India Uncut

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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Refrain, Indian historian!

In an essay in the Telegraph, Ramachandra Guha bemoans that Indian historians rarely write for an audience broader than an academic one. But he pinpoints the reason for this. He writes:
Indian historians are, for the most part, too insular and timid to take history to the people. Indian media is too vulgar to do so. And there is yet a third problem, that in India, history is most contentious, productive not just of intellectual argument but also of sectarian violence. If heads can be broken and libraries burnt on account of a single line in a book about Shivaji, can one imagine the reaction to a series on television about the Mughals? Or a series about the national movement? How would we accommodate, in one straight, simple narrative, the viewpoints and contributions of Gandhi, Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Nehru, Bose, Jinnah and Savarkar? These men argued among themselves in their lifetime, and their followers fight their battle more fiercely now. How to make a programme that is appealing and attractive, and yet won’t spark a hundred processions and a dozen bloody riots? Rather than confront the question, it seems more prudent to duck it.

Read the full piece, the bit about Indian historians is just one part of it. Reviewing a book called History and the Media, edited by David Cannadine, Guha casts his eye over historians of the past who have reached wide audiences, and on the vibrant new genre of tele-history.
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