Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mohammed Mujeeb's 'Tarikh Tamaddun-e-Hind' better than A.L.Basham's 'The Wonder That Was India'

Comparisons are invidious according to many good souls. Perhaps they are right. Each one has a place of one's own and there is no need to compare. Here the comparison is between A.L.Basham's 'The Wonder That Was India', written in 1953 because it makes for delightful reading and I would have unhesitatingly recommended it as a must read to the young and old who are fascinated by ancient Indian history. But after reading much of Mohammed Mujeeb's 'Tarikh Tamaddun-e-Hind', first published in 1972, and republished again in 1999 by the Qaumi Council Baraa-ye Farogh Urdu Zubaan (National Council for the Promotion of Urdu), the temptation is irresistible to say that Mujeeb's book reads much better, more authoritatively and more intimately.

This is a book which needs to be translated into all the Indian languages including English because it reads wonderfully well. MUjeeb, a respectable historian himself who taught at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi and who was a student of Dr. Zakir Husain, a founding member of the university and the country's third president, has been able to grasp and convey the flavour of ancient India in a heart-warming tone. At the very beginning of the book, he declares in a serious tone the issues at stake in studying the history of civilisation and culture:

"Siyaasi taareekh ka mauzu' qaumon ki tanzeem, hukumaton ki kaarguzaari aur khaarji siyaasat ki kaarwaaiyaan hain. ise shaqsiatein aur kaarnaame, taraqi aur kaamyaabi yaa zawaal aur tabaahi ki misaalein bahut ma'usar aur sabaq aamoz banaa deti hain. Lekin taareekh ki saari haqeeqat is mein bayaan nahin ho jaatee aur is mein zindagi ki woh mukammal soorat pesh nahin ki jaati jo siyaasat ke massael ko samajhne ke liye bhi zaroori hain. siyaasat ko qaum ka maidan amal/qaumi zindagi ka sab se numaayaa pehloo kaha ja sakta hain. Lekin khud siyaasat, ma'asharati haalaat aur tehzeebi mansubon ka aks hoti hain. (The subject of political history is about national groups, the actions of rulers and the ways of foreign relations. This reflects individuals and their achievements, their progress and success, their rise and downfall and serves as a narrative of edification. But the whole range of history cannot be expressed only through this, and it cannot present a complete picture of life, and which is necessary to understand the problems of politics. Politics is considered the national arena of action and a prime aspect as well. But politics itself is a reflection of economic conditions and cultural vision.)

And a little later, he makes the brilliant observation: "i'lm chaahta hain qudrat par qaabu paayen, fan chaahta hain khud qudrat ban jaayen (Knowledge wants to attain control over nature, but art wants to become nature itself)'.

Writing about Indus Valley civilisation, he observes "hum dekhte hain ki mahsraqi balochistan ka woh ila'aqa jis mein brahui zabaan boli jaati hain mohenjodaro ke qareeb hain aur ek zamaane mein sindhi tehzeeb ke rang mein rangaa hua thaa. doosri taraf dakan mein aise aasaar dar-aamad hote jaate hain jin se qadeem dakni aur sindhi tehzeeb ka gehraa ta'aluq saabit hota jaata hain. dakan mein bhi murde jalaaye jaate the aur in ki khaak khaas qism ke bartanon mein rakh kar dafan kar di jaati thee...zillah raichur mein zewaraat mile hain jin mein se ba'az ki banaawat bilkul waisi hi hain jaisi ke mohenjadaro ke zewaraat ki. (We see that in eastern Baluchistan where Brahui language is spoken is close to Mohenjadaro and once upon a time it was part of Indus valley culture. On the other hand, evidence is now being collected which shows a deep connection between the the cultures of ancient Deccan ad Indus Valley. In Deccan dead boides used to burnt and the ashes was placed in special kind of urn and then buried...In the district of Raichur jewels have been found, some of which bear resemblance to the jewellery found in Mohenjodaro.)

Now this simplicity and directness of narrative is hard to get from someone else and which can easily be translated into another Indian language.

It is surprising that this wonderful book is being neglected. We do not have good books on ancient Indian history, or for that matter for any period, in our own languages in recent times. This is a book that meets the rigours of scholarship and still retains the charms of a human story well told.

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