The 18th March Project – Post 18

I love History.

I remember facts quite easily, and History is full of them. That’s not to say that I remember every detail of a treaty, or battle, or assassination, just enough to recount the bare bones of the sequence of events.

I started out, like most people, I assume, studying History as prescribed by the syllabus. It wasn’t enough- I like to know more. So, I started to do my own research (which at that point, was limited to flipping through the pages of the encyclopedia, sometimes at random), and read more than I needed to know for the exams. I can still remember some bits of trivia about the major wars- the World Wars, the American Civil War, the Indian fight for independence. Most of what we studied revolved around the West, and didn’t focus enough on the pasts of countries that have existed for centuries more than the European countries that later colonized them.

While we did cover some medieval Indian history in school it was mostly in relation to the spread of religion and or the kings and emperors all Indian children learn about: Ashoka, Chandragupta Maurya, Babar, Shah Jehan, Jehangir. It was only in college that I learned a little about the empires of Southern India, among them the Rashtrakutas, and the Chalukyas.

It seems to me that I didn’t learn very much about Goan history, barring a slim volume in the Xth standard about Goa’s freedom struggle.

So now I try to read books that delve into the experiences of those affected by colonial powers, whether fiction or non-fiction. I read counterfactual history, because the what-ifs can be more entertaining than the actual sordid past. For instance, if Hitler had become a painter, would the world look like it does today?

I wish the grandparents who were old enough to register what was happening during World War II were still alive- they would have added a subaltern colour from the colonial past.



The 18th March Project – Post 5

I’ve just finished reading An Era of Darkness: the British Empire in India by author, politician, diplomat/ Indian candidate for the post of UN General Secretary a couple terms ago, Shashi Tharoor.

It’s his take on why the British owe the subcontinent.

He definitely makes a number of valid points.

Did the British do a lot for India? No. Neither did the Portuguese, or the French. (At least the French considered the people in their colonies ‘citizens’. The Portuguese did too, for a split second, a little bit before Salazar grabbed power.)

Do the imperialist nations (including but not limited to the Dutch, the Belgians, the Spanish, and the Japanese to some extent) owe the rest of the world? Yes.

And you know the easiest way to begin making up for it? Don’t charge us for clean technology. Give it to us for free.

Why? You ruined indigenous industry so your own would flourish, and decimated and degraded indigenous populations for centuries because they didn’t fit in the neat little box of your insular culture(s). You can at least help us protect the planet while raising our people out of poverty. Let’s face it, they are probably in it because you moved populations around to suit your needs, and messed up our economies. (Fun fact: India’s economy was equal to roughly a quarter of the global economy in the early 18th century, but is at maybe 9% today, nearly 70 years after Independence.)

No, the people who live in and legislate for the ex-imperialist countries are not the same ones who came and took over something that wasn’t theirs. But you’ve benefitted from your ancestors’ rapacity.

Let’s make the world a better place now, because we can’t undo the past.

Let’s have some form of reparations.