Having met Subhadra Sen Gupta last week, we were delighted to see her article which emphasizes why history doesn’t have to be a boring subject in schools.
History is what we are. It is our story and human beings need their roots as much as they need ambitions and dreams.
The problem is that our textbooks focus on dates, kings, battles, economic policy, acts of parliament and somewhere we forget the most important element of history – that it is the story of people. Not just of kings, priests and warriors but of tribals, lower castes, women, farmers, potters and weavers. We need to put people back in our histories. Why don’t textbooks talk about the epic voyages of Chola ships to Bali where our textiles taught them to create batik designs? About how they painted the walls of caves in Ajanta for hundreds of years? Or tell them that Babur wrote a diary and Krishnadeva Raya composed poetry. More than Akbar’s conquests I find it truly fascinating that he was nearly illiterate.
Children like battles, they make exciting reading but not when they get confused between the dates of the two battles of Panipat and the teachers cuts marks. They love to listen to the story of a man in a chhoti si dhoti and a voluminous shawl walking for a month to Dandi to pick up a handful of sandy sea salt. They don’t really need to know all the points of the Minto-Morley Act.
So parents, teachers, if you want children to get a sense of history you have to move away from text books and walk out of classrooms. Take children to a monument and let them touch the carved pillars as you describe how the stone carvers worked. A museum offers us our history through things and things can say so much. Harappan pottery looks so much like what our potters still make today. An image of a goddess shows us jewellery designs. A sword and shield has so many stories to tell.
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