22 May 2013

80 Questions to Understand India by Murad Ali Baig

Black or white?

Much of what we understand to be history is often just propaganda. In this book, Murad Ali Baig answers basic questions that make us confront our assumptions and see things with more clarity and less bias than before. These questions build up from the earliest history: “Was India one of the oldest civilisations?” and take us through various stages our textbooks define and some the author introduces. There is a lot of solid information here, and presented very simply and without fuss.
Murad Ali Baig draws his information from various sources, at times questioning the bias or standpoint of the source, and offering a more plausible interpretation instead. And some of his questions address widely-accepted theories and may appear provocative:
  • Were the early Indian temples really Hindu?
  • Did Muslim invaders actually desecrate Hindu temples and slaughter Hindus by the thousand?
  • Did the British exploit India’s wealth?
In the course of an answer to a question about whether religion was created by priests and rulers or sages and prophets, he writes:
The message of all the prophets and sages were imbued with joy. But the priests shrewdly understood that hatred was a more powerful uniting factor than love. When people loved together there was always rivalry but that there was always unity when people hated together. Hatred was the core of religious fervour uniting believers against the perceived enemies of every faith. Throughout the world, it was the greed for power and wealth of the rulers instigated by their priests that caused more people to die for religion than from almost any other cause.
Sometimes, and increasingly so in the Indian subcontinent, history is written and taught with a view to controlling people and creating a certain mindset or feelings. This book, on the other hand, presents Indian history in a way that encourages the reader to develop a mature attitude towards both past as well as future.