Harsh Mander, The Hindu, March 9 2013:
D D Kosambi:
रा भा पाटणकर :
"शिवाजीने रयतेच्या भल्यासाठी केलेल्या गोष्टी सर्वश्रुत आहेत. पण तरीही तेथील सामान्य रयत सुखात होती असे म्हणता येणार नाही ."
William Dalrymple (WD) wrote an essay on India for New Statesman on Oct 11 2012. Read it here.
For most part, it is a severe indictment of today's India and makes sad reading.
However, towards the end the essay stunningly turns around:
"In the longer view of history, India has only recently come to be seen as a poor country. As early as Roman times there was a dramatic drain of western gold to India; during the reign of Nero, the Pandyan kings even sent an embassy to Rome to discuss the latter’s balance of payments problems. A thousand years later it was India’s extraordinary wealth that drew in the merchant adventurers of the East India Company. They came to India not as part of some Tudor aid project, but instead as part of a desperate effort to cash in on the riches of the Mughal empire, then one of the two wealthiest polities in the world. In Milton’s Paradise Lost, the Mughal city of Lahore is revealed to Adam after the Fall as a future wonder of God’s creation: by the 17th century, Lahore had grown richer than Constantinople, and with its two million inhabitants it dwarfed London and Paris combined. It was, in terms of rapid growth, prosperity and opportunities, the Gurgaon of its day.
What eastern Europeans are to modern Britain – economic migrants in search of a better life – the Jacobeans were to Mughal India. It was only after the arrival of the various colonial powers that India came to be perceived as poor. What is happening today is merely India’s slow return to its natural place at the forefront of the world economy. History is on its side."
It feels good to read all this but I really wonder if this all is true.
Is India slowly returning to its natural place at the forefront of the world economy? Is history indeed on its side
In recent months, I have kept reading and re-reading a wonderful, small book in Marathi 'Maharashtrachi Kulkatha' (महाराष्ट्राची कुळकथा), 2011- 'the ancestral-story of Maharashtra'- by Dr. Madhukar Keshav Dhavalikar (मधुकर केशव ढवळीकर) . It's just 148 pages long and attractively priced at INR 140. It has no index and some minor errors have crept in.
Although the book's primary focus is Maharashtra it often talks about the whole of India. To my delight, the book is richly illustrated.
Although Dr. Dhavaliker respects D D Kosambi a lot, my reading of the book suggests that he very much is his own man.
The book is based entirely on the archeological evidence and treats any other evidence- such as found in literature and art- with suspicion.
Dr. Dhavalikar argues that India's economic prosperity started around 600 BC and lasted up to 4th century CE. The decline started right after that.
On page 145, MKD says:
"... गुप्तकालीन आणि गुप्तोत्तर काळात जे संस्कृत आणि प्राकृत वाङ्गमय मोठया प्रमाणावर निर्माण झाले, त्यात आपल्या प्राचीन नगरांच्या वैभवाची राजे-रजवाड्यांची जी रंजक वर्णने आहेत, त्यांवरून सर्व काही आलबेल होते अशी आपली गोड समजूत आहे. परंतु प्रत्यक्ष परिस्थिती खूपच वेगळी होती. कारण पुरात्ततत्त्वीय पुरावा या उलट आहे आणि त्यावर आपण विश्वास ठेवला पाहिजे. वारंवार पडणारे दुष्काळ हे भारताच्या आर्थिक अवनतीचे कारण आहे. जोवर आपण त्यांवर मात करू शकत नाही, तोवर परिस्थितीत फारशी सुधारणा होणे शक्य नाही..."
(...engaging descriptions of the wealth of our old cities and kings and their palaces that is contained in the great amount of Sanskrit and Prakrit literature which was created during Gupta and post-Gupta period make us feel that everything was alright. But the actual reality was very different. That is because of the evidence that is found in archeology and we should trust it. Frequent droughts are the reason of India's economic decline and unless we overcome it, the conditions can never improve...)
In today's India, most of the Indians live in 'economic decline' as most of them always have since 4th century CE.
Even the existence of Ajanta caves does not prove economic prosperity.
"...आर्थिक स्थिती खालावलेली असताना अजिंठ्यासारख्या भव्य वास्तूंची निर्मिती कशी शक्य याचे आश्चर्य वाटणे साहजिकच आहे. परंतु हा प्रकार भारतात पुढेही चालू राहिला..."
(...in the economic downturn the creation of a majestic structure like the Ajanta Caves may surprise. But such things kept happening in India even later...)
Dr. Dhavalikar ends the book on a sombre note as far as Maharashtra is concerned:
"...आजही एक मुंबईचे डोळे दिपवणारे वैभव सोडले, तर महाराष्ट्राची काय स्थिती आहे हे सांगणे नको."
(...even today if eye-popping wealth of Mumbai is left alone, there is no point telling about the condition of Maharashtra.)
'Maharashtrachi Kulkatha' really excavates a live human- as in the picture below- rather than just fossils!
Artist: Charles "Chas" Addams (1912-1988), The New Yorker, August 23 1941
(Mr. Addams was one of the greatest artists of 20th century. The picture is a testimony to that. I have seen a lot of humour around the subject of archeology but had never seen such an orthogonal thinking- bringing out our ancestor alive- as seen here. Look at the faces of all four of them!)
But after reading MKD's book I wonder where does the optimism of WD come from?
It surely doesn't come from the study of India's archeology. It can't come from India's current largely disastrous ecological situation.
Therefore, is he lacing his history with feel-goodness because he wants to pitch his books to the young English specking economically better-off Indians?
Or will the rest of the world fall apart so badly that India will 'once again' become 'shining city upon a hill'?
WD told The Times of India on December 7 2012:
"While we've seen wonderful long-form journalism, the only other guy really writing narrative non-fiction is Ramachandra Guha. He's working brilliantly with modern political history but despite universities chock-a-block with brilliant historians here, none of them seems to be writing for a general audience. There's no Indian equivalent of say, Simon Schama. Where are the Indian versions of Niall Ferguson, Linda Colley or Maya Jassanof? Meanwhile though, it`s lovely to have the field to myself. I've no complaints."
I wonder how WD makes such a claim that 'the only other guy' is Ramachandra Guha.
Is he familiar with history writing for general audience in Indian languages? Has he heard of the Marathi book or its author I have mentioned in this post? Does he know that Vishwas Patil's (विश्वास पाटील) - and of a few others before him- Marathi books on historical subjects have sold probably as much as some of his and Guha's?