8th October 2010
History is pointless if it doesn’t help us. Let’s use it to solve problems, not to create problems.
So someone lived in the past. Do I care?! Do I need to know? Life formed billions of years ago. Do I need to know every individual creatures' exploits, every individual human's exploits? What is history if not a story of dead people? Why do I need to know about dead people?
Sure, some of them helped discover this or that, and that's fine. But what is more important – that I know what they knew or that I know about them? Is knowledge about Einstein more important than intimate understanding of his discoveries? Do I care about the idea of freedom more, or the fact that John Locke wrote about it cogently? What is more important?
Further, we neither made history nor can we change it in any way. So what's the point of studying about dead people?
I treat most history like fiction: stories without any consequence today and totally irrelevant. To me what we DO today in our lifetime is far more important than anything that happened in the past or will happen in the future.
Attempts to glorify history are particularly abhorrent. India was a 'sone ki chidiya'. So what? What does it matter if today HALF OUR CHILDREN ARE STARVING? Will the knowledge about the 'sone ki chidiya' feed these children?
As my young friend Ashish Deodhar pointed out on Facebook: "Only those who are insecure of their past feel the constant need to glorify their history!"
Above all, it is UTTLERLY ridiculous for anyone to take credit for a country's history – for we did NOTHING to make it. If someone else did something wonderful in the past (e.g. built the Taj Mahal) that's not something we did ourselves; so let's observe it and study it but not glorify it .
This is our life. It is our time to make our life count. We must make things that are bigger and better than the Taj Mahal. What we don't control (such as our history) is irrelevant.
The WORST of all possible uses of history is to create problems for ourselves! An example is the mess created around the Babri Masjid. Surely both Allah and Ram could have themselves sorted out their problems, if any. They did not ask for OUR help! They are not incompetent, or are they? More importantly, as I showed in BFN, two wrongs never make a right. This entire saga, based on an interpretation of history, was therefore highly improper. In a free, independent society we don't have any authority to go about destroying property (and lives!).
History wars are the worst kinds of wars. Stupid beyond description.
Yet history has some value
History has value only if we take a HIGHLY CRITICAL approach towards it and extract useful lessons. That is why in DOF I've spent quite a bit of time on the history of freedom: not on chronological history but on the history of the ideas of freedom.
We need to extract key learnings from history and not worry about who did what. Our job should be to find out whatever useful we find that can be applied to our lives today, things that can solve our CURRENT problems of poverty, corruption, and misgovernance.