The unreliability of history

In schools and universities, students receive guidance in the books to be read. The selection nominated does not normally indicate bias. The emphasis is on learning which is reliable; this is expected to take the reader to a desired destination. Yet, how is the student to detect bias?

A book I thought was objective, while both interesting and educational, was a compilation of letters addressed to the author’s daughter, but never sent. The letters were written by Jawahar Lal Nehru, a Kashmiri Indian, during his time in British jails in colonial India. An educated man, he was jailed for long periods for seeking independence for his people. After India became independent, Nehru became its first Prime Minister.

I began reading the book at 13, just as the Japanese had begun to drive the British from Malaya, where I was born. I read a chapter each night to my family. I re-read the book again after my retirement, and still consider it a balanced book. How could the man have been so dispassionate, knowing what the British had done to his people and his country? The book is Glimpses of World History.

In between the readings, I had been taught that Britain had conquered all of India. Not so, said some Indian author, quite correctly. Macedonian Alexander (for some reason known as a Greek, and given the appellation ‘the Great’) was also described as having conquered India.

I then read about the Aryans (who had come in from the North – like everyone else) who had overtaken the previous Indian culture. However, there is apparently nothing in India’s literature or written history about this invasion by light-skinned Aryans. On the other hand, the need by international experts cobbling together a theory of language links and transmission for all of mankind apparently required an Indo-European language; viz. Sanscrit.

What then of the Dravidian languages? They were obviously ‘native.’

The Aryans have now been disposed of; they were seemingly from someone’s imagination. Then I remember being taught about the ‘Black Hole’ of Calcutta, the cruel imprisoning of some British. A fiction, was the Indian response. Such was the rubbish spread as history. But we were told nothing about the rape of China by a gang of white nations; or about how the British had forced opium onto the Chinese.

Why isn’t a simple conquest, followed by the raping of the land, and the reaping of the riches, enough? Why bother to cook up myths? No people remain at the top of the tree of power for long! The trajectory of the planets might bring down the whole tree (remember the Universal Deluge?) or just topple the temporary ruler (remember the Romans, Genghis, etc.).