Making history with history

August is a boring month. The Quit India Movement. The Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombs. India’s Independence. My first crush’s wedding. With so much to remember, we have never really liked it. We  generally tend to skip over to September or October, which apart from harbouring T Rajendhar’s birthday, is generally fun to have around.

But, as the saying goes, those who don’t learn from history are condemned to learn it from historians, who needless to say, are the most boring things on the earth, this side of Bengali art movies.

But history can be fun, if only historians know how to present it. For starters, they have to remove pesky facts from the equation. We journalists do it all the time.

As an example, we have crisply re-written, in a few pointless paragraphs, the history of the 1940s and 50s of India, the two epochal decades, about which the modern generation doesn’t know much because they are least interested in it.

Just as well, for we have slipped in a lot of howlers. In other words, we’re making history with history

1940s

It was the decade India, as we know it today, was born, on the operation table of the Freedom Movement, ‘caesareaned’ out of the surrogate womb of Britain, and separated at birth from the evil twin of Pakistan, out of which, in time, emerged the equally evil sibling, Bangladesh. It was a messy, bloody birth that also portended pretentious and convoluted sentences like the previous one. Because, in one final act of cruel revenge on the unsuspecting locals, the retreating Imperialistic Forces left behind a big explosive device: The English language, which we unfailingly allow to blow on our faces even today.

Anyway, the extraordinary exhilaration of the newly-acquired freedom was truly reflected in the memorable words of Jawaharlal Nehru: ‘After all, tomorrow is another day.’

Oops, that was from ‘Gone With The Wind’. But even if Nehru had actually said these words, the nation wouldn’t have bothered or even noticed, especially since radio and electricity were not exactly household commodities then. In fact, most part of India’s populace had to wait till the emergence of colour TV and Arnab Goswami to understand that we are totally free and can commit any kind of nonsense in public.

Looking back, you may also wonder why Nehru chose to make his speech in English to announce the fact that the nation was free from the English. But the great man had no time for relaxation and reflection, as he had the arduous task of nation building, and he spearheaded them manfully by continuing to make, on every occasion, historical speeches in English. While the nation listened mesmerized to that eternal romantic, it failed to grasp the fact that the next decade had arrived.

1950s

If you had read carefully the previous paragraphs, you would have known that we have not made any mention of Mahatma Gandhi. This may seem a major folly in any compilation that seeks to chronicle the history of free, modern India. But we are not sure whether modern India is really free today to accept historical references in the form of irreverent, puerile jokes on the father of the nation. So we will just mention that Gandhi has been a great inspirational figure to all, and in particular to Salman Khan in that he was the one who showed that it is not all that silly to bare the torso even in a polite gathering.

Elsewhere, India quickly understood that for it to be accepted as a democracy with all the works, it had to have Parliament, Legislatures, Judiciary etc. But it primarily needed a Constitution to confuse the people and prevent them taking undue interest in the affairs of the State.

The Constitution contains all the inviolable laws and sacrosanct rules that cannot be changed or tampered with in any manner except by inviolable laws and sacrosanct rules sanctioned by the Constitution itself. The Constitution, it should be said, is full of such definitions and explanations.

The founding fathers had a legitimate reason for framing the Constitution in the manner they did: They didn’t want anyone reading the Constitution. If the founding fathers had actually wanted people to read the book they would have put a nubile girl’s catchy photo on the cover, a strategy that ensured James Hadley Chase books became cult classics for teenagers across generations.

Apart from the Constitution, Parliament et al, Indian leaders also understood the crying need of the hour: National Animal, National Bird, National Symbol, National Fruit, National Flower. Just imagine the confidence that would have coursed through the citizens of the country when they were told that they had a national fruit, and it was probably mango.

As a nation, India was unique in that it had a National Anthem, apart from which there is a back-up number that is called the National Song, even though nobody is really wise to the fact whether it’s Vande Mathram or Sare Jahan Se Accha. (Quizmasters continue to give full marks for both the answers).

There was also a large amount of practical wisdom in having two candidates for the title of National Song. Because it allowed for the mental space to create more needless back-ups. For instance: the Vice-President.  The vital job of the Vice-President, as gleaned from the Constitution, is to call up the Rashtrapathi Bhavan every morning to check whether the incumbent President is alive or dead. If the President is alive, the Vice-President goes back to fulfilling his other constitutional obligation of sleeping. And if the President is dead, the VP takes charge of the Rashtrapathi Bhavan and continues his sleep.

But it was not a case of all work and no play for the young nation in the 50s. Sensing the room for fun and amusement, the government, on the most appropriate day of April 1, created the RBI. The fun hasn’t abated since then.

As the decade was winding to a close, the Kashmir problem slowly reared its head. The government, in a sterling strategy, sent V K Krishna Menon to the UN, and he made a brilliantly passionate speech for over seven hours, almost leading to the disbanding of the Security Council as almost every member had dozed off by then. This also made Pakistanis extremely cautious. They thought, if their diplomat can cause so much mayhem, imagine what their armed forces must be capable of.

There was also a reason why we brought up Krishna Menon pretty late into this piece. We know from personal experience that he was the biggest reason for us from bunking history classes.

You are too precious for us to lose.