Bringing history alive or Killing it?

Bringing history alive or Killing it?

I admit that I am a history buff, a lover of old books, a listener of tales and a digger of obscure facts if you will. My appetite for the past is insatiable. I still explore abandoned forts with the undimmed excitement of my 8 year old, unearthing hidden truths thrills me and curiosity abounds as I roam through neglected ruins for hours on end.

Yes, I ‘dig’ history, but thinking back I feel the manner in which history was (and probably still is) taught at school was the surest way of destroying all curiosity in a young mind about the past. Surprisingly for me, it did not.

Remember the history lessons at school! I can still glimpse the underlined passages and the dreary monotone of the teacher as she rattled the names of successive Delhi ‘Badshahs’ and the southern dynasties with similar sounding names, the annoying frontbenchers taking extensive notes furiously (the point of which I never quite grasped), the dates adding to the confusion till chaos prevailed. Finally the senses dull and the heads nod..…and I, like countless others, slipped into a glorious dream and made my own history with eyes wide open….Of course my exam results will testify to these imaginary adventures.

But the point is, that in spite of these mind-numbing sessions, the imagery is what kept my sense of wonder about history intact. Eyes closed, I can still find faded images floating about in the haze … dynasties vie for hegemony, empires spanning centuries are overrun by invaders, war-lords rush by in a blur and city-states crumble and rise. It’s fascinating really.

The ‘story’ in the ‘history’, the lesson learnt, the tragedy, the grandeur, the beauty of it all was reason compelling enough for me to keep coming back to history books. Of course the annual family trips to old forts, palaces and temple towns helped and much later morphed into my solo ‘historical’ wanderings.

It has led me to believe that history cannot be understood (‘felt’) in classrooms, not in any way that matters for sure. If a real understanding is to be had and a perspective developed, history has to be discovered, seen in its ruins, heard in its stories, visited in its locales and discussed threadbare for it to make sense.

I wish all children (and grown ups) get an opportunity to travel across this fascinating land, to chat up interesting people, eat with them (and in later years drink with them), experience unusual customs, absorb strange cultures, hear stories from the old ones, look at their buildings, wear their clothes, and witness a life different from their own. And know that it is the ‘past and parcel’ of their own selves. We just call it History.

History tours anyone?

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