Sunday, July 21, 2013 careful while reading it..

History was not one of my favorite subjects in school, I didn't like it the way it was taught and tested in schools, that method put too much emphasis on remembering the names, dates and other insignificant details of the incidents rather than understanding the analyzing the significance of those events. But eventually I met people in y life who reintroduced this subject to me in much more interesting way and then I started reading books to understand more about some past events, now I love to read history and like to read accounts from both the sides. One can find many historical accounts (reports about any incident happened in past), either written by experts (after thorough research) or by witnesses (who were involved in some way in real incident). Many of these reports are sometimes contradictory to each other, some glorifying the incident while others criticizing it, so which one to believe? Which one is true? This is very important and valid question and there is no easy answer to this, my approach is read as much as you can from both sides and then decide yourself. 

The major problem which I face while reading most of these books or articles (many of them are very popular) is that many times they are very biased, the views and opinions clearly take sides. There are neutral accounts also but very often they are not popular because people like to see clear heroes and villains in every story and often neutral accounts don't project clear heroes and villains so they fail to impress common readers. I see this contrast when I compare what I learned in school about Indian freedom struggle, all those lessons glorified all actions of Indians, armed struggle of 1857 was presented in such a way that as a kid I was under impression that all autocracies were only committed by British troops and all rebels were very honest and fair in dealing with their enemies. But when I read some books (for example a recent book which I read, Gandhi Churchill by Arthur Herman) which talk about same mutiny but in totally different way, I learned about each and every massacre committed by British troops but I never knew about Bibighar massacre, I was surprised when I read about it, I guess it was neglected purposely. I am sure one can find totally different views about Pearl Harbor attack, or atomic bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki if we read Japanese and American opinions, totally different views about same incident, now how to decide who is right and who is wrong here? Is it easy to decide? Is it necessary to crate heroes and villains from every story.

I think rulers (kings in past or governments now) always feel the need to present history in biased way to infuse patriotism in people, they want more heroes from our past, our lineage so that we feel proud about it and I think this strategy worked very well so far. But some how I always wanted to know both the sides, Mahabharat taught me that there is no absolute right or wrong in this world, everything is relative, depends on which side you are standing. I have no shame or hesitation in accepting or talking about some dark spots in Indian history, according to me they are also part of our history. They belong to us as much as many other glorious things which we mention proudly, I don't deny them, don't feel uncomfortable but like to discuss and know people's views about these things, it helps me to learn and grow intellectually. I always tell my kids that before forming any opinion about any incident, person or any other things try to know as much as possible, try to know both sides (positive and negative) and then only form any opinion, and be prepared to change that opinion if you receive any additional information which contradicts it, because nothing is permanent.

Read, reading is good, it improves our knowledge, sharpens our minds, but I always try to read diverse opinions, try to get neutral opinions or at least views from both the sides, it helps in balancing my own views. If we look at history only through eyes of winners, losers will be always villains, if we read only losers perspective we will always feel winners didn't play a fair game, so our vision will be clouded depending on which side we are looking at, our job is to make it as much less clouded or blurry as possible. It's easy to point fingers at others but it's also a good habit to pause and take a look at our own backyard may be after that we will stop accusing others.

History is very engaging and mesmerizing subject, it has potential to teach us a lot, at the same time if we are not careful then it can also fill us with lot of negative emotions and hatred against each other, we need to be very careful about how we interpret the historical events. We need to make sure that we have all the required information before forming any opinion about any country or community or religion. There are already enough conflicts around us we definitely don't need any more of them, and always remember history is past so don't allow it to ruin our present and destroy our future, if we are careful about all these things then history is amazing subject.

Thanks for reading and please share your opinion on this subject.

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing)


  1. Vinay, this is great topic and you have written very thoughtfully. History was my favorite subject in school, but even I did not like the way it was taught. Memorizing names and years was boring and often felt like Maths. The true account of history was missing. After school I lost touch with history for some time. Then I returned to it again with my passion for World War II. The accounts of how Hitler turned his devastated country into the most effective war machine known to the world until then was as mesmerizing as how Churchill turned the tide against all odds. For a long time, I was stuck with WW II. Then I moved on and a few years back, I started with history of India, again.

    The biggest fruit this second innings in history was clearing my perception about struggle of freedom and it is perceived as well as real heroes. I come from a typical middle-class background of a city dwelling family. Over and above, some of my relatives had experienced the terror after Gandhi's assassination. Due to all of this, there was a huge negative bias about Gandhi and Nehru in my family, which as a kid I inherited. It was only at 37 years of age, that I could see Nehru in a positive light. All credit goes to reading of history - notable Gurcharan Das' India After Gandhi and Nehru's Glimpses of World History. The first one explained the great contribution Nehru made to India's democracy; without him we would most likely have been a larger Pakistan with tyrant generals ruling a billion people with no positive objective. The 'License Raj' was bad, but why it was put into place is understood after one understands the first few years of India after independence. Everyone blames Nehru for being a 'nice guy' and neglecting China, thus causing shameful defeat of India in 1962. One needs to read his narration on China and Japan, and how China is historically peaceful even in the face of aggression. All this glorious history of once peaceful China must have led him to believe that they indeed mean what they are saying. And precisely this is the reason, he was completely crushed by China's aggression in 1962. Why would a man so active and dynamic die within a few months of war?
    Sure he had some limitations, but we need to weigh those with his achievements and contribution to modern India.

    In any case, I wanted to put this point across as my personal experience of what you are suggesting. Understand both sides before coming to a conclusion - and be ready to change that conclusion.

    1. Thanks a lot for reading the post and sharing your thoughts. You expressed it in really nice words, I also went through similar experience like you. I also had many impressions about many people based on what people around me used to say about them (Nehru and Gandhi were on top of that list), I only started understanding them better when I started reading books on them by different eminent scholars.

      Like you and me whoever is interested in knowing the truth and want to really learn something from history will agree that we should try our best to understand both sides before forming our opinion about anything and we should be prepared to challenge it and change it if required.

      Thanks again for your insightful comment.