Monday, January 20, 2014

Day 21 - Discovering India's past

Recently, I read two excellent books - India Discovered by John Keay  and Ashoka by Charles Allen.

This is in connection with my current fascination about how India's lost past was re-discovered.  Both books deal with the same things.  India Discovered is a slightly dry, but very interesting account of how the British Orientalists gave India's history back to us.  Ashoka is about how India's lost Buddhist past, and the story of Ashoka, was re-discovered, again by British Indophiles.  [Can you believe that until a couple of centuries ago, absolutely nothing was known about Ashoka, arguably the most influential king of our past?]

Both the books are full of stories of how British officials serving in India on some capacity or the other, went beyond their call of duty, and indulged in studies of India's history, culture, art and architecture, dug into the past, made copious records, collaborated with each other to collate records, published books, and on the whole, pieced together India's past like a giant jigsaw puzzle - piece by piece.

And since this took centuries together, the first few people who set the pieces of the jigsaw had no idea what the picture would turn into.  Their successors followed, and they made the picture clearer and so on.

Because of these books, I have a new admiration for the British.  What they did in India aside, this is one of those areas where we are indebted to them.  Not only that, I am floored by the dedication, discipline, interest and single-minded pursuit of whatever they were studying.  These discoveries wouldn't have been possible without such admirable qualities.

And as if that weren't enough, these stories again had to be brought to us by two Brits - the writers John Keay and Charles Allen!

1 comment:

Radhika said...

Kannada's first dictionary was from an Kittel. I've always wondered why the state/country or people did not give much importance to documentation. Looking at the way Mysore govt functioned by supporting the British, I too at times feel, they(British) did more good than bad!

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