On My Experience Of Learning History, by Timeri Murari
Those who don’t know history repeat the mistakes of history. In writing Taj, I saw many parallels with modern Indian history and that we were repeating past mistakes. By the time I wrote it I was hooked on the historical novels. There is a vast treasure trove of the past waiting to be written, not so much by academics but interpreted by novelists. He or she may be writing a fictional depiction of history but this does give readers a new perspective of past events.
In my next attempt at a historical novel, I jumped forward a few centuries to British colonial rule in India. Indian history had been written for the most part by Englishmen. I have to admit my own initial understanding of our history was shaped by my early schooling. I began confused and it took me many years to work my way out of that state of mind. I went to a private school during the very early years of India’s independence. The curriculum was set by the British, as it was still too early into independence for the education system to have changed. My headmaster was an Englishman and so were quite a few of my teachers, as well as some of my class mates. The exodus hadn’t yet quite begun.
The history I was taught in those first years of my schooling was divided into two parts. The first I had to study was British history. So as a child I learned about Bodicea and the Georges and Henrys, the Edwards and Elizabeths – all of them with Roman numerals after their names – and about heroic Englishmen with names like Wellington, Nelson, Drake and Cromwell. In these history books the British were a valiant and noble race of people living in a ‘sceptered isle, this diamond set in a silvery sea’, to quote Will Shakespeare.
Then, as after all I was a little Indian boy studying in India under an Indian sun, I had to learn Indian history. In this history I was taught all about Robert Clive, Warren Hastings, Cornwallis and Curzon. What was happening here? It was very confusing for this small boy. Apparently, India too was peopled with valiant and noble Englishmen who had had come to civilize a most uncivilized people, who included men and women with Indian names like Tippu Sultan, the Rani of Jhasni and Shiraj ud-daulah. But as I climbed up the school’s education pole my history books were rapidly being rewritten and replaced. British history vanished from my load of school books and Indian history merely became history. The old heroes like Clive and Cornwallis became the villains while the Tippu Sultans and others became my heroes.
Timeri Murari’s author website: www.timerimurari.com
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