Traditional Wisdom
History as a Teacher | Ranjeeta Dutta
LA 60
Book- If History Has Taught Us Anything
Author Farhat Nasreen
Published by Rupa Publications, 2019
One of the travesties of history is that its characters often speak through modern narratives and are dependent on the subjectivities of these narratives. Since history is undoubtedly crucial and relevant for our present moorings, the responsibility of the modern writings to deliver a cogent dialogue between the past and present with historical characters articulating their times is crucial. If History Has Taught Us Anything is one such modern work that has presented history and its actors in their contextual worldviews. Without embarking on a derivative discourse that characterizes many works, Nasreen has successfully offered us a narrative that delves into classical works sch as the Singhasana Battisi, Firdausi’s Shahnama, Sadi’s Bustan, Barani’s Tarikhi- Ferozshahi, Badaoni’s Muntakhab-ut Tawarikh presenting an array of historical characters ranging from the famous to the lesser known ones. Irfan Habib, in the Foreword to this book, rightly points out: ‘Professor Nasreen wisely takes her information from various sources by largely letting them speak for themselves, and leaves us to draw lessons ourselves’ [p.vii]. Written in a lucid style, the main message is delivered loud and clear: everybody is responsible for their actions and will have to bear the consequences of them. This may sound philosophical and abstract but the facts of history as shown with care and elegance in the book clearly reflect that more than being guided by the divine hand, it is actually human interventions that decide the historical course of action. Divided into six chapters, each with a separate introduction and conclusion, the book delves into an articulation of the past that, undoubtedly, has lessons for the present and future. However, the author does not judge the past through the prism of the twenty-first century worldview and neither does she attempts to burden the historical texts with modern questions. Titled respectively as ‘Swearing by the Passage of Time’ and ‘Looking Back and the Omnipresent Past’, both the Introduction and Conclusion if read together highlight crucial methodological issues that are in tandem with each other.

Divided into six chapters, each with a separate introduction and conclusion, the book delves into an articulation of the past that, undoubtedly, has lessons for the present and future. However, the author does not judge the past through the prism of the twenty-first century worldview and neither does she attempts to burden the historical texts with modern questions. Titled respectively as ‘Swearing by the Passage of Time’ and ‘Looking Back and the Omnipresent Past’, both the Introduction and Conclusion if read together highlight crucial methodological issues that are in tandem with each other.

The significance of contemporary historical texts for a cogent and near authentic narrative, the complex relation between cause and effect, relations between time, events and history telling, the ambiguity and ambivalence of the past and most importantly the role of a historian are some such issues. Setting the tone for the historian’s craft, Nasreen rightly points out that... ‘using current standards to judge, criticize or mythologize them would be unfair. Likewise, deconstructing time frames and labelling them as good or bad can be tricky’[p.xi].



 
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History Has a Teacher
If History Has Taught Us Anything
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