It was indeed a rare opportunity to hear Dr.Shashi Tharoor talk to Shoma Chaudhary about his latest book, An Era of Darkness, which is in itself an attempt to bring to light the harms caused by British rule in India that lasted two hundred years. Both, Dr. Shashi Tharoor and Shoma Chaudhary had been invited on the occasion of the seventy-fifth birth Anniversary of Mr.N.C.Jain, founder of the Heritage group of schools, a philanthropist, and a guiding spirit for all those who have come across him. The twelfth anniversary of the Heritage group of schools, the oldest being Heritage Vasant Kunj and the youngest being Heritage Gurgaon where I serve. Founders day was celebrated today, the sixth of May, 2017 at the Sam Manekshaw Auditorium at Dhaula Kuan, New Delhi, a venue itself marking the importance of the occasion.
The occasion was marked by a most subliminal discussion between Shashi Tharoor and Shoma Chaudhary, and this was followed by a cultural extravaganza by students of the three branches of the Heritage School. It was most inspiring to hear Mr.N.C. Jain address the gathering, describing his experiences of hard work and struggle from the time he was young. He had started working at the age of 14. He also talked about service with honesty and the cleanest of intentions. In his talk about his latest book, Dr.Shashi Tharoor debunked the myth of the benefits of colonial rule. He suggested that everything that was done during British rule was without exception an attempt to exploit the resources of the country and in its most crude form, nothing but a means to sustain an empire that had claims of being the most powerful one of its times. The so-called good things that colonial rule had done were only in furtherance of the goals of supporting an empire that claimed supremacy and dominance in what was in those times a volatile world.
But then coming back to the talk by Dr. Shashi Tharoor, well, he talked about how it is important to understand how our past has a very strong connect with our future, especially colonial rule by the British Raj. Perhaps one of the most evident direct impacts of Colonialism was the de-industrialisation of India as a deliberate policy. Shocking details of Colonial rule as a crippling influence have been provided in his book which, besides other things describes how one of the richest countries in the world at that time was reduced to beggary and became the butt of jokes towards the end of the nineteenth century. The textile industry that was once known all over the world was damaged to an extent that the country that once exported textiles all over the world itself became an importer of cloth. Indian steel according to Dr. Tharoor was once in great demand! Damascus steel swords forged by Indian armourers used to be envied by warriors of other countries. Dr. Tharoor talked about how the steel industry was crippled by the policies of the occupiers and that it took a lot of perseverance and persistence on the part of Jamsetji Tata to set a steel industry. Little would anyone know that Tata’s would one day purchase Corus! The takeaway, according to him was for schools to revisit their past, learn about their “collective past” and learn about an organised racket that turned the country into one of the poorest nations in those times.
In his conversation with Shoma Chaudhary, Dr. Shashi Tharoor described how the deaths caused by the Orissa famine and then the West Bengal famine could have been mitigated through a more humane approach by the colonial rulers. Grains were exported from the country as a buffer stock in anticipation of the liberation of Greece in the Second World War. The feeding of the starving was frowned upon by the rulers. Today, no one dies in famines because of government policies that are more rational and humane. All this is an important take over for students in schools that while the attitude of forgiveness might be a forte typical to Indians, the forgetfulness of our past might not, however, be accepted.
To Shoma Chaudhary’s question about the impact of colonial rule on casteism, Dr. Tharoor replied that the system of codification, classification and the gift of the census might have done more harm than good. Asked about what should be taught in schools and what kind of literature should be read, Dr.Tharoor suggested that the system o f synchronicity should be applied in school education, students should be able to read the literature of all colours, religions, regions and colours. He added that the study of our past should not be a study of myths unsubstantiated with facts. While plastic surgery was practised in the country in ancient times, it could not, however, have led to the transplant of an elephant’s head onto a human torso because of the extreme difference in size. While concluding his talk about “An Era Of Darkness”, Dr. Tharoor reiterated Gandhi’s exhortation never to fear, and never to hate. He spoke about how we have a hesitation to unlearn what we have been taught down the ages, and that we hate all that is disruptive. A narrative is a powerful medium for introducing new perspectives and while it divine to forgive, one should not do so with forgetfulness about facts!
It was a wonderful way to celebrate the Founder’s Day of three schools that have set out on a journey of experiential learning and achieved milestones on the way. It was an honour to be gifted Dr.Shashi Tharoor’s book at the end of the programme, and sure, I will be reading it in great detail! Thanks to the organisers of the event and the magnanimity of the leadership of the three schools for organising a function that was seminal and thought provoking in its essence.