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On My Relation To Indian History, by Timeri Murari

History is a very fluid subject, unlike say maths or geography where continents and seas can’t be moved around so easily, although borders can shift and re-shape emerging nations. I grew up in India with a confused idea of our history.  Revisionist ideas of history depended entirely on interpretation: it could mean anything to anyone who wanted to perceive the past through a different prism.

Apart from my themes of dislocation, I do write with a secondary theme in mind. I’ve spent a great deal of my life in a state of Diaspora, living in England and America for many, many years. In this state of Diaspora, I am forced to consider who I actually am, just as many millions do who live in countries not of their birth. Many cling to the old identity while trying to cope with their present geographical position. The question is: who are you? Do you belong to the past or to the present? Diaspora is a sometimes voluntary, sometimes involuntary, dislocation.

After I’d written the novel Taj, I discovered that Indian history makes for a fascinating laboratory in which to conduct experiments and to explore characters and social environment. I wanted to create a character who is Indian yet not Indian in a time of turmoil.

India is constantly in a state of turmoil, I should add. The depressing experience I learned from our history is that we never learn the lessons it should teach us.

This novel was to be set in pre-independence India. I chose the years 1901–1918, the pinnacle of imperial rule to the nadir of Jallianawallah Bagh. So let’s see the history of the British Empire as a work of fiction which has convinced us that theirs was a beneficial rule. If you were in India on January 1, 1900, you may have thought that the British Empire would rule India forever. There was no ending of its power over the subcontinent and all seemed at peace. Queen Victoria, Empress of India, was on the throne and the Viceroy of India was Lord Curzon.

In his History of the English Speaking People, Churchill wrote: ‘The East India co was a trading company but the turmoil of the subcontinent compelled them against their will to take control of more territory til in the end and almost by accident, they established an empire. To call this imperial expansion is nonsense.  Of India it is well said that the British Empire was acquired in a fit of absence of mind.’


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Timeri Murari’s bio page


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