Posts Tagged ‘history’

Stop!!

Posted: January 30, 2017 by Arushi in Thoughts
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What are we doing??

Can you not hear the screaming? The shouting, the wails? The voices going hoarse and yet not stopping?

History repeats itself, they say. But it is not history. It is us. We are making the same mistakes again.

There are so many of us, screaming, shouting, fighting, every way we can to make it stop! Stop!!! We cry, but so many others have turned deaf, mute and blind. They think this is the way. They have forgotten what history tells us. Maybe they have an alternate-history as well.

This is how it started. The pogroms, the segregation, the slights, the insults – veiled at first – but gaining momentum. It started with a few but it went on and and on and on… until it was no longer murder – until it became genocide.

How can we not see it coming? Once it starts, it does not just stop. You have to stop it. YOU have to MAKE it stop!

How did we forget our history so quickly? It has not even been a century since we let millions be murdered and swept it under the rug of genocide – because that word is still easier on the ears than the reality of the brutal, terrible deeds that were done in the name of the greater good.

For any who think it is not our problem, I say, not yet. But it will be.

The holocaust happened. It did.

War crimes still occur. Child soldiers still exist. Rapes are so common that I have no words. There is probably a mass grave being filled with rotting unclaimed bodies right now – no one left alive to even mourn.

This is happening.

Do not think we in our ‘sacred land’ will be safe. Do not forget. We have endured this too. Do not say we are natives while they are interlopers, we were interlopers once too.

First there was someone, then others came and pushed them down. They ruled, they crushed and centuries passed. We say we are of this earth – but we were interlopers. There was someone here before us. So we have no right to say it to others. When others came and conquered us – they did so with their might. We lost and they ruled. Why quibble about it now when more centuries have passed?

Now when we are a democracy – when we all rule – none of us is an interloper. Everyone we welcome, we gain something from. Giving home and hearth, welcoming someone who comes seeking aid – this is something embellished in EVERY ancient text, in EVERY religion.

It is now when we have to stand strong. Standing against a breeze is easy, but now the gale is coming and we have to stand up to it before it becomes a cyclone.

A cyclone does not pick and choose its victims, it brutalizes all in its path.

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‘Death is certain for all who are born…or is it?’

Professor Bharadvaj is more than just another whisky-loving, gun-toting historian-for-hire. Behind the assumed identity of the cynical academic is a man who has walked the earth for scores of years. He is Asvatthama – the cursed immortal, the man who cannot die.
When Professor Bharadvaj is approached by the enigmatic Maya Jervois to search for a historical artefact unlike any other, he is reluctant to pursue it. The object in question, the Vajra, is rumoured to possess incredible alchemical powers, but the Professor does not believe it exists. After all, he has spent many lifetimes – and identities – searching for it, in a bid to unearth the secret to his unending life.

Yet, as the evidence of its existence becomes increasingly compelling, the Professor is plunged into an adrenaline-fuelled adventure that takes him from the labyrinthine passages beneath the Somnath temple to the legendary home of the siddhas in the Nilgiris, and finally into the deserts of Pakistan to solve a confounding puzzle left behind by the ancients.

But who is behind the dangerous mercenaries trying to thwart his discoveries at every step? And is the Professor – a legendary warrior in a long-ago life – cursed to walk the path of death and bloodshed forever?

I am not really a reader of Indian urban fantasy. Or even Indian fantasy, in general. Call me a snob, I don’t mind. It is definitely true when it comes to picking what books to read. This book has converted me if the rest in the genre are just as good.

Immortal by Krishna Udaysankar is the story of Asvatthama. Yes, that Asvatthama – the one who was a part of the Mahabharata. The son of Dronacharya. Duryodhana’s friend. Disgraced at the end of the Great War and cursed with eternal life.

Of course, I am sure I will learn a lot more about him when I get to The Aryavarta Chronicles – Govinda, KauravaKurukshetra – by the same author.

That being said, let’s talk about this book. Asvatthama is alive and well and has now been ‘roped’ into a search for the Vajra. Something we think is a mythical weapon. Or is it? It is definitely mythical, even to Asvatthama – who is extremely skeptical. After all, if he could not find it in centuries – it must not exist, right?

We move with this man, this undying man, as he follows the trail from the temples in Dwaraka to the deserts of Balochistan. What he is doing is truly interesting, but who he is now, that is even more interesting. Here is the man who was there with Genghis Khan, with Subhas Chandra Bose – who fought in battles all over the world – who, in his own words, is now that rare breed – ‘a soldier by profession’. It is him as a person who truly intrigued me – his fear of his body rotting – of losing his mind due to this horror – but not being able to die, his terror at the thought of forever drowning – and the fact that he overcomes all this to do what needs to be done. I liked the other characters too. There are no caricatures – but real people. All with their own machinations, desires and failings.

An extremely interesting read, the book is filled with well-researched references, characters that feel real in spite of their ‘magical’ realities, and a story that keeps you hooked and guessing till the end. I personally really enjoyed all the name dropping Asvatthama does.

Definitely, a read I’d recommend.

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Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess.

But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

 

The Song of Achilles is not a history though it is historical – per maybe mythological is a better word. It is a lyrical (I have no other word for the melody that seems to run through its narrative) novel, based on the events described in the Iliad and told from the point of view of Patroclus. It is poetry in the form of prose.

As clear from the title, it is the story of Achilles. Not just of the Trojan War but a sketch of the life and death of the greatest hero of his time. Patroclus, named his cousin in the movie Troy, was Achilles’ most beloved companion. They had been together for most of their lives, and this novel describes them as beloved to each other. So deeply in love, that life without the other appeals to neither.

Borrowing heavily from ancient Greek sources, the book manages to be elegant while narrating a story of blood and battle. Because this is truly a song – and it is not about how Achilles died and who he killed, but rather it is about how he lived and loved.

It is a book that needs to be read because it is an experience in and of itself. It is not the story only that makes it what it is, but Madeline Miller has managed to add something to beauty of this tale by her words. Even nearly three millenia after the sack of Troy – Achilles lives on.

It is a narrative of brutality tempered by kindness. A story of the ages. Of a hero who chose fame over longevity, and whose name is resplendent even after the gods of his time have tarnished.

 

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Dynasty continues Rubicon‘s story, opening where that book ended: with the murder of Julius Caesar. This is the period of the first and perhaps greatest Roman Emperors and it’s a colorful story of rule and ruination, running from the rise of Augustus through to the death of Nero. Holland’s expansive history also has distinct shades of I Claudius, with five wonderfully vivid (and in three cases, thoroughly depraved) Emperors—Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero—featured, along with numerous fascinating secondary characters. Intrigue, murder, naked ambition and treachery, greed, gluttony, lust, incest, pageantry, decadence—the tale of these five Caesars continues to cast a mesmerizing spell across the millennia.

Dynasty starts with a bit of information on the rise and fall of Julius Caesar (which was needed for me, since I have not read Rubicon yet.). It then takes us on a tour with Octavius as he first avenges Caesar, and then goes on to become the Princeps of Rome. He then consolidated the Roman Empire as well as his own dynasty. Four emperors followed him from the August family: Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. This book is a history of their lives, and that of Rome.

I have seen the show Rome and I truly loved it. Dynasty has a touch of that since it allows for the minute details to bring that time to life in front of me. Also, Rome only covers Augustus’ rise to power, not anything thereafter. His very name, Augustus, was given to him as a title by the Romans, as a sign of their acceptance and appreciation of his near divinity and greatness. But he is only the first of five to be covered in this book.

As a history, this book is great. I stayed hooked to the very end. There are a lot of details, and simply put, it feels, as if the Rome of that time has been brought to life. That being said, I truly hated some parts of this history. It was my disgust at some of the actions of those in power 2000 years ago, that made me think even the most violent of stories today, are far less cruel. Absolute power does corrupt absolutely and I think the biggest example is Caligula. Not that the others were any better, but he truly enjoyed cruelty and used it with a precision that even now to me is scary in its intensity. The rest were no better, and murder by itself was just not an effective enough punishment. It was the way that death came about that truly showed the depth of their (take your pick – all five were brutal to their enemies – who may include family members) creativity in exacting punishment.

When I had heard a lecture on The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker, I had wondered if it could really be true. Had we evolved enough to leave behind even a smidgen of our bloodlust. Dynasty has confirmed this notion for me. Never had I read of such brutality being enacted in real life. And yet, it was celebrated, for after all, to not celebrate anything done by an Emperor of Rome, might just mark one for death.

There is more to this book, of course, but somehow political maneuvering, even as intricate as that of the Julio-Claudians, loses its charm with the multiple murder plots and intermarriages. This is a good book to read, especially to learn that maybe, while we are still flawed, we have also come very very far from what we used to be.

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In 480 B.C., Xerxes, the King of Persia, led an invasion of mainland Greece. Its success should have been a formality. For seventy years, victory—rapid, spectacular victory—had seemed the birthright of the Persian Empire. In the space of a single generation, they had swept across the Near East, shattering ancient kingdoms, storming famous cities, putting together an empire which stretched from India to the shores of the Aegean. As a result of those conquests, Xerxes ruled as the most powerful man on the planet. Yet somehow, astonishingly, against the largest expeditionary force ever assembled, the Greeks of the mainland managed to hold out. The Persians were turned back. Greece remained free. Had the Greeks been defeated in the epochal naval battle at Salamis, not only would the West have lost its first struggle for independence and survival, but it is unlikely that there would ever have been such an entity as the West at all.

Tom Holland’s brilliant new book describes the very first “clash of Empires” between East and West. As he did in the critically praised Rubicon, he has found extraordinary parallels between the ancient world and our own. There is no other popular history that takes in the entire sweep of the Persian Wars, and no other classical historian, academic or popular, who combines scholarly rigor with novelistic depth with a worldly irony in quite the fashion that Tom Holland does.

 

Persian Fire – in extremely approachable language – tells the history of the Persian wars, between the East and the West. The start of one of those wars is what the movie 300 is based on. But the battle of Therompylae is not the only or even the first war between the Persian empire and the Greek city states.

This book is not just that of the wars though, but rather gives a detailed history of each nation – Persia, Sparta and Athens – along with a good general, if not as detailed, description of all of the other players involved – Ionia, Medes, Corinth, Thebes, Babylonia just to name a few.

It is not an East vs West book, nor does it try to portray any one side as better than the other. In pure reading, what it does the most, is give the reader information to form his or her own opinion. No one person is seen as good and no one else is purely bad. In the fashion of reality, every facet possible of every person involved is shown, clearly depicting the many facets of humanity.

Oppressive regime led to the rise of Persia under Cyrus. A great king and yet his sons found death and the rule of Persia went to Darius, who in turn raised to the throne his son, and Cyrus’s grandson, Xerxes. Sparta became a military state to survive class differences and the breakdown of their society. Leonidas became king of Sparta after the death of his older half-brother, a king, whose death could have been suicide, or it could have been murder. Athens became a democracy to survive similar problems as those faced by Sparta, to somehow forge itself into a nation that would live on, in spite of its aristocracy and their petty fighting. And yet, Themistoceles, one of the foremost Athenian leaders during the Persian wars, ended his days as a prized Persian vassal.

These things all seem so dissonant with each other, yet, they have webs of interconnections that one can see only after reading this book. The rise of Cyrus and then Darius in the East were not affected by Greece, yet they did impact Greek cities in multiple ways. Cyrus’s mocking words, “Who are the Spartans?” might have had a huge impact on a city that saw itself as a power to be reckoned with. Perhaps such words impacted Leonidas when he stood against Cyrus’s grandson. Perhaps not. But this book gives us the information needed to speculate.

Athens, where for the first time, power was vested in the people. It became a demokratia (Demos – people and kratis – power) in a manner where the founder of democracy chose to be forgotten so that his city might consider democracy old. A notion that would give this revolution an antiquity which would then turn to legitimacy.

Yet all of these things did not happen during the Persian wars, but definitely had a hand in them. For it was the belief that they fought for themselves, their soil, and their freedom, that gave the Athenians courage to fight at Marathon. Their victory was the first time someone had defeated Persian forces.

This books flows from one city to another, one nation to the next, time and history being narrated in a fashion not only clear, but with a touch of wry storytelling. The history of the states as well the people involved, guesses of their thoughts, everything came together to make the book as vivid for me as the movie 300 was, perhaps a touch more. The scope is so broad, yet this book does it justice.

Politically Incorrect

Posted: June 12, 2015 by Arushi in Thoughts
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Some of the smallest things from our childhood can play a big part into who we become as adults – shape our ideologies, our perspectives and our worldview.

I was watching ‘Lage Raho Munna Bhai’ today and for some reason it (combined with an inflammatory whatsapp msg I read last night) reminded me of something my English teacher in middle school used to say. I am paraphrasing:

‘Musalmaan’ means a person with ‘imaan’ and so every one of us who is honest at our core is a musalmaan.

Musalmaan is the Hindi word for Muslim n imaan for honest.

She was not Muslim by religion but a Hindu teaching at a Missionary school. She is frankly not one of my favorite teachers but she taught us to speak excellent English and gave great life lessons. “Sorry doesn’t bring dead men to life,” was one of her favorite quotes.

Somewhere, those words of hers, have insured that I can never be a bigot. It is what she taught me then that ensured that when I grew up, I could dislike for reason but never on principle alone.

And I wonder if everyone gets that chance. The mad race for good schooling I suppose is for this. The curriculum does not change so much so, as the atmosphere, as these little things which may seem trivial at the time but will probably have a far more profound effect in the long term than final exam scores.

On the other hand, just how much damage is done when instead of tolerance and acceptance, another lesson is taught? Because if I can remember those words, others might remember something else.

That is not what this is about. What I do know is that increasingly I hear people speak in absolutes. There is no ‘agree to disagree.’ The fluidity of ideas and beliefs, the identifying factor of our nation ‘unity in diversity’ is not as visible as I thought it would be. And not just India, does this not apply to every nation?

We are a nation of people whose history is as rich as man’s imagination. In fact, culture never lost itself due to invasions, but always gained something from them. It evolved, it amalgamated, it kept on weaving a tapestry that is never ending. Even the lost civilizations have left their stamps upon the ones which are still alive.

Call me a snob if you will but it is beneath us, as humans, to ever think of slashing any part of our history or the people that came with. They are not separate. There is no ‘they’ because without them we would not be who we are today. Every piece comes together to make the complete sphere that forms our planet.