Meaning and Identity from History
Found this very nice post about Indian history: Revisioning Indian history.
Apart from the good material in the post, there are some very informative comments as well.
Some comments from Sanjay caught my attention -- he gave links to the Gulf of Canbay excavation, which says it was dated to around 7500BC, and a video link which reportedly points out that all non-African people have origins in South-East Asia, based on Oxford DNA study.
But I dont agree with his insights in his last comment. I am pasting his comment below for sake of preservation. And I added another comment on that page, which also I am pasting beneath his comment below, for archiving.
Recently, several intellectuals have made the point that an obsession with history (more specifically, an historical narrative) is primarily a Western phenomenon. For the european, a historical grand narrative that stood unbroken & unchallenged was a marker of the current power equation (winner take all including the writing of history), an alpha-male type display. Any challenge to it was to be fiercely resisted because it represented an actual or potential erosion of power.
Others have noted with irony the sight of Indians clawing & fighting about historical narratives & have concluded that it demonstrates the extent to which both the indian Left & the Right remain mentally colonized to this day.
Note the recent furore over the movie Mangal Pandey (which went all the way to L.S.) & the potential of conflicting historical narratives to lead to actual street conflict.
There is yet a third group of intellectuals who are re-examining the reaction of europeans upon their first encounter with Indian history. European scholars were aghast "Indians have no history, nor a concrete sense of history", they sniffed. Without history, you're "pre-historic' & "backward", they claimed.
This judgement made some of our babus very ashamed & they worked up significant amounts of sweat as they went about the task of trying to prove the white folks wrong. Very few indians, including gandhiji btw, reflected deeply about why Indians were ahistorical & chose NOT to write grand historical narratives.
To understand gandhi's support for ahistoricity, lets consider an historically attested event such as the holocaust. There are two historical narratives one could construct around this event:
1. The holocaust must never happen to the JEWISH people again
2. The holocaust must never happen to ANY people again
Method #1 leads to a narrative which freezes Jews as perpetual victims; nazis/ germans as perpetual evil doers. Even in 2042, kids will be taught what the germans did to the jews 100 yrs ago. Once community becomes evil forever vs. the other.
Method #2 recognizes that good & evil resides within each of us, it is not "us vs them", no one is perpetually good, nor perpetually evil. There is no point in perpetually demonizing one single community at the expense of another. Therefore, it leads to a historical paradigm where real names of people & communities are erased. Yet, there is also the imperative of recognizing that evil did happen & that we do need to learn from history. So, you mythologize the names - the good guys become the pandavas; the bad guys become the kauravas. You erase the historical tracks, yet you preserve the learning from history.
#2 leads to the ahistorical paradigm which our ancestors must have thought was correct for India.
In my view, if Secular-Right India is seeking a position on Indian history, then it is more authentically Indian, more principled, more defensible, more sensible, more evolved to choose the ahistorical position than to get mired in Left vs Right debates. There are far more important things to do.
This is with reference to the above post by Sanjay.
Sanjay, I think that sometimes #1 is also important.
History, apart from lessons, also provides the very very important sense of "meaning" and "identity". The meaning and identity part of history does not come out if you dont have more particulars about the event (like a narrative, timing details, who-who, etc).
For example, lets imagine a situation similar to the movie "Memento" -- lets say he keeps forgetting what happenned in his past, but still he manages to keep lessons he learns by writing it onto pieces of papers in his pocket. Now, at any given time, he will have all the lessons he learnt in his life, but he wont know what to do now, and why. He wont know who he is, and what is his meaning and purpose.
Knowing lessons means he will know the rules of the game, but he will have no clue as regards to the game's objective.