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Rise and fall of history books
History, they say, is written by the victor. Concurs Dan Brown, 'By its very nature, history is always a one-sided account.'

When at Allahabad University, we were lucky to have Dr Ishwari Prasad as the Head of the Department of History. He was a well known authority on Indian history, particularly, the Mughal period.

An orator, when he lectured, I wondered, if he was a professor of English literature or history. Nehru ji's home, Anand Bhawan was across the road from our hostel. Once in a friendly spat with Dr Ishwari Prasad, Nehru retorted, 'Dr Prasad, you write history. But I make it!'

In a way, what Nehru said was true. Nehru's vision of Indian history, 'Discovery of India' continues to be one of the abiding international best sellers! On the other hand, Dr Prasad's scholarly works are confined to libraries. For the scholarly only!

I start with my encounters with history, beginning with my schooling, where both the teachers and text books came from England. We learnt mainly English and European history and Greek, Roman, Nordic and Celtic mythologies. Our role models were King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, and Saint George the Giant Killer. We were taught about the great sailors, explorers and adventurers who discovered rest of the world, and helped to colonise these domains in the name of His or Her Majesty. Our schooling was meant to turn us natives into 'Brown Sahebs'!

For more than two hundred years of colonisation of large portions of the Earth, the Sun never set on the British Empire! As far as reigning over Asia and Africa was considered, I realised from our text books, that it was the 'White Man's Burden' to civilise the natives (I being one of them!). In this quest, the missionaries also played their role, in bringing the Lord's word to us, the heathens!

In contrast to the above, the recent revelations by Shashi Tharoor in his lecture at Oxford and in his best seller, 'An Era of Darkness' is shocking. He informs that the British history books do not talk about Britain's colonial past, which lasted over two hundred years. A tale of systematic loot and other horrors perpetrated by them!

During British days, our Indian history text book taught us, that the highly evolved Aryans descended on us, somewhere from Central Asia and gave us the advanced Indus Valley civilisations of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.

Today historians, archaeologists, dating techniques and DNA matching have shown that the Aryan invasion was a West-imposed myth, to instill inferiority in us. The Aryans were always there. They never descended from anywhere! The region known today as Punjab, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Persia had always been the home of the Aryans.

Today, Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is our national icon. It was not so in my history book. The term used by the English writer was such that I would not like to repeat it here. Lest, some library like the prestigious Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute be burnt, again.

We were taught about how the deceitful Indians, in spite their assurances for safe passage to English women and children, nevertheless suffocated them, in what was called 'The Black Hole of Calcutta'. But we were never taught about the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.

The 1990 TV serial 'Sword of Tipu Sultan', based on a novel by Bhagwan Gidwani was highly acclaimed as historically authentic. And Tipu was celebrated as a hero. Now history is cited to prove that he teamed up with the French and fought the British, only for his empire building! He destroyed Hindu temples!  His birthday has become a contentious issue, with even Karnataka High Court in the fray!

Wrote a commentator: 'While Tipu's legacy can be debated by historians, it all becomes clouded when politicians enter the picture. Nobody was demanding that Tipu be celebrated, so why did the government see it fit to thrust another "jayanti" on the state? The BJP regime did something similar when it introduced Valmiki and Kanakadasa jayantis as public holidays. Tipu Jayanti is probably the Congress reply.'

In Rajasthan, another controversy is brewing with the claim that it was really Rana Pratap, who won the battle of Haldighati, and not Akbar!

Politics dictates trivialisation of history and it can be twisted and turned for the exigency of the day. Today enough scientific tools, archaeological evidences, manuscripts, archives, court records, rock edits (more than 2000 years old), etc. are available to arrive at reasonable conclusions, about what could have happened in the past.

But as the history is written by the victor, who knows that the vigilantes of today may be the torch bearers of tomorrow!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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