I was about to begin this post with a line I just remembered I’ve used before – ‘One of the happiest things about being a journalist is…’
So I stopped and thought I’d think of another opener, but I’ve changed my mind again. Because it’s 4 am by my computer clock, I’ve just sent the May 10 edition of Brunch to press, I’m waiting for the office car to return from dropping other late night workers home so I can go home, and I’m tired, okay? I’ve been up since 6.30 am yesterday. Coming up with an original opening line is going to require a more dynamic brain than I possess at this time.
So you’re stuck with it. And here goes: One of happiest things about being a journalist is that you sometimes get books for free.
Books for free, that is, if the publication you work for has a books page (which HT does) which means publishers send tons of books for review – more books than we ever have space to review. And if the editor of that books page is a kind person (which the editor, Mr I Hazra himself, is), some of the un-reviewed books could well be passed on to you, free, no charge, except you have to be in Delhi to browse and collect. I live and work in Bombay, so that doesn’t happen very often. But last year after I spent a few days in Das Capital on work, I returned with excess baggage that kept me happy and occupied for a long time.
One of the books I snatched off Ye Books Page Ed’s desk was something I’d lusted after for quite a while. Upinder Singh’s A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. It costs a staggering Rs 3,500, so there was no way I was going to buy it, much as I wanted it. And since it seemed too much to hope to get it any other way than by buying it, I’d resigned myself to either never reading it, or reading it in snatches at Landmark or Crossword, whichever bookshop happened to have it.
It’s not an easy book to read even though it’s supposed to be aimed at the lay reader as well as the serious student of history. But I’m a lay reader with a great interest in history, so I enjoyed it. But even as I read it, I found myself asking the same question I always ask when I read history. What purpose does it serve?
Remember, I am very, very interested in history. I love delving into the past, discovering connections, trying to imagine how people lived (very much like we do now, I think, though of course without our technology).
But having said that, what is the point of history? Is it really important to research the past? Yes, we’re told, because we could learn from it. But if there’s one thing history itself shows, it’s that we don’t learn from it. Every passing generation of people is a new generation of people, convinced the issues of its own day are different from the issues of yesterday (though actually, most big issues have been exactly the same since time began).
History can also give you pride and confidence and those are good things to have, particularly if you come from one of the countries that were once colonised. You can to an extent compensate for the humiliation of that by saying, yes, but we had glorious, powerful, intellectually and artistically rich times too. But if some parts of your history make you feel particularly humiliated, chances are you’ll wind up angry and will hold today’s generation of those former humiliators responsible for the ‘crime’. And many, many of us do just that.
Which is why many of today’s issues are continuations of centuries-old issues. Which I find weird, but also understand in a strange sort of way. Because the truth is, forgiving is a very difficult thing to do.
So would forgetting make things any different?