Discovering, No Re-discovering History

Letter from New Delhi

History is always written by the conquerors. So when a nation is conquered, its past has to be revised and adjusted to suit the present. Most conquered countries, even continents – have suffered this humiliation.

Take Africa, known to Europeans as the Dark Continent. Why? Because they did not know much about it, except for the northern coast. Searching for a spice route, Vasco da Gama went round the Cape of Good Hope and was guided by an Indian sailor to India in 1492. But it was not until the 19th century that European explorers began to ‘discover’ Sub Saharan Africa. These tough men, with scores of African footmen, ‘discovered’ the highest mountain (the Kilimanjaro), the biggest falls (naming them Victoria!) and the source of the Nile (in Uganda), among other landmarks. However, the Africans protested. Why, these landmarks were always there and they knew them all along. No, the civilised world has discovered them now and so it is. Then the Europeans sat down in Berlin in 1884-85 and divided Africa between England, Germany, France, Belgium, Portugal and others. Just like sharing slices of a cake!

India has suffered even more. For a start, Western historians have estimated the beginning of ancient Indian civilization between 1500 and 1000 years before Christ. Never mind if the Indians say that the greatest battle ever, the Mahabharata, was fought 5000 years ago. The West knows better! Then Muslim rule was established at the beginning of the 13th century and so earlier empires and their achievements and glories began to fade and history was written by Muslim scholars. Finally, the British took over this vast sub-continent. To govern it, they had to wipe out its glorious past, its culture and education system and impose the imperial system.

Osho says, “Your whole history is bunk… I mean the whole human history is bunk, because it is written by people who were victorious; it is all false. For example, in India, Britain ruled for 300 years and they were the writers of history. And whatsoever they wrote was wrong. They were not writing about the reality, the facts. To them, the Indian Revolution (1857) was only a mutiny; it was not revolution. Revolution has respectability about it; mutiny is something ugly to be crushed. The moment India became independent, they rewrote the history — they changed those 300 years.”

Now that India is ruled by leaders who grew up and were educated in India, and not Britain, a new wave has started to look into ancient Indian history based on ancient texts and the latest scientific analysis of artefacts. No wonder the established historians who flourished under the British Raj are upset and resist this move. High time that the ancient texts, references, archaeological sites and monuments were systematically dated, curated and studied for an accurate account.

Equally important is the repositioning of historical content. It should not merely be about the wars and conquests of kings and leaders. It’s high time that the path breakers – the spiritual icons, the cultural trendsetters and the artistic achievements – were given their equal and rightful place in history. Cut down the bloodshed. Bring in the spirituality and culture. Only then, history will not bunk.

* * *

Kenyan Indian Diaspora delighted with Obama’s Kenya Safari

The Kenyan Indian Diaspora is delighted with President Barack Obama’s visit to Kenya in July 2015. An estimated half a million in Britain, USA, Canada, Australia and other countries, the ex-Kenya Indians have a very emotional connect with the land of their birth or their fathers they left in waves after Kenya’s independence.

Like Obama, they visit Kenya from time to time to catch up with their friends and relatives and observe how the country is getting along. And this is exactly what Obama will do when he re-visits the land of his father on his third visit. But this is the first one as the President of the United States, the world’s most powerful nation.

For all Kenyans this is a matter of unlimited pride because Obama did not visit Kenya for seven years while he was in the White House. In fact, he purposely avoided Kenya during his previous visit to Africa. Now Kenya has overcome the stigma of its President Uhuru Kenyatta charges of genocide in the international court and Obama has no major election to worry about in the US, thus the visit.

Similarly, after settling down in their new home, Kenyan Indians crave about the good life they left behind: the ‘eternal spring’ climate of the Kenya Highlands, the easy incomes, the Indian foodstuffs and, above all, the efficient and robust domestic help they had all their lives.

When the Kenyan Indian housewife faces the mountain of dinner dishes in the middle of harsh winter in the West, she cries out for her domestic help. When the Kenya Indian is holed up in his home during a wet weekend, he yearns for his former land of sunshine almost throughout the year. Other equally powerful experiences and memories pull her or him back to Kenya.

And perhaps it is the same with Obama. He has visited Kenya three times, the last trip as a Senator. After all, he has his extended family, including a half-brother and siblings, among others, still living in Kenya and he would like to visit Alego, the village in Nyanza province on the shores of Lake Victoria, his ancestral home, very much like Kenyan Indians who have settled abroad and come to look at their former homes with new owners to see how they have maintained or re-developed them.

The highest number of Kenyan Indians is in the UK where they have set up their community organisations to interact with each other. Curiously, they are not very comfortable with Indians from India! Their basic command of English language is better than Indians. Their mother tongue has a good sprinkling of Swahili words which the Indians do not understand. They instantly bond with each other with their Swahili greeting, ‘Jambo’. It’s the same tale in USA, Canada or Australia or other countries.

Of course, Obama knows more than a smattering of Swahili and will make full use during his formal speeches at the international conference he will inaugurate and during bilateral talks on human rights and terrorism.

An editorial in Kenya’s largest newspaper, The Nation, termed this visit of immense significance to Kenya. “Kenya has since independence five decades ago been a close ally of the United States, but for some reason no sitting American president has ever visited this country. This will, therefore, be an occasion to affirm the cordial ties and explore new avenues of cooperation. For many Kenyans, the fact that President Obama’s father was a Kenyan makes the visit some sort of homecoming.”

It’s the same homecoming of sorts for visiting Kenyan Indians who will take great pride in discussing this presidential safari.

 

Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi

 

 

* Published in print edition on 3 April  2015

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