Some days in Rome and Italy
Why we should study Roman history?
What lessons for the Indian people?
There are lessons even now!

Roman history, the rise and evolution of the Roman Empire, some 2,000 years of continuous success story, so to say, is because of the Romans’ victory over their rival empire, Carthage in 264 B.C. The first and second Punic wars refer to this success. The second Punoic wars were fought in 2o2 B.C.

This victory gave the Romans enormous self-confidence in them.

That is why every building and every victory led the Romans to build so many buildings, each in itself, from Clossuem to Roman Forum and many such buildings, public baths all over the Roman world around much the ancient Roman empire geography  such massive scale and enormous genius for Roman empire’s governance uniqueness.

The rise of the Republic in 509 B.C. onwards. The Senate and the courts of justice and many other modern time administration from courts of justice to treasury, prisons etc.
The Roman governance, more than their buildings amazes us.

A people must have such self-confidence, if they want to achieve anything in history.
Indians went through just an opposite course in their history! Let us not forget this truth!
This is the lesson from Roman Empire.

This is what I learnt from my visit to the Roman Forum and what I saw there.
Why Roman Empire is so unlike of others that came afterwards?

Indians have a special reason and an obligation to study Roman history.
Simply because, so far, as far as I know, that Indians are always caught up in a narrow world of self-absorption and self-salvation, so to say!

Our Indian history is a history of foreign invasion, foreign occupation and foreign domination and exploitation only.

From the 10th century onwards it was a series of foreign invaders coming here and destroying our symbols of independent existence, temples or forts and wealth and carrying out the destroyed wealth. Very much as the Romans were doing all the years of their rise and occupation of the Mediterranean world. The extent of the Roman empire, as we saw in the various maps displayed prominently on the  ancient Roman Forum’s majestic walls, the walls even in their ruins astounds us, so big and so tall and so commanding our attention in their  ruined majesty  even today

The various periods of the Roman history and the various geographical periods depicting the empire extent, are so gripping and so unbelievable.

As the various current descriptions inform us, the empire at its peak comprised something like today’s 30-40 countries distributed around the Mediterranean Sea. From Spain to France and Britain to the  whole of Europe till the borders of the Germanic lands(in those days the Germany lands were occupied by various tribes like Goths, Huns and Vandals-it was these tribes, then called by the Romans as “barbarians”(as the Greeks too called the non-Greeks at their time as barbarians, including their tormentors, the Persians, though Persia was also an ancient civilisation and an empire it was and it was the Persians who often came to occupy Greeks and eventually the very Greek countries were absorbed in the Roman empire!

The Roman Empire of course occupied fully the Italian peninsula (we travelled almost the whole of the southern Italy upto Naples, Naples was once an independent kingdom and also the historic city of Pompeii that had now been almost fully dug out and restored.
The islands of Sicily and Sardinia and Corsica were all once independent and they were once Greek islands till Italy, that is Rome occupied the whole of the Italian seas and the whole of Greek islands.

Of course, Egypt was part of the Roman Empire, under Cleopatra, as every film buff knows, from the films of Cleopatra and Shakespeare’s plays on Julius Caesar and Mark Antony and other plays on the Roman history; you can imagine the heady height to which the Roman achievements went.

The Romans had one enemy kingdom.
That is the old Carthage, today’s Tunisia on the northern edge of the North Africa. Carthege was a great Phoenician empire.

Carthage was the single most reason why Romans developed so much haltered and they were very determined to defeat and almost destroy completely the Carthagian Empire. After defeating Carthage, I believe, acquired enormous self-confidence and they went about building their “basilicas” (a word you hear very often in Rome, a foundation for any building, religious, royal or other buildings, on which the actual buildings are raised)

Before we embarked on our Roman holiday we read whatever we had accumulated in our home library the books and heavy volumes. And Carthege made a deep impression on our mind.

Cato, the Roman senator, would always end his speech at the Senate telling: Carthege must be destroyed”. And Catherge had some outstanding military generals and strategists. Hannibal was the most famous Cathegian general and he invaded Italy many times and once he stayed back in Italy for some 14 years with so many elephants in his army and it was only after a long and bitter battle Hannibal was defeated, as we have already noted above.

And Carthege was totally annihilated and the earth, it is told, was ploughed out and salt was sprayed and the Roman Empire from then onwards took on an unprecedented heights of fame.

What struck us on our first visit to the Roman Forum, the ancient site of the Roman empire’s administrative hub, today it is just a site of ruined monuments, it is something like a hundred or two hundred feet in length and the one road that runs from east and west uptill the Capitoline hills, it is just a hillock and it doesn’t measure up more than, say 50-70 feet in height, the road inside the Roman forum is called via sacra, sacred road.
Walking through the small site and the via sacra uplifted me to a new height of consciousness. I forgot myself when it was all happening.

Julius Caesar
His full name is Caius Julius Caesar.
His story is so awe-inspiring. No man in history, perhaps with the sole exception of Jesus Christ, had had such an enormous impact on the course of world history. Some people are born and they change the course of world history. These two names are such great impact-makers. Caesar’s each and every act is historic events and the following generations to treat Caesar so.

The site where I spotted a name that completely left me doumb-founded.
It was the name of Caesar and it was in Latin and I found out it was the spot on which Caesar’s body that was brought from the nearby another spot where he was assassinated in 44 B.C. and cremated here in the  spot where I was just standing and left me speechless!

It was Julius Caesar who conquered the vast extent of the lands that came to be identified as the heart of the Roman Empire. Gaul, today’s France, Britain, south of Scotland, the whole of it and also Spain and much of northern Italy. Of course, it was Caesar who occupied Egypt and almost the whole of the old Jewish settlement, Jerusalam, Syria and much of Damascus etc.

Before the birth of Jesus Christ, Julius Caesar laid the foundations of the Roman Empire.
It was Caesar’s nephew and successor, adopted heir, Octavian Caesar, later called Augustan Caesar who was ruling when Christ was born in Jerusalem! It was Octavian Augustus who initiated a long period of peace and political stability, his age is called the “golden age” of Octavian Augustus.

After 8 years of rule, in 27 BC Octavian Augustus assigned himself the title of Emperor. In 1`2 BC, he was honoured with the title of Pontifex Maximus (Highest Priest), later taken over by no less than the Popes themselves!

Augustus laid down the form of government, it was the age of kings first, then Republic and under Caesar it became the empire.

It was under Augustus, great Roman poet Virgil, Horace, Ovid and Livy were the leading literary exponents of the Augustan age. Augustus died in 14 A.D.

The Roman Forum has so many sites of great historic significance and we saw the three victory arches, arches built to commemorate the victories of the Roman generals and the army in their conquests.

The one arch that stands outside the Forum proper is the Constantine arch. That stands intact even after all these years, some 2,000 years! Just near the famous monument, the giant amphitheatre, Coliseum! There is much to write and say about this very monument. It simply defies our sense of reason and proportion.

How, the ancient Romans brought the giant granite stones and raised the height to so high a level?

Once we enter the Forum from the east, we first come across and encounter the arch, the Titus victory arch.

Emperor Titus who went to Jerusalem and destroyed the temple and also seized the wealth of Jerusalem and the arch depicts the victorious army, along with the slaves and also the captured Jewish prisoners who are seen carrying with their religious symbol of worshiping candlebra!

Once we go further down towards the last stretch, we see the last arch, this one is also intact and this arch is called that of Septimiu Severus!

Around this last stretch is the oldest prison, the treasury, the Senate building is also intact and also other courts of justice.

We should know that the Romans were the ones who gave the world the concept of law. Our laws are all called strictly as Roman Laws!

The concept of Republic, Senate, the other terms tribute, tribune and so many others, including, Roman calendar, Julian Calendar and also the alphabet, ours is Roman alphabet, right?

Of course, what astounds us is the fact that Roman history gave the world view, literally!
Even in Greek, why even before in the Egyptian times and other  ancient civilizations, there were many civilizations and many different achievements, be it art or maths or architects or the discovery of farming, as in Mesopotamia and invention of  wheels as in Mesopotamia and Assyrians and others who, including India, giving to the world new tools and new discoveries.

But it as in Rome and nowhere else, a world empire emerged and united the world for the first time, with roads and other modern-day communication tools.

The Roman roads were uniquely a Roman invention. We passed through the world’s first Roman highway, called Via Appiah! Such big granite stones were laid to enable the Roman army to march to long distances.

Romans were the first to build aqueducts, bring water to the city from long distances.
Ancient Rome, we are informed, had eleven aqueducts, brining water through channels up to a long distance 59 miles! And do you know or can you visualise that the aqueducts were built on raised levels on arches upto 100 feet high! Some o the aqueducts, you should also not be surprised, are in use still today!

And there are so many other wonders in Rome. Each and every ancient building in Rome, we saw were built to giant scale. Even in total ruins, some of the columns at the Roman Forum, the left out columns that are still standing in their majestic height are so tall that we have to stretch our heads looking in the sky to fully visualise their tallness! So tall and so commanding if not intimidating us, these columns.

There are still some columns that are telling their old glories of the temples that were built to celebrate and worship after so many gods, Saturn, There is one great monument that we saw on the last day of our stay in Rome. That is the Pantheon. The Pantheon was built in the year, in fact rebuilt by Hadrian emperor in 118 A.D.

This is a wonder of the world indeed. So intact, after all these years and also so awe-some dimensions!

Its massive columns would simply deter your common sense. They, the sixteen of the massive columns that form the portico of the Pantheon are monoliths that are they are single stone columns, they are 46 feet high, they were laboriously extracted from a quarry high up in the east desert of Egypt. Man handled down to the Nile river stream and brought hundreds of miles through the sea alter to the empire capital, Rome.

Just have a look at the world map, if you have and see the long distances these columns must have travelled. Egypt is at the one end of the Mediterranean Sea. From the eastern end of the sea the distance to Rome is all the way through sea journey only.

How this was managed?
How this was made possible?

If only you see the world map, see the historic map of the ancient Roman Empire, the Rome city location and visualise the immense, almost humanly impossible feat, you will realise and really appreciate the Roman Empire’s architectural heights. You have to admit, it was the Romans who gave us architecture on this vast scale. Of course, they built vast cities throughout the Roman world. In many of the old Roman colonies we can see these massive-scale architectural buildings, these amphitheatres, these public squares; the Roman baths are another great achievement.

The Roman citizens were a new class of citizens, invented by the Roman Empire.
It was the aspiration of everyone in the Roman times to acquire Roman citizenship!
It is like getting a US visa today!

The Roman administration is of course, the greatest contribution to Roman civilisation and great contribution to the world civilisation and global evolution as a civilised people, as we are all imagining!

We have to write separately and that too in great many details why Roman government, Roman army, Roman governance system laid the foundations of our modern day world.
First, their government emerged as one king-ruled entity. One the king’s rule ended came the Republic. There was a Senate and always the pro-consuls were nominated, often too. The threesome rule was called the first Triumvirate, second Triumvirate. First consisted of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus (71 B.C.). Second, Octavian, March Antony and Lepidus.

The second attempted to write a constitution. This paved the way for not one-man dictatorship. Some sort of consensus or rule by consultation.

Of course Roman army was very important state instrument. It was the army that conquered territories and brought stability.

Then came Julius Caesar who came from a noble family, the story is very interesting and it was he who gave some substance to the idea that rule by one man, dictatorship was good for the strength and growth of the empire.

But then his assassination in B.C 44 turned history’ course of events.

In fact, from Caesar we learn many things, for the first time in history, some lessons in history!

Once some system of governance by consensus, rule by pro-consuls comes along there comes the differences of opinion in the minds of the Senators, citizens. This topic needs a detailed write-up. From one man, one king to two pro consuls to triumvirate and then, through Senate and other processes, the Roman government by law evolved into a great achievement that today no nation, nay, the world can’t live except through an elaborate process of rule of law, due process of law, why even without a written Constitution, be it for a country or for the UN!

There were classes of citizens. At the top were the aristocrats, the patricians, then the ordinary people were called plebeians. There were also the slaves.

At the top there was the sanctity of the government. The Senators sued to wear togas, a sort of suit and pant of the British days in India!

It is also said that the upper class, the patricians maintained certain gravitas. The Roman Senator, the aristocrat used to maintain certain restraint, certain decorum and there was much civilised behavior in the Roman society.

Of course, with all the evolution of governance by consent and Senate and courts of justice etc. there was this much brutality.

The succession of the kings and rulers was often by brutal killings and assassinations!
This is the one blot for which I don’t find any explanation.

As for sanctity of ruling by Senate, there was this temple worship; there was a class of virgin vestas, from patrician class. We saw the Vestal virgins quarters, they are all in ruins of course, as other monuments, but still the class of virgin vestas intrigued me and we had to seek more information and explanation, how the sanctity of the temples and worship were all conducted.

Of course, in the beginning of the Roman rule, in Rome and elsewhere, there was this pagan religion only. Many gods and many worship practices.

It was in the 4th century, Emperor Constantine who was converted to Roman Catholicism started another big world religion and the story of the Roman Catholic Church has to be told separately.

In fact, there is so much to say about the course of the Roman history. That lasted some 1,500 years.

Also, in Italy there arose in the 14th and 15th centuries the Italian Renaissance. That also impacted the modern world. That is for another day!

Image Source : www.livescience.com

Thoughts on history and history writing
Can historians take the role of political activists?
Indian academic historians just did this type of roles!

Indira Gandhi

One school of historians passed resolutions against the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi.

They very same school also opposed the Babri Masjid demolition case referred to the Supreme Court.

The so-called other school, the rightwing school, that allied to the BJP/RSS agenda helped to rewrite the history texts that extolled the activities of the RSS.

Where were the nationalist historians? They were lying low.

Even now, the Indian academic historians don’t ask the critical questions, they don’t ask great questions of history. Questions like: will Indian remain one country? Will India get more united, in its very many divisive forces, in terms of language, ethnic chauvinist politics, and religious bigotry?

There is no open-minded approach to the study of religions in his story of India. Much more important from my point of India is the question: how the British interpretation of Indian history (we cant deny the contributions of the British officials and writers in unearthing and discovering so many forgotten and lost historic sites and also the contribution of the Western knowledge to the study of the emergence of modern India) and also the outcome of the British occupation and dominance of the Indian thought processes and the very Indian outlook. How the present Indian mindset, the very mental makeup of Indians is one of subservience and suffers from a sense of deep inferiority complex. These aspects, I consider, as the most critical questions Indian historians must explore, explain and give some guidance in history teaching and history education.

History writing must start with current realities!
What is the historic meaning of economic recession?
What is the historic meaning of international terrorism?

What is history? History is and had always been about wars and the ending of wars. History can also be about big persons, leaders and about evolution of ideas.

History is   one of the social sciences. As such, it must tackle political and social and sociological questions as much as even wars and waves of society’s rising and fall.
Why after building, say, the Parthenon, the Acropolis in Athens suddenly one day it became an empty place? So too the Roman colosseum, so huge an architecture suddenly one day became empty?

Why our archeological sites are important? What they convey?

History tells us, as historians from Herodotus to Thucydides to Edward Gibbon to our own times, historians like A.J.P.Taylor and others why the fortunes of a people, nations and superpowers, change dramatically. The dramatic changes on huge scale are all about history and history writing is just this only.

The 69th Indian History Congress was held in Kerala were both interesting and also a bit boring.

The historians, all are professional historians, met and debated a lot of themes in history, in history writing and the underlying conflicting ideologies in writing history. Pof.K.N.Panikkar, the Left historian and the session’s president gave the inaugural lecture and his theme, as expected, was on the Marxist interpretation which he sought to tag to the writing of Indian history.  His theme was that Marxist historiography, the art of writing history from the Marxist point of view, didn’t pay enough importance to the element of culture. Anyway, it is one point of view. There were other points of view and some were explained by Prof.Habib. There were many schools of thought in history writing and one was culture, another was subalterns in the creation of history. The other was the employment of tools from Western scholarship to the study of Indian history. Edward Said was one who believed that you can’t study orientalism from the tools shaped by Western schools of history writing.
And so on and so forth. However, the current Indian historians’ bugbear, the communal vs. the Marxist history, as represented by the BJP and others came out in the deliberations.

Why the current divide in the Indian history writing between the Left and the not so right?

It is a difficult question and I would consider as a not so great question otherwise.
I had studied history as an amateur and my keen interest in history continues to this day only as an amateur only. I had read my own volumes .often in a superficial way, skipping through the pages and yet getting interested in some vital questions.

Read More →

What chances for freedoms today?
Human rights ensured or violated in today’s world?
Sunny summer? Or, a winter of discontent or despair?
Thoughts on our freedoms and security!
 
The day and the time when the leaves glow yellow and golden when the sun shines!

Where are our freedoms today?
What are the freedoms we can afford today?
Who are the freedom-givers and the takers of freedoms?

I write this on the day when the First World War ended. It is called in the West as Armistice Day and “celebrated” or remembered is the right word perhaps, by the winners of the war and also in a manner by the losers as well.

Each country remembers its war dead. In India too, there used to be a war veterans day. I used to witness this day in Bangalore every year when the Indian army units used to put the flower decoration to the war memorial at the very heart of the city, right at the busy junction of Residency and Brigade roads. This is the war memorial for the Indian soldiers who died (or sent in masses for massacre?) at the Mesopotamia campaign. I have got a book somewhere in my library on this “infamous” campaign which was the folly of the British raj then and the infamy is being perpetrated, in my opinion, on an ignorant nation!

 What is the point of decrying an old folly, you might ask.
No, our present day politicians are equally guilty, I would say!
Why?

Yes, even today, our politicians, I mean the more learned and supposed to be well-informed enough, lead us in a much more ignorant manner and hold us, the public in the country and also the public opinion, in the country to a sort of ransom, a blackmail, when it comes to the fate of our lives as a nation and as a people, collectively, I mean.

Why such pessimism?
Yes, there are some valid reasons for me.

For what ends we are asked to sing the praise of the Indo-US nuclear deal?
Has anyone enlightened us so far the wisdom of signing the nuclear deal?
Is it for peace or war? Will the deal make India more secure militarily to face any threats? Or, will the deal ensure just energy alone?

No one has made things clear at all.
Can the nation believe just Dr.Manmohan Singh or Pranab Mukerjee alone?
Yes, it likes that. There is no public debate, no debate worth the name in the Indian Parliament?

Or, was there any such debates?
Yes the TV debates had created more noise and headlines than any wisdom or serious in-depth understanding of the pros and cons of the great nuclear deal.

Now, we are reminded that Narasimha Rao wanted to conduct the nuclear test way back in 1995 and as he buckled under pressure from the US, he wrote to Vajpayee, the incoming Pm to conduct the test and it was done.
Even after that India hasn’t become any stronger vs. a vs. Pakistan and other countries we feared. In fact, now, says the former Navy  Chief Admiral Arun Prakash that there was even then no need for a second test in 1998, the 1994 test was enough. He asks “What is the point of having the nuclear weapons except to get the respect of other countries?”

I hesitated to ask such a question all these days simple because I was unsure whether I might sound an ignoramus! Now, a navy chief had asked such a question I have become bold enough to ask the same question even now. That is after the Pm got busy going around the world, after the USA to China and Japan and again busied himself in the Gulf countries and he is giving the impression within India that he is doing a great job.

I am sorry today I don’t share such a view of what the PM is doing on the nuclear issue and if any other aspect like ensuring our security environment.
Why I say this?

Historical understanding is more critical. I am of the firm belief that it is our history our historical understanding of the international environment is much more critical to ensure our national security. That is why Nehru gave India that unique great inner strength. Today, I as a citizen feel insecure about our national self-confidence. Why? Because, even after the PM (and also after Sonia Gandhi’s two more visits) visits to China, that country is making wild claims on India’s Arunachal Pradesh territory.

Enlightened   rulers  had enlightened  advisers!
Frederick 11 of Prussia had Voltaire to advise him
Catherine 11,the Great had also Voltaire as her adviser
Joseph 11 of Austria had also wise counsellors
The autocrats were at least reformers in their times.
The also sought  the philosophes, Montesquieu and Rousseau.
19th century saw only autocracy and  despotism. At least there was  wisdom, and these rulers sought wise counsel.
Can we say the same thing about today’s politicians, about Sonia Gandhi?
See the sort of advisers and her own ministers!

So, I am asking myself: What these leaders might have talked with the Chinese leaders? Won’t they have raised such sensitive matters and explained the real nature of the issues, our border issues with China?
I am in no position to know the exact situation.

The PM hasn’t also enlightened us as to why such anxiety is created in the minds of the Indian people.

This thought disturbs me as I write.
Now the world wars thoughts are uppermost in my mind.
  
The First World War for Indians means anything? For today’s generation? I don’t think so. Even for the Indians of this generation or the previous one, even for the Indians who have all migrated and live in the UK and the USA, the world wars might not mean much.

I only think so. This is for various reasons.

First, most of the Indians of this day, both old and the young, might not be fully aware of world affairs, both of today and in the days gone by. Most of us just live our lives just for the day. Much for our own selves and for our families and the immediate surroundings. For those who are fortunate, that is those who think they are fortunate, because they had got education or they got a secure job, as in government(I think so this way for In see the Indians of this generation and also those who are of the older generation of yesterdays, like those in government jobs, as civil servants or even as politicians like our own government-servant turned Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh or for that matter any one of the current crop of politicians and ministers)life seems to be just  one more day lived, that is we seem to live all  for our own selves and for the  immediate families only.
I am not sure of how many of our leaders, those who are there as ministers and MPs and MLAs, politics is all about selfless service.

Anyway, with the sort of mind I am with today, the day that is today coincided with the Armistice Day. The day also brought back my memories of the times past.

I still distinctively remember the day and the place.
It was the year 1959 and I was a fresh graduate at Oxford and I was on my first European holiday. I was traveling in Europe and I was returning from Switzerland and I was hitch-hiking. I found myself in a remote country side  of France, then  almost I found myself very lonely I was finding it hard to get a speeding car to stop and give me a lift. Till then, I was always lucky to get someone giving me a helping hand. In fact, I remember one day a lady driving alone stopped by my side and asked me, are you from India, and I said yes! She was surprised to see an young Indian student asking for a lift and she asked me to get in. The drive was long in the French country and she was going towards the Swiss border to visit her mother. What I remember to this day was her sunny personality, she was alert and active and interested in the world.

All the time the subject of her conversation was about the eloped Indian lady, one Sonalini Dasgupta, she eloped with the Italian film director one Roberto Rossilini, he was a friend of Nehru and he came to do some documentary on Indian development and that is how he became a friend of the Indian government documentary film department. Ms.Sonalini Dasgupta was the wife of one Mr.Dasgupta of the government department. When she eloped with the director to Italy, she became an overnight celebrity. This, my hostess for that day, was keenly interested in the story and that was one reason, as I found out later, why she gave me a car life, just to chat with me all about this Italian director and the Indian lady.

I was also familiar with this scandal then in the news as Sonalinit Dasgupta was also a student of Santiniketan, years before my time! So, this long drive, she was a good driver and she drove me through the beautiful French countryside and she even stopped for lunch with her mother and I was also called into their home for sharing the lunch.

So, the French countryside and France became my part of the world and shaped my consciousness of the world and the people outside my known world.

On my way back I was not so lucky. I was stuck at one place.
This palace today I remembered on the Armistice Day. This place where I found myself lonely on that far off day was none other than what was to be the worst bloody battle ground of Verdun.

Verdun? Yes, that was the place where this year, this day, went the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, accompanied by so many dignitaries whose names I don’t care to remember at all!

The report of the visit as put in the British newspapers read so well and the words so moved me and sent in a cold wave inside me, made me feel sad for hours together. Here I am at such a far distant land, India and the day I was there at Verdun, is again a far -ff memory and yet Verdun connected me to a stream of consciousness that created so many ripples of  tears inside me. I cried alone and for a longer time than I wanted.

Why I cried?
“The day and the time. When the leaves glow yellow and golden as the sun shines!”

In the battlefield of Verdun, there perished more than 300,000 French and German soldiers, many died after being shot by their own commands for refusing to fight on! Others died fighting. Many others were simply butchered for no valid reasons!

Verdun, even then, to my innocent eyes seemed to be a ghost town and there were not many around. That might be one reason why the town looked ghostly to my unsuspected eyes. The news report today notes that at 11 o’clock, a two minute silence was observed by himself and entourage and the visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, visiting Australian governor general, Quentin Bryce and the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and many others.
The war monument and the surroundings are dotted with crosses for the dead and the concrete ossuary housed the bones of the 130,000 unidentified dead. What a great human and shall not say, a great blunder of man for triggering this great tragedy.

So too the Second World War. Then, the subsequent human follies, the coming of Lenin, Hitler and their follies, then Stalin, then later Mao and now? The Iraqi war which was launched for what?

George Bush and much more the guilty fellow, Tony Blair, the two lied to the world, there was no invasion by Iraq and there was no weapons of mass destruction, as Tony Blair lied and they, the two men of war of our times, lied blatantly and went on to cause one more modern tragedies, some 300,000 massacred for no visible ends!

Why such a long monologue, readers might wonder.
Yes, I have been haunted by the indifference of people not only in India but also in the wider world about the consequences of the way we live in the world, the way the governments of the major countries are run.
As the visiting writer, the Nobel Laureate, Nadine Gordinar, 85, said in Kolkatta in a speech, the tragic violence is being caused by man in an unceasing manner to this day. In her beautiful phrase, it was a “sunny day in New York in September 2001, when suddenly terror pounded the sky. So too Hiroshima happened on an unsuspected day. Read More →

What use the study of Indian history?
Dr.Sabyasachi Bhattacharya
Dr.Romila Thapar
Prof.Irfan Habib
Prof.M.G.S.Narayanan
Prof.Suvira Jaiswal

I have just noted down some of the names of the eminent historians now writing in India. This I do for the simple reason that many of the readers of this magazine might not have heard of their names. I have read and still continue to read them whenever I want to seek some clarification of some details on some aspect or some points in Indian history.

Here I like to limit myself to certain few points on which an average Indian reader might seek some clarification or some overview of India’s history.

As far as I am concerned, the important point in Indian history writing or for that matter how reading or writing of Indian history might help us, as individuals or as citizens or as a country as a whole is what is the approach to write or study history.

Even the latest book by Upinder Singh(A History Ancient  and Early Medieval, From Stone Age to the 12th Century), historian and daughter of  the Prime Minister all, as far as I know, don’t ask any of the questions people like me, the very generalists as against the specialists might be asking.

My questions are: what use writing history unless you really don’t have anything new to say on how the present Indian would be impacted by your new specialist knowledge in history?

So, I have come to a stage in life when I like to share what agitates my mind. I was recently in Delhi and had taken some time off to go around and see the old Mughal monuments, Qutb Minar complex, Fatehpur Sikri, of course, Agra and Taj Mahal and the Delhi monuments, from Red Fort to Humayun’s Tomb etc.

As I was moving through the monuments where in their complex lie hundreds of tombs and they all evoked a sense of the past and the lives that had gone by.
Will India ever remain a one country?

There have been repeated attacks and wars and I just now read through the pages of Sir Jadunath Sarkar’s ‘Military History of India”. The 21 chapters made me saddened me greatly and I fell silent at many places when I read through the pages.

Then, I recalled the observations made by Prof.Sabyasachi Bhattacharya’s lecture at the Bombay University Kosambi Birth Centenary Address.

Will India remain a Civilization? Was it always a one Civilization? Was it always one country? One nation?

Such questions were not raised by the learned  professor, except he recalls Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj writing where he, the Mahatma asks: Indian civilization for Gandhi was something he saw as based not on material civilization as in the West and in India it was, as according to Gandhi, based on something like  a spiritual basis. Though it is not made clear in the professor’s lecture.

I am, to say the obvious at the very beginning, a bit tired of this uncritical way of using some expressions and some words.

First, the very word, the very expression and the conception of civilization.
Yes, Arnold Toynbee has asked this question and he himself had given some explanations. The rise and fall of civilizations as cycles of rice and fall.

This view was of course contested by professional historians and they did this kind of thing when I was a student Oxford. The galaxy of historians in my time, A.J.P.Taylor and Hugh Trevor Roper and many others were doing this. Even I suspect Sir Isaiah Berlin and E.H.Carr were subscribing to this scpeticism. They had their own reasons.

Read More →

A history of the short twentieth century (1914-1991)

The weekends in my village don’t miss their highlights: I bought this time the volume by Eric Hebswam’s “The Age of Extremes”, the much acclaimed volume in his series of “Ages” of Capital and Revolution and many others. This volume I didn’t have had the time till now to go through. So when the pressure to buy a book on my trip home I just picked up the volume at the Crossword book shop in Bangalore. As soon I had the time I settled down for a non-stop reading and what a trip through the entire world of the twentieth century, covering 1914-1991.
Hebswam by new is a household word everywhere, all over the world, more so in India where he has a large number of friends in the academic as well as in the political sphere. Knowing him as a Marxist historian and more so as a member of the British Communist party I had always read him to have some unique insights into the events of the most important historic phase of the modern world. He is as far as I knew is a master of the modern world of European Enlightenment and the post-Enlightentement era.

Read More →