Opines eminent Historian Dr. Ramachandra Guha
“Bhyrappa is a jewel of India and a celebrated writer in Karnataka. Yet he was given the Padma Shri while, Sri Ravishankar of Art of Living Foundation was given the Padma Vibhushan.”
Mysuru: Eminent Historian Dr. Ramachandra Guha, who whispered to Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa after his inaugural speech, “Sir, you spoke very well, and I agree with most of what you said. But I have a few disagreements,” brought out the stark contrast and the priorities of the present Government at the Centre and said, “Bhyrappa is a jewel of India and a celebrated writer in Karnataka. Yet he was given the Padma Shri while, Sri Ravishankar of Art of Living Foundation was given the Padma Vibhushan.”
The ebullient Guha was speaking at the first Mysuru Literary Fest organised by the Mysore Literary Association here yesterday at the Senate Hall in Manasagangothri campus, after an inspiring speech by noted Kannada novelist Dr. Bhyrappa.
He was comparing the present Modi Government with the previous NDA Government under A.B. Vajpayee and said, “In the Vajpayee Government there were some real intellectuals like L.K. Advani, Arun Shourie, Jaswanth Singh, Yashwant Sinha, George Fernandes, who not only read but also wrote books and some of them good ones. However, I do not find even one person in this Government who can write.”
Talking about the freedom of speech, he said, “The freedom of speech in India has never been perfect. And to say that this Government is ‘fascist,’ is not correct. We have seen the restrictions on it right from the time of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi and even in the Left Government of Jyoti Basu in West Bengal.”
Guha said that if the Government was Fascist, then people like him could not have even existed. However, he said that the Modi Government was hostile to literature and history.
Five Commandments: Before the lively interaction, Guha spoke on the topic “History beyond Chauvinism,” where he propounded his five commandments, which the scholars should follow to become good historians.
“Thou shall steal”, “thou shall be promiscuous”, “thou shall be disloyal to all political or religious ideologies,” “thou shall be unfaithful to your country if necessary” and “thou shall never forget that thine is the first word on the subject and it can never be the last word on the subject.”
The audience were quite intrigued with these commandments but Guha who had come well-prepared with facts and his history went on to explain each one of them. The first commandment ‘thou shall steal,’ meant that historians should move beyond the information from the Government sources and learn all the disciplines.
The second commandment ‘thou shall be promiscuous,’ means that historians should not go in search of just Government archives and records but should look at other non-Government records and even newspapers which are incredibly rich in information. The third commandment ‘thou shall be disloyal to all political or religious ideologies’ meant that as a historian one should be apolitical and not stick to any ideology. Only then could he write a good book on history.
The fourth commandment ‘thou shall be unfaithful to your country if necessary,’ simply meant that a historian cannot be a nationalist and the moment one talks about this in the current atmosphere he becomes an anti-nationalist. Guha said, “I wrote the book ‘India after Gandhi,’ as an historian and not as a nationalist. A Historian cannot be a nationalist as he is committed to historical truth.”
The last commandment ‘thou shall never forget that thine is the first word on the subject and it can never be the last word on the subject,’ meant that history is always a work in progress and it must be superseded with a better work.
Guha’s Mysuru connection: Dr. Ramachandra Guha, himself being a trained Sociologist, did not forget to mention his Mysuru connection and in the process recalled the contribution of the famous sociologist M.N. Srinivas. “Srinivas who hailed from Mysuru was a Sociologist of repute who spoke about society and documented it in his seminal work ‘The Remembered Village.’
The second connection he spoke about was when he started editing the book ‘Nature’s Spokesman: M. Krishnan and Indian Wildlife.’ “I had the privilege of editing 80 of the best writings of Krishnan and his contribution to Indian wildlife is phenomenal.”
Talking about how he got interested in writing biography, he said: “I came across one of the remarkable figures of twentieth-century India, Verrier Elwin, an anthropologist, poet, Gandhian, hedonist, Englishman and Indian. Then I decided to write his biography and the book is titled ‘Savaging The Civilized’.”
The third connection he spoke about was the famous photo-journalist late T.S. Satyan, a Mysurean. “I have not seen anyone like Satyan. His theme was always people and he brought them alive in his pictures.”