How do we discover a moment, an event or a happening which is historical, which perhaps deserve to go down in the annals of history, and something which is not, a mere flicker of reality? E.H. Carr attempted this kind of a discourse in his pithy book: ''What Is History?'' If Cleopatra's nose he says, changed the course of history, like Anthony falling in love with her (presumably with the nose!) and this changed the course and direction of history by increasing the promontory of Roman jurisdiction, then this is certainly a historical event. However facetious this might seem, we understand that perhaps there are personal histories intertwined with national or international destinies.
One such was Hitler's hatred for the Jews and his his upper caste tyranny for which he is still rembered but although he is despised for it, he has gone down grudgingly in the annals of history. Asoka changed his personal belief embraced an universal pacifism, for which he is remembered as a votary of peace, even though he indulged in heinous killings earlier. But the change in his personal world view brought order to his world and restored the equanimity of a selfless sanity. His edicts bear till today, a witness to this rare testimony. Similarly Akbar envisioned secular principles of Indian democracy in the sixteenth century when the experiment with what we now call India, was as fledgling as it could be then. But Akbar had a fierce prescience and knew instinctively India's multi culturalism.
Mahatma Gandhi experienced the bitter truth in a train in South Africa and that changed the destiny of India. Previous to that he was quite an Anglophile and aficionado of the world's then greatest imperialists. Akbar not only understood India's pluralism, he put it into amorous practice, by marrying people belonging to different religions!
So, personal histories shape course of events, and if Swami Vivekananda had not become Ramakrishna's acolyte, or heard about him from his English Professor while studying Wordsworth's ''Daffodils'' he would not be a change maker, and the Ramakrishna Mission would be still born.
What is it in personal histories, that affect destinies of societies, or take them out of lassitude and inertia? If the Bhakti saints had not propagated their beliefs in the oneness of God, there would be no modern Indian languages such as Marathi, Assamese, Oriya and Bengali. If the princess Mirabai had not embraced Lord Krishna's beliefs, we would not have read her emotive resonses to the subliminal love for the universal, personalized by Krishna. These chants or songs, written in a unique mix of Hindi, Rajasthani and Brajbhasha, not only breathe pure poetry but are brilliant examples of devotional experience. One can go on and on. Or if St. Paul did not undergo the spiritual metamorphosis from Saul to Paul, the history of Christianity, would be bereft of a fresh interpretation of the teachings of Christ ( as also the inimitable Thomas Kempis' ''Imitations Of Christ''), and literary history be devoid of the epistolary technique of writing, which later on influenced education and literatrure.
Again although Tagore is known as a poet and lyric composer, it was the fact that he was steeped in both oriental and occidental education, which led to his articulation on views of internationalism, something which is noted and studied today. His Hibbert lectures in Oxford entitled : ''Religion Of Man'' still remains a work dedicated to humanism on a massive explosive scale, tearing across borders of nationalism. It was published in book form by one of England's leading publishers-Unwin. Tagore was soaked in a mystical strain of humanism, identified as oneness in spirit and soul, world over. Such were the virtues of his ecelectic Religion of Man. If Nehru hd not been under the discipleship of Gandhi, with a group of others such as Sardar Patel, Jinnah ( initially), Maulana Abul Kalam Azad etc the national movement would have lost its sting.
So, what is it in histories that turn upside down fallacies, and shorten racial memories? If victims of genocide are remembered as part of history, like Annie Frank's famous and touching Diaries, as diatribes against inhuman killings, then history becomes more universally consconscious and humane. But if we remember only the killings and not individuals who suffered, then history is demonized, a classic example being Hitler and our remembrances of him, the two world wars, and the nuclear holocaust at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which on a particular day the victims are still remembered. But, what goes to make history, the perpetrators, or those who suffered or benefited, as for example the people in Asoka's or Akbar's benign rule? Annie Frank will be remembered as a sufferer of history, but her book ''The Diary Of Annie Frank'' will be singled out at least for me as a singular experience of literary history borne out of historical suffering of a people and a race.
History is deterministic, but historical forces shape destinies, personal histories can vehemently give civilizations the much needed punch, but there is also a moral determinism, which finally anatomizes the cause effect theory, which is in the final analysis non partisan and dispassionate. Here we if we intervene with history, or try to distort it then history becomes nothing but a pack of lies. The Muslim invaders, the British, the Dutch, the French, even the Portuguese came as marauders but they have contributed to the makings and remakings of a nation, and its national consciousness. To demythicize history is to tear its ramparts apart and to falsify it, as the Babri Masjid episode has done. Where is the concurrence of history here? What evidence is there to show that a temple was pulled apart and a mosque planted in its place? Can we get history corrected by asserting that the temple came first? Is the existence or construction of a mosque or a temple a historical recording of an event cataclysmic or otherwise?
It is said that the philosopher Immanuel Kant never left his native Konigsberg, but his ''Critique Of Pure Reason'' shook the world and the history of philosophy.
Against this back ground I seriously wonder if people like Bal Tackeray will go down in the makings of Indian history. Since virulent campaigns become a part of it, he will perhaps be remembered, but what about the people who suffered because of his beliefs, tampered as they were with vitriolic instansigence?
History is not only a summation of events, it is both progress and regress, but the charlatans do not dominate the historical scene, aspirants to the noble abode of wisdom do so and, their supporters. When we remember Akbar, we remember Tansen the musician or Birbal the wise interlocutor. Similarly when we remember Gandhiji we remember the Nehrus and the asscociates of a national liberation struggle. It is the obverse of reality which should undoubtedly be depicted in history, not only idol smashers. True the Muslim invasion had literal iconoclasts, but gradually with the advent of the Mughals there was an efflorescence of cultures as well, it was an architecture not only of buildings but a construct of thought patterns, languages and administration. That should be remembered. If we view people like Bal Thackeray a force to counter inimical forces, which existed five to six centuries back, then we are rewriting history with manic obsession, trying to undo a past which has metamorphosed into an existing reality.
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Ananya S Guha
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