The Inconveniences of History
If I were asked to put it into words, I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint a major way in which studying History as a part of my Undergraduate degree has changed my life. Instead, what I have noticed are the million small ways that are manifest everyday, which have rendered my worldview almost entirely unrecognizable, perhaps a little inconveniently so, than what it was before.
One such ‘inconvenience’ of being a student of history at a university like Ashoka is that I have often been forced to alter my, and my family’s, holidaying habits on many occasions. Studying history has led me to frantically seek out museums wherever I go. As avid travelers, I perhaps owe my parents the biggest thanks for my interest in all things historical. Growing up, they made sure to expose me to the diverse histories and cultures of the places we visited. This exposure was, however, often shaped by the hurriedness that all family trips inevitably experience. Museums had to be explored according to a 30 minutes in-and-out policy which my family had happily observed for years now, subject of course, to variation according to the size of the museum. There was simply too much else to do! The family museum policy, if I may call it that, now seemed unacceptable to me. It seemed akin to stepping foot in a Michelin-rated restaurant, only to order lemonade. I yearned to spend hours leisurely strolling through the various exhibits, reading every inch of the informational plaques, in an attempt to decipher the histories hidden within them. Given the scarcity of time, this desire would simply result in me lagging behind the rest of the group, desperately trying to absorb all that the museum had to offer. Of course, I asked for “five more minutes!” every five minutes. As you can imagine, parental annoyance followed. Studying history has thus led to many a family argument.
This history-related exasperation, however, has not been limited to my parents alone. The end of my first year in college coincided with the nationwide lockdown owing to the outbreak of Covid-19 and I found myself, like everyone else, confined within the perimeter of my house. As bedrooms turned into part-time classrooms, and each passing day seemed to resemble the next, our social lives shrank. I found myself grasping at any opportunity to socialize, which resulted in a lot of time spent with my parents and their friends. Naturally, discussion often centered around politics. And as questions of history have somehow become increasingly politically charged (or rather, questions of politics have increasingly become historically charged), the conversation often tended to veer towards matters of Indian history. Never one to weigh in on ‘contentious’ topics, such as those of politics, I could no longer resist giving my opinion when the very things I learnt were being discussed, rather inaccurately. Simplistic statements which reduced complex historical facts into straightforward attributions of blame, often thrown around in such conversations, irked me to no end. I found myself attempting to explain the multifaceted, tangled, and often perplexing nature of the past that I was now just beginning to learn. Though they would often humor me, my knowledgeable, or at least what I thought were knowledgeable, interruptions couldn't quite erase the popular notions of the past from their minds, leaving me exasperated.
The word history has its roots in the ancient Greek historia which meant “to know”, and I suppose knowledge was never really about convenience anyway. Maybe, the term ‘inconvenience’ leaves one with the wrong idea. These everyday instances of annoyance only underline how deeply I have come to love the History I have been taught at my university. No matter the perceived inconvenience, at the end of my three years here, I feel truly grateful to have been able to understand and appreciate the past in all its rich intricacies. Possibly what I found most thrilling, childishly perhaps, was being taught by the same accomplished scholars whose works formed the basis of our curriculum. I can safely declare that I am happy to live with the tiny nuisances which have become customary reminders of my education in history which I have been privileged enough to acquire. I wouldn’t give them up for anything.
(Reproduced as received; not edited by Permanent Black)