Understanding History 

The relevance of it…

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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 allpervasive 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 nonhistory 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. 

Safarnama : Qutub Minar #2

The final lag of the journey…

The tall tower stands alone. The stories it has lived and the times it has seen – it won’t tell the shallow men down here. It talks to the birds, who have built their homes on its shoulders, for whom the imperativeness of it is much more than what it is to us, the humans. The tower isn’t dumb, it’s just not interested in talking…because we aren’t interested in listening…

We sat on the steps of the Sulabh Sauchalaya building, waiting for the torrent to fade out. Meanwhile, Shivam clicked us from four hundred and forty four different angles, the dedication level only matched by the Nat Geo people who go to the Congo Basin with their clunky DSLRs and die chasing primates. Mishra was getting bored, and so he decided he would rather take a leak. 

“Can’t believe peeing is a taxed activity. “I remarked. They didn’t pay attention to my intellectual observation, and kept on posing for Shivam, who had probably gone crazy from so much rain. After an unending wait, we decided to take an auto. 

I wasn’t made to sit on a lap, but the area occupied by my buttocks was smaller than what they deserved. Rohit wasn’t even visible – he was probably buried behind Amit. The auto raced down the flooded road and the cold wind hit our bodies, and it felt like this was going to be epic day. Just as I was done thinking about the epic day, Hemant’s dad called and before picking up, he asked us not to use profanity till the call was over. But midway though the conversation, a big SUV dashed by, splashing a Tsunami into the auto, wetting Mishra’s jeans and his hand and his phone and my jeans and my hands and my phone. Hemant hung up a century later, and then I broke into howls of profanity. 

Fifiteen minutes later, we reached our destination. 

the path that leads to the past…

Mishra was sent to buy tickets which costed Rs.15 each for the nationals. We pooled in and gave him the cash. He returned only a few seconds later, informing us that the price had doubled. Mishra is a jinx, I tell you. 

We bought the tickets and went in. The ruins of the Sultante, the heritage left by the invaders of the west, who had made this place their home, was standing right in front of our eyes, a bit dull and a bit old. Before we could enter the place, Shivam started clicking selfies. 

The first monument we went to was Alai Minar, which, had it been completed, would have measured double the height of Qutub Minar. It was constructed with massive stones, the edges rough and unpolished. The unfinished towers always tell a whole story. 

Alai Minar….

“I don’t think the monument is talking to me. “Mishra pointed out, trying to contradict the words of our favorite history teacher who said, “the monuments talk when you go near them.” But it wasn’t Alai Minar’s fault at all – Mishra is so jinxed that even if a tower could talk, it won’t talk to him.

The monuments don’t talk like people. They have their own whispers, which can’t be heard but only listened to. I could see elephants and carts around, and labors and people, witnessing the gradual splendid construction of a monument, which would halt just after the death of Alauddin Khilji. 

We clicked plenty of photos and then moved towards a tomb. The walls around had texts embossed in urdu. The people posed beneath an arch and clicked photos. I wondered if the monuments would ever talk to them. 

the tomb…

Then we moved to a Madarsa. It was a group of dank, charred rooms that smelled of batshit. I visualized kids taking taaleems here, which was very difficult to visualize, and then my eyes caught “Brijesh loves Rinku” engraved in the poor wall in a crabby handwriting. If you do similar things in China, they will make soup out of you the next day. They’ll hang your skeleton in the museum and place a label outside the case that’d read – Homo Habilis

each of those bricks have a story to tell…

Mishra sat on a stone outside and closed his eyes. 

“I’m feeling the past guys. “He claimed. “Somebody sat on this stone. It was a sultan. ”

I was pretty sure the stone was cursed or something. If it wasn’t, it would be now.

We then walked into a small graveyard. There were sad old tombs, and the whole place was so melancholic. If you eliminated the crowd from your minds eye, it would even appear scary. 

We went to a desolate garden after that. 

the garden…

We clicked photos and wondered which plants were replaced and which were still surviving from the era of Iltutmish. Then, we went on a sloped piece of land. 

the land where Sultans walked…

As I stood at the crest of the small plateau and looked around, the legacy of the Sultans spoke to me. The path I had travelled was travelled by a king centuries ago. In an era devoid of internet and bullet trains and hurry and pace, the Sultan would take a leisurely walk in the evening with his Begum. They’d talk about life and love and birds and trees. They’d appreciate nature. They’d kiss under that tree, they’d sit right here, and watch the birds flying back to their nests, they’d lean on each other’s shoulder and watch the dusk…..

on the top of the world….

I started feeling nostalgic for some weird reason. 

We raced down and clicked a flurry of photos. Then we went towards the sundial. On the way, we saw a Chinese family of 5. Each of them wore a hat. There were two white girls, wearing skirts that were shorter than my underwear. They owned the most distracting pair of butts in the entire universe.

We then went to another tomb, before we got to the sundial. A white lady was looking for it, asking people about it. She seemed confused. I showed her the sundial. She thanked me. 

At last, we reached the Qutub Minar.

the tower of Qutb..

 

A 73 meter high tower, built by two Sultans, was now a home to pigeons, but inaccessible to humans. There was some comfort in that realisation. 

People looked so stupid. All they did was clicking photos. I was no different, I had to get a new DP. 
It was over soon, the epic day. We jumped into the train and sat on the gangway floor and shared the pictures. Amit opened his lunchbox and most of them refused to eat because it was Sawan and the lunchbox was filled with scrambled eggs. So I ate full. 

On the train, I could see myself, or a part of me that I’d left, in those gardens, walking down the paths with slow calm steps, free from the rush and the worries of the 21st century. 

That’s all. 

Safarnama : Qutub Minar #1

The prologue to the Qutub Minar visit.

It had been pouring all morning. The rain pelted down like Spartan arrows, and as whatsapp texts swore, the lower half of Shyam Lal College was already drowned. Some of my friends though, despite the torrent, had travelled all the way from Rohini and Nangloi to Shahdra to attend college, but now they sat with sullen faces, playing Balloon Pop in their generous smartphones, waiting for the rain to go ebb away.

the rain…

Rohit dropped in at around 10 am, followed by two more people. We set up the chessboard and played a few boring games. It was decided that we would take a day off, but sitting idle only wakes up the wanderlust inside Rohit, and so, he came up with this great idea,

“Let’s go somewhere. Qutub Minar? ”

It took me some time to make up my mind. Lazybones! After I prepared myself for a long drenched day, I started calling everyone. A few of them said it was pouring in buckets and they hated rain and everybody should hate rain because rain brings flood and that we should drop our plans. As you know, every adventure comes with a bout of hitches. There were plenty in this one too.

Two of them didn’t have a metro card, so, as we reached Welcome Metro station, we went upto this vending machine to get the tokens. They put the money in and waited for the tokens to drop.  But the machine was a bit of a runt – it won’t take anything but fresh crisp notes. Some billion light years later, it took pity on us and accepted the note. But didn’t release the tokens. 

“What the fuck! “They shouted together. The screen promised that it was processing the transaction, so we stood by, waiting patiently, wondering if it was Mishra that should be blamed for the ordeal. Mishra is a jinx – once he had accompanied us to the zoo and it turned out that they kept it closed on Fridays. 

“That’s not fair. “Mishra protested. “You should have known zoos are closed on Friday. ”

Nobody believed him. 

The crowd behind us was growing fretful with time. 

We called the staff and he pretended to study the screen carefully. 

“There’s a countdown. “He pointed at the upper right corner of the screen where infinitesimal numbers were decreasing every second. “Wait for it to finish. ”

And so, we waited. It was just a 90 second wait, but when you have a digital clock making you aware of the existence of every single second, the wait becomes a billion years long. The tokens dropped back, eventually. And we took the train and reached Kashmiri Gate at around 12:00pm. 

There, we met Shivam, and as the train arrived, we jostled through the crowed to bag a seat. Three of us got the seats, one being Mishra. It was a long journey, so we spent it playing the game How-Jinxed-Mishra-Is? Everybody started throwing their ideas, and somebody said Mishra is such a jinx that when he visits a haunted house, the ghosts rush to the priests to get themselves cleansed with Holy Water.

On the way, it started raining again. The train stopped at a bridge, from where all we could see were wet lush green trees and a dense valley, and it seemed we had been teleported to a hillstation.

the panoramic view from the train…

 

It was a beautiful stillness, and the only thing that budged was raindrops on the window pane.

all we could see was green…

 The train started again, and the rain grew stronger by the time we stepped onto the platform. We clicked a few selfies on the metro, and then exited the station. We waited outside for some time,waiting for it to go slow, but it never did. 

“Maybe we should take an auto. “Hemant suggested. I didn’t know of a way to fit 7 people in an auto, so I wondered if one of us will have to sit on the lap of one of us. When I was a kid, I sat in a jeep on the lap of this uncle of mine. A few seconds later, I felt something hard beneath my butts. (No I wasn’t raped). I hate to sit on men’s lap since that day, though. 

outside the metro….

We waited for some time, and when the rain slowed down, Mishra walked out and we followed him. It was a mistake, because seventeen steps later, it started sheeting down. We ran, completely deficient of a strategy. I was sure we were running for an auto, or some cover, but a minute later, I realised we had left behind all the autos and were still galloping aimlessly down the road for some heavenly reason. 

“What are we doing? “I screamed.

“Following Mishra. “Shivam shrugged his shoulders. 

A minute later, Mishra stopped beneath a small tree. Everybody else stopped as well. I peered out into the distance, wondering if we had reached the Qutub Minar. Was Mishra jinxed enough to displace Qutub Minar from its place?  Mishra looked at us in utter confusion, we looked at each other in utter confusion. 

“What the hell just happened? “I asked. 

“Were you guys following me? “Mishra asked, baffled. “I was just looking for a shelter. “He explained. I was so apoplectic I felt like punching Mishra. I ran for cover, and everybody followed me this time. People are fool, they will follow you for anything. 

We found a shelter, a roof above a flight of steps, and sat there, watching the rain come down like magic, dipping the world in lush green. 

The board above us read – Sulabh Shauchalaya

To be continued