Sunday, 3 August 2014

A Nation with no Narrative

Do we have local text books written by indigenous experts in local idiom while keeping in view local requirements and demands? Generally speaking, no. The local think tank, not just some teachers or professors, should  sit together and  survey other texts and copy paste or appropriate portion from them and come up with a new but localized text. It needs deep and critical engagement with the whole worldview that informs these texts and an informed response based on our understanding of tradition or heritage that we attempt to safeguard. In order to illustrate, I today focus on history text books.
Firstly, we have imported paradigms of historiography that starts from an evolutionist account that drops out transcendence and relies exclusively on modern scientific narrative. Secondly, we don’t have good local history of Kashmir, especially modern Kashmir. Thirdly, we don’t have tools to appropriate references to hagiography that appear incredible in light of modern rationalist viewpoint. Fourthly, we don’t have critical understanding based on our own assimilation of the tradition centred on Metaphysics to take on modernity on our own terms. Fifthly, we largely ignore alternative approaches that have surfaced up in the wake of post-modernity that are better integrated with our traditional or received understanding. Ask Kashmiri students – graduates and we will be disappointed by knowing their abysmal ignorance regarding ancient, medieval and modern histories of Kashmir. They know next to nothing about Buddhist school that developed here, masterly works of Abhinavgupta, mysticism of Lalla, metaphysics and aesthetics of Kashmir Saivism, subtlety of symbolism of Kashmiri Sufi poets, meaning of Aknandun or even names of scores of folk tales, politics of National Conference nomenclature vis-à-vis Muslim Conference, Mirwaiz-Sheikh Abdullah rift, changes in cultural geography in recent history, questions regarding accession document and almost every important  event in our history. This implies that our quest for freedom and identity gets problematized until we take care. A few more points detailed below further clarify my point.
We often give an impression in our text books as if there is an agreed upon understanding of important events and processes and ask students to remember them rather than encourage to doubt and revisit the given narratives. There are many histories, all conflicting with one another. There could be many approaches to history. Communal, nationalistic, mystical or transcendentalist, Marxist, historicist, new historicist and so on. All the modern approaches that have been used to approach Euro-American orAsian history have been transposed to Indian/Kashmiri history. We have a plethora of viewpoints on significance of almost all important points and we have yet to agree on even such basic issues as who were Aryans, antiquity of Vedas, prevalence of heterodox philosophical systems, historicity of characters in Epics etc. The traditional is no longer the case. The History of India is exploded as a myth replaced by histories. Brahmins, Dalits, Buddhists, Secularists have their own narratives and certain radical historians question all of them. We have largely erased histories of devadasis, sudras, adivasis etc. Orthodox positions have been jolted and now we have fragments. Brahmins had not cared to focus on histories but today books such as Hindus expose some unsightly aspects. Meanings and messages are no longer simplistically read. There are no great men or heroes in the chronicle of class wars for some. Taking post-independence history as our point of reference things is no less obscure. We have fragmentary and contradictory narratives. Who was responsible for partition? Was it a dagger of colonialism? Have we lost much that we identified as most importantly ours for so long? Has globalization erased our distinct history or we have betrayed glorious heritage? The tussles between nationalists and communalists and between many other groups such as subalteran, Marxist, environmentalist, saffronizers and Islamizers are continuing.
Villians and heroes often change clothes. Our historians and text book writers have to consider possibility of dialogue between the account bequeathed by tradition and mostly memorized in folk memory and dissenting perspectives that are continuously multiplying and both illuminating and obscuring our view of our former selves or history. It may well bethat history belongs to those who can write it. On how little can we agree besides dates of birth or death of kings/empires is amazing.

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