Re-discovered Patriotism

Michael Wood in Amritsar

Michael Wood in Amritsar

I recently laid hands on (or more like, was persuaded into getting hold of, by Shishir, and all thanks to him) this BBC  TV series by Michael Wood called The Story Of India. A six part documentary, shot over 18 months of extensive travelling across India and the extended subcontinent, he traces India’s roots, the circumstances of the birth of its diversity, the richness of a land that has seen civilisations old, new and constant and varied. So far, I’ve reached the point of entry of the East India Co, with the Mughal era just about descending into depravity, aka Chapter 6 in this fantastic story.

Considering the fact that history was not my favourite subject at school, since then, I was still dreaming of being an engineer/CA/big shot corporate honcho at some MNC, it comes as a pleasant surprise that a lot of what the man talks of in his travels still rings a bell in distant dusty cabinets of the mind. And then again, a whole other list of things he talks about are completely new.

Like the fact that king Kanishka’s empire included Afghanistan and a sizeable part of Central Asia.

And that Ayodhya was not a precise location till Chandragupta Vikramaditya II decided to use that myth as a guiding force of governance and good living.

And then some even more astonishing revelations: India has, over the past 2,500 years or so, been under the rule of almost every dominant existing religion in the world today.

That the so-called hatred between Hindus and Muslims isn’t a product of Partition, but has been an ebbing and flowing undercurrent that has existed since Muhammad Ghazni’s invasion, but which came to a significant rest during Akbar’s reign.

What Michael Wood, the historian, does is build up an enormous tale of various warriors, religions, holy men, gods, kings, peoples, philosophies, events and look at how all the many traditions the land has hosted and what they left behind for this soil. Effectively, the point he’s trying to make, it seems to me, is that India’s richest attribute is its multiculturalism. There is such a depth behind what has happened here, when time and space have coincided, over and over again, to generate myths, legends and reality still more fabulous.

What Michael Wood, the presenter has done, is to stand in a busy Mathura street and chat with a party of 9 female pilgrims, sit down to lunch with a Tamil agricultural family, watch Krishna kill Kansa and rid Mathura of it’s evil king in one of our local stage performances, talk to professors, play holi and basically get wholly enamoured and embossed into the colours of the land. And he speaks with such awe, love, amazement, enthusiasm and what not, that you are intoxicated, not only with him and his unending warmth and readiness to embrace, but also by what our own country has to offer us.

After all, we do live in a country where there are maybe 3 million gods ( “Or is it 3,30 million gods?!” he muses many a time), where the monsoons have revealed the treasure trove that this land is to the West, where some of the greatest discoveries and inventions, and religions, it is important to add, have not faced the kind of stigma and trauma that Galileo was forced to undergo, whose GDP was the largest at more than one point of time in AD history and whose people know the art of adjustment and happiness, at least from a macro, Western point of view.

The man is proud of himself for having discovered this beauty. It would be travesty not feel proud of actually being part of it.

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9 thoughts on “Re-discovered Patriotism

  1. “And he speaks with such awe, love, amazement, enthusiasm and what not, that you are intoxicated, not only with him and his unending warmth and readiness to embrace, but also by what our own country has to offer us.”
    I wholeheartedly agree with this nidhi, I do feel that every Indian or for that matter everone part of Indian subcontinent should see this….I can watch this over and over again and still find it even more interesting.
    It’s truly a masterpiece and you have done a commendable job of giving an insight into the passionate world of “Michael woods” 🙂

  2. I’m surprised I haven’t heard about this series, especially since it is just two years old. I presume this show is not aired in India as you haven’t told us about the channel and timings…

  3. Akash, It is a BBC series, and i am sure BBC India has aired it. But, I laid hands on it only in its DVD format. It isn’t one of those hugely advertised series, like anything else that is associated with BBC. So, even my encounter with it is a chance one. However, i have it on my pc so no worries. will give it to ya. 🙂

    Shishir, Thank YOU. for all of it – introductions, compliments, appreciations! 😛

  4. Indeed, India has so much to offer to the world. It is time we feel proud of being Indians. Some crib that there are so many problems in India. The way I see it is that it still works and it works well enough to catch the fancy of the world.

  5. Totally true, Anand. It is a big wave of patriotic love and nationalism that we’re riding on right now, at this dot in time n space. I only hope some good can come out of it, instead of petty fighting that we’re so prone to.

    Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  6. So u have finally discovered how fascinating History could be..Unfortunately most beautiful pieces of history is discovered by outsiders like William dalrymple. I believe History is just more concrete form of Chaos theory – that there a connection between every event no matter how incosequantial that’s happening in this world..

    to make you wonder some more – have u heard of the film called Lawrence of Arabia. It is based on a real character called Lawrence, a british army spy..Now this Lawrence was the first husband of Omar Abdullah’s ( Kashmir’s CM)grandmother..

    and the Arab Muslim’s gave the name Hindu..wonder how the Muthaliks and togadias would react to this..

  7. Very true, ironically we neeedd an outsider to remind us what our India is about.

    As you have seen this one, I would prescribe Paul Merton’s India a must for everyone. It is the most fascinating series of documentary which shows india not from an outsider’s view. Still it is the India not known to most of us. It is i think discovery channel series. And must watch. It is funny and queer. Thngs like are you aware that in our very own delhi, there is a guy who actually makes people sit in an aeroplane and gives them an experience of how it feels if you sit in there. The Flight doesnt take off but you go sit there, it acts as a normal plane and there will be that funny air hostess with all the instructions (NLS :P). Then they serve you with breakfast and it is followed my an emergencey landing. It is hilarious the man is filthy rich as hundreds flock to get this experience.
    we shall go next time u are here. Ok too long a comment. got carried away.
    Nice post. pleasant.

  8. thanks riddhi. I couldn’t forget you on the lfight to bangalore even if i wanted to! 😛

    and if you have this discovery series, i’d like to borrow it. And this flight experience sounds fascinating! we’ll definitly make it. and apparently, there’s some old delhi rediscovery trips on bicycles too, in and around the jama masjid area. we should try that too. 🙂

    and baharul, thanks man. another tidbit, and still more fascinating!

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