My ebook: Journeys with the caterpillar

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"
Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
and Sumba, Indonesia
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Friday, June 03, 2005

The past is more uncertain than the future



In "Mao: The Unknown Story", Jung Chang and her husband, Jon Halliday, have used their 10 years of research to describe him as the worst despot in history while also claiming that he didn't bathe for 25 years. They claim that Mao was carried by others during the Long March, that his victories were mere flukes and that he intentionally failed to unite the Chinese against the Japanese. Though even the Chinese state machinery has accepted excesses during Mao's regime, this book has gone way over the top.

Back home, the leftist historian Romila Thapar claimed in her "Somanatha, The Many Voices of a History" that contrary to popular perception, the destruction of Somnath by Mahmud Ghaznavi was a non-event. She claims that the temple was looted by several Hindu kings before Ghaznavi and it was economic and political reasons rather than his religious zealotry that drove Ghaznavi to destroy the temple.

The Japanese textbooks deny the Nanjing massacre. Turks deny the Armenian massacre and the Ku Klux Clan denies the Holocaust. So what's the truth that's really out there?

And as Orwell had said in 1984 (the quotes also popularized by the Rage against the machine song "Testify"):

Who controls the past now controls the future
Who controls the present now controls the past

In India we have become accustomed to change of history textbooks with every change of ruling party at the center. The point that I am trying to make is that it is extremely difficult to get a true picture of our past. And though it is said that an understanding of the past is essential to be able to deal with the present and the future, I believe that a botched understanding will only exacerbate our existing complications. So is study of history any good? Aren't our history books merely badly written fiction books with a zeal for propaganda?

3 comments:

Thomas said...

To some extent, I think the internet is helping. The Chinese, for example, deny the extent of the Tiananmen Square massacre, but I have seen pictures of the bodies stacked like cords of wood in makeshift morgues. I have seen the truth.

The sad thing to me is how many people, even when presented with truth, choose to believe a fiction. It's discouraging.

Anuradha said...

Your post reminds me of a quote 'Until lions have their historians, tales shall always glorify the hunter'...

Shivaji said...

Well quoted, anuradha. But even the lion's history will be debatable if there are multiple political parties among lions themselves