Some Indian Uses of History on a Rainy Day
1935. Professor of Sanskrit
on cultural exchange;
passing through; lost
in Berlin; reduced
to a literal, turbaned child,
spelling German signs on door, bus, and shop,
trying to guess go from stop;
for a way of telling apart
a familiar street from a strange,
from west at night
the brown dog that barks
from the brown dog that doesn’t
memorising a foreign paradigm
of lanterns, landmarks,
a gothic lotus on the iron gate
suddenly comes home
in English, gesture, and Sanskrit,
on the neighbour’s arm
in that roaring bus from a grey
nowhere to a green.
– AK Ramanujan
I have a piece on Ramanujan’s essay and the DU controversy in The Caravan, All the Myriad Ways:
It’s no surprise, then, that so consistently we receive a singular history of the State, a composite account that tells an overwhelmingly familiar arc of progress towards the very moment in which you—the school child, the dutiful citizen—happen to be reading and accepting that history. That the United States is a melting pot, or that India contains multitudes is itself a monolithic and singular account.
We, for whom the history of the State is a familiar battleground; we, who grew up in dictatorships, for whom history was the first and most potent weapon for warfare, know this intimately. In Pakistan, there is no multitude of narratives when it comes to our pasts. In Islam, there are no voices that interpret scripture in divergent ways. Notions like these are quickly labelled heretical and such voices are shunted off to the mortuary. Notice the fate of Punjab’s governor, Salmaan Taseer, who dared to imagine a Constitution that might include another voice, admit to another living diversity.
Do tell me what you think.