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.