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Evolution of Modern India -An interesting voyage with speakers who made history

(Book Review)

Rakesh Batayabal (Ed) The Penguin Book of Modern Indian Speeches: 1877 to present, Penguin Books India, 2007, 916 pages   Rs. 595/-

“History, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in.... I read it a little as a duty; but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars and pestilences in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all - it is very tiresome.  ( Jane Austen : spoken by Catherine Morland in 'Northanger Abbey') 

     History never repeats itself. But men are inherently inquisitive to know not only about their immediate past but also about the events that shaped history. History as an academic discipline evolved over a period of time to make people aware of the cultural and structural transitions taken place within and across nations and communities. However, of late, there is scant academic interest to pursue formal history courses by students. Thus millions of people of the new generation hardly find the history books and narratives by historians appealing. However recasting history has been never an easy job. Even when historians attempt to narrate past events with lot of research and archival investigation, the same are never spared of criticisms and accusations of biases. Different schools of historians interpret history from particular ideological positions and one would wonder whether there is anything like true history. Similarly, people who control the learning institutions from time to time tend to add, change, or delete particular historic narratives and historic relics. Consequently, there emerged a feeling that objectivity and positivism are never to be expected from history as it is told today by many.  It is imperative to discover ways and methods to have access to uncorrupted history. One such attempt to deliver true history in a very interesting way is to bring it to people in its original form and content.

       Rakesh Batayabal has made a very valuable attempt to take Indian history to all those people who would like to know straight from the ‘horse’s mouth’. That is precisely what he has done, when he took pains to compile 161 historic speeches of more than 115 persons who made history. Each speech clearly takes the reader to the historic, cultural and social settings when the speech was delivered. Reader would definitely feel that he is one among the audience and would experience both the emotional and intellectual reverberations emanating from the speaker. The book is a rich source for gathering unadulterated and diverse perspectives based on true narration of historic events and social facts.

     Speeches one by one aggregate to a critique of social, economic and political transitions taken place in India since 1800s to late 1990s. Every social and economic issue ranging from poverty, untouchability, colonial subjugation to separatism and terrorism have been vividly depicted. Intellectual debates of global ramifications centering on subjects as diverse as communism, ethnicity, nationalism, revolution, communalism, racism and disarmament are very much relevant today as they were during those historic moments of delivery. The book, though a reliable source of Indian history, also deal with several interdisciplinary themes which would provide definite theoretical and scientific basis for future policy and research in the disciplines of sociology, economics, public administration and public policy. 
     The real contribution of the book is not just its efforts to bring about a systematic presentation of the story of evolution of modern India. But the vital role it plays to make history interesting to common man. I am sure this book will catch the instant attention of not only the academicians and students but also the busy technocrats, professionals and the men in businesses who would like to understand the unique Indian trajectory to become a global player. David Mccullough has said that ‘history is who we are and why we are the way we are’. And this book will definitely help every Indian find answers to several of his existential questions.  
Sibichen K Mathew
(Views are personal. Comments are welcome)

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