Bollywood as National(ist) Cinema
I have come to realize that we are all the same, all of us here—our interests, our political stances, our take on the nation—so we are pretty much talking to one another, which is a bit of a problem. But it is not as much of a problem as what I witnessed at the Kumaon Literary Festival where there was an attempt to bring together various viewpoints through a debate on nationalism. So there was Hindol Sengupta who represented a certain version of nationalism; there was Tarun Vijay who is a spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party and therefore must assume certain attitudes; and there was my ex-student Rana Ayyub who has written and self-published
Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover-Up
The problem is simple: Do we preach to the converted or shout at the unhearing?
In about 10 minutes, the debate had degenerated into a shouting match and it was quite obvious that nobody had anything to say to anybody else. And that no one was listening. This is the real source of terror, the real source of our problem: we have not been able to maintain a space for dialogue, for listening and receiving. We have relied too long on the academy as the space for the formation of history. History is being made right now, today, in newsrooms across the country. History is being made on television which can be scary, since truth is often the first casualty of TRPs.
But that’s not what’s terrifying. What’s terrifying is that history is being made by the twitterati, in editing studios where soundtracks are overlaid on recorded events. That distorted reality is then widely circulated. And since we are now in a space where we only hear and believe what we want to hear and believe, the correctives are ignored.
The old formula for instant history, over the last 50 years of our society used to be: ‘I read it in the newspapers.’ As journalists, we were aware that we were responsible for the making of history. Then it became ‘I saw it on television’. Large corporations know they could be sued and so they try and be as seemly as possible. But what about the independent troll who puts out a video that goes viral? ‘I saw it on Twitter,’ say his followers and the result is that history is made by those who have a desire to represent not what happened but what they think happened. They know they are biased. In fact, they are proud of these biases. And they are prouder still of introducing these biases into their work.
And then there is the other narrative. We also learn about our history from extramural sources, from what we hear outside the world of academia for the history textbooks are easily forgotten. The world is very clearly divided into people who remember what they studied in school—that’s 1 per cent of the universe—and the rest who forget.
I know you believe that you remember what you studied. But should I ask you what the cosine of an angle is or what (a+b) raised to the power of three is equal to—you would look at me blankly. It is no less shocking that you should not remember a binomial expansion than it is that you should not remember who Tipu Sultan was. As History teachers, you may have a greater investment in Tipu Sultan—but Mathematics is a modality of engagement with logic—if that slips you by, then logic slips you by. Because up to that time, the only thing allowing you to think about logic is the mathematics that is taught without logic. If you do not remember that Lithium has a valency of 1 or 2 and so you do not know whether Lithium Carbonate is LiCO
how have you excused yourself? How have you said that they should all remember their History—but it is okay for me to forget my Chemistry? Or to forget my Mathematics? Are we guilty of prioritizing certain forms of knowledge? Perhaps we do it unknowingly but here it is: They should know their History but I can forget my Botany.
Why is it that after so many years of education in school, most Indian school children are unable to write a simple letter? I have two young neighbours. One went to medical college and became a pathologist—which means she not only did a medical degree but also went on to do her MD. And the other is an engineer and teaches in an engineering college. Recently he had to write a letter to his principal, requesting for a day’s leave to get a visa. But he could not write that letter, so he came to me. If an engineering professor cannot write a leave application, we should acknowledge that our system is a failure...