not that I endorse any of the above. Not that I have done any verification of the above two stories. Just a thought I wanted to pass, to let it sink into the minds of my readers so that you can digest the stories you hear with a touch of realism and then pass on the good to your off springs . J

And this is not a political commentary. I would never want to use this space for anything of that sort J