A distant relative of mine once came to see us. Slumped in my chair, he sipped tea and talked about stuffs I wouldn’t care about in centuries. My mother listened to him attentively, with harmonic nods, as if he was dispersing grains of wisdom into the open air. I went to him, wearing a photoshopped smile, and touched his feet. We began general conversations. After I told him I was studying History he asked me if I knew where Lord Hanuman belonged to.
“A jungle. “I clenched my brows, not sure whether it was a real question. Then he threw at me a random Sanskrit shlok and asked me to decrypt it. I was blank as a barrel.
“What are you studying history for? “He shook his head, and added, “if you don’t know about your own culture. ”
My mother gave me a glare of disappointment which said, “Didn’t I tell you to opt for science after X? ”
Now people, the very fundamental misconception among the ‘non-history people’ has to do with the meaning and composition of history. A basic, misconstrued assumption which has deceived people for generations is that history, heritage, theology and mythology are the same. A historian thus cannot entertain the luxury of not knowing the birthplace of Hanuman or translation of religious verses. A mechanical engineer might be excused for his ignorance on the intricacies of Hypertext Transfer Protocol, but a historian has no such impunity.
What makes it a more relevant topic of discussion is the all–pervasive nature of history. Everybody may not claim a knowledge of quantum mechanics but when it comes to history, everybody has something to say. We all are aware of some history, and that leads us to assume that we are well-informed and educated about our past. The non–history people would thus fight to death defending their versions without critically examining the aspects of their narratives. They form their opinions on the basis of whatsapp forwards and clickbaity articles. Drenched in chauvinism and nationalism, they aggressively defend the glory of their community even if history doesn’t agree with their notions. They base their thoughts on fables, epics, legends and claim that they are aware of history. The recent fuss over Padmavati and Taj Mahal are burning examples of misinterpretation and politicization of history by shrewed leaders and ignorant masses. Thus, as of today, it is of utmost importance to know what is history and what is not.
History is not mythology. Some people will kill for Ram but his historicity is restricted to fables and tales. In the same way, Allah’s flying carpet is yet to find a scientific proof. These characters, for a historian, are mere characters who carry some hint of the past, of their creators. Religious texts thus only give a whiff of truth as they are gilded with exaggerated realities. Religious texts, as additional sources, might tell us about the societies that wrote them, they never contribute anything more of value. Historians are not interested in Gods and Goddesses, their interest is in humans. The motto that God Created Us is read in reverse by historians. We are not intrigued by Ram or Allah, we are intrigued by their creators – homo sapien sapiens. Thus, history is not what you see on Devlok at 8 pm on Epic, history is what you find in libraries, in those humongous tomes that come without photographs and are boring and monotonous as fuck. So please stop harassing your historian friends or relatives for not knowing where Hanuman came from.
Another phrase that is often used by fringe groups is ‘our history’, which is wrong if by ‘our’ you don’t imply mankind. History cannot be owned by a faction. A heritage may belong to a community, history, however, is universal. It can be questioned, criticised and reinterpreted. The Achilleses of the past can be reconstructed as devils. History, unlike heritage, is not rigid or stagnant. It changes with time, it changes with lenses. Heritage is something you would be proud of; history is something you would learn from. Those who lay a claim over history are people who don’t know what history is.
The recent heat over Padmavati is a burning example. People are brutally attacking the movie, saying it portrays Padmavati in a bad light and it distorts ‘history.’ Well, let us talk about the ‘history’ of Padmavati. To begin with, the historicity of Rani Padmavati is as clear as of Yeti the abominable Snowman. She first appears in a poem, as a fictional character, and remains invisible for a couple of centuries. Then, she is revived, as an epitome of sacrifice and valour, in the context of freedom movement. As for her existence, history doesn’t register it. Contemporary sources don’t mention such a queen and there’s no account that hint at such events. You are talking about distortion of history, but for that, it has to exist in the first place. Another attack is aimed at Ala-ud-din who has been deemed as the most evil soul of the millennium. Now that would be the distortion of ‘history’ because Ala-ud-din existed in the first place.
Anyway, this growing tendency to see Muslims as villains is historically inaccurate and unfair. Their invasion is often portrayed as assault over ‘India’. When you are commenting on centuries old events and processes you have to keep in mind that these should not be viewed through the hubble of 21st century. The fact is that India and modern-day Hinduism never existed before 1900s. The subcontinent was a culmination of princely states who kept fighting among themselves. The religious philosophies were diverse and so were the people. The colors of nationalism are very fresh ones, so we have to look deeper. Once you eliminate the notion of ‘India’ it is easier to see things clearly. Medieval people fought for Glory and Gold and that drove them to uncharted lands. If they are resurrected they would probably not give a monkey’s fart about your nationalism. Muslims no more attacked us than we attacked Seleucus and others. Kushans came from China, Hunas from central Asia. Hunas were one of the groups to become Rajput later, and that is ‘historically’ accurate. (Consult B D Chattopadhyaya).
So what I am trying to say is that as free citizens of a democratic nation, we should not encroach upon the freedom of others. If you have to form an opinion about history, read it and decide for yourself. Don’t pick up historical pieces from the speeches of politicians, for they are poisoned with hatred and evil.