Dialogue  April-June, 2006, Volume 7  No. 4

Book-Review—Resurgent India

Utpal Kumar

The child is taken to school, and the first thing he learns is that his father is a fool, the second thing that his grandfather is a lunatic, the third thing that all his teachers are hypocrites, the fourth, that all the sacred books are lies! By the time he is 16, he is a mass of negation, lifeless and boneless. And the result is that 50 years of such education has not produced one original man in the three presidencies...We have learnt only weakness

—Swami Vivekananda

How prophetic were these words from the man who had died at the beginning of the last century! If these words were true during Vivekananda’s era, it is even more contemporary for our times where any suggestion to upgrade the history textbooks is regarded as an act of ‘saffronisation’. No wonder a few well-known journalists and social activists went to the Supreme Court challenging the interpolation of the names of Upanishads and Puranas in the history textbooks, calling it ‘saffronisation’! No wonder a child knows more about the French Revolution than the epoch-making Mahabharata war. He reads more about Shakespeare than Kalidasa. For him, Kautilya is “Indian Machiavelli”, while Samudragupta is merely the deshi version of Napoleon. In a way, this all-pervasive cultural indolence points towards existing colonial inferiority in the Indian psyche. Can anyone ever think of a British regarding Shakespeare as “England’s Kalidasa”?

In this perspective, the effort of the ‘Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram’ to bring out a book, National Resurgence in India, is laudable. Under the editorship of P Parameswaram, the director of Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram, the book tries to swim against the tide of misinformation and self-deprecation created by colonial writers along with Marxist historians. Containing the articles of the well-known scholars, the book tries not only to dispel the long-held notion regarding India inferiority vis-à-vis the rest of the world, but also talks about historical research and its methodology. In the galaxy of excellence, the articles of Michel Danino, A Sukumaran Nair, MD Srinivas, Ananda Reddy, Kapil Kapoor and SP Gupta need special reference.

Danino, in his article, ‘India’s gifts to the world’ enumerates those things that “today’s average student, whether at school or at college level hardly knows”. He makes us read the observations of the greatest minds of all time—Voltaire, Will Durant, Andre Malraux, Ralph Waldo Emerson, etc.—in order to display India’s unquestioned superiority. This stands in sharp contrast to the Marxist interpretation of history where the country is showcased as mere accidental host of innumerable invasions and migrations, where everything—both people and ideas—were imported from outside.

It is unfortunate that the intellectual tussle in the country was not between the Left and the Right, but among extreme Marxists and the centre-of-left historians. “Even the nationalist historians like RC Majumdar and Sardar KM Panikkar followed the framework of Euro-centric history with the three-fold periodisation of Hindu, Muslim and British periods—later changed into Ancient, Medieval and Modern periods—and the European Enlightenment idea of progress,” writes MGS Narayanan in his article, ‘Historical research methodology’. It is, therefore, not surprising that one still finds an overwhelming support among the country’s educated class for the discredited ‘Aryan Invasion/Migration Theory’.

Another important idea coming out of the book is that every nation is destined to chart its own distinct track—the Western countries following materialism, while the Indic civilisation charting the path of spirituality. Likewise, the sense of history is distinct for each cultural and geographical zone. Aurobindo says : “History with Western historians has for the most part has been a record of wars, political and economic institutions, geographical considerations, etc., all else treated or disposed of as unimportant accidents of these force.” But in ancient India, a land where these worldly achievements were given lesser significance than spiritual quest, people regarded battle and kingship as ephemeral, the only thing that survived was the search for true spirit — the ultimate reality.

Not surprisingly, all the traces of Asoka were erased from public memory till it was brought to life again by James Prinsep in 1837. But the recollection of Gautam Buddha and Shankaracharya remained as vivid among the masses as it must have been during their times, despite facing the worst of Islamic vandalism. Similarly, the memory of Maharaja Ranjit Singh remained entrenched in the Hindu psyche not for his martial exploits but for asking the return of the gates of Somnath in his treaty with Afghan ruler Shah Shuja. His spirit remained alive because of his will that bequeathed the Kohinoor to the Jagannath Temple. However, in a country where every achievement/accomplishment is gauged with the help of Western parameters, we are often decried for the lack of the sense of history. One finds a number of scholars competing with each other to quote the oft-repeated words of al Baruni: “Hindus do not have a sense of history.” Another manifestation of the colonial mindset!

For Hindus, history was not just the chronology of wars and battles; it was not just the account of rulers and empires. It was what Frienderick Jackson Turner wrote in his essay, ‘The significance of history’: “It (history) is more than past literature, more than past economics. It is the self-consciousness of humanity, humanity’s effort to understand itself through the study of the past.” However, it’s not that Indians did not record their governance and administration. Chinese traveller Huen Tsang’s reference of Harsha’s separate department for recording the state of affairs is an apt example. The Hindu sense of history was different, but it was not absent.

Despite being informative and intellectually rich, the book seems cluttered at times. It lacks focus, which disturbs the flow of the reading. Yet, the reader would not mind ignoring it for the kind of information provided in the book.


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

Astha Bharati