Historian and economist Sanjeev Sanyal was in the city to take part in Bangalore Literature Festival 2016. The author of the best-selling ‘Land of Seven Rivers’ spoke to Aditya M L about a fresh perspective of history and rapidly developing India.
When we read your books, we are sort of reading story books or non-fiction. What is your take on that?
I deliberately write in that style. It’s not like I don’t write otherwise. As an economist, urban theorist and environmentalist, I publish hundreds of articles for specialized groups. But when it comes to history, it is a story for everybody. But maintaining quality of research is also paramount. I have tried hard to tell the story that is understandable.
Your comments on demonetisation.
It’s an unprecedented thing. Neither economic theory nor economic experience tell us what exactly to expect. In that sense, it is a bold move by the Prime Minister. I think one needs to think about it much more broadly than minor points about black money. It is a way to impose behavioural change on over a billion people. In that sense, it is a complicated thing to do. The PM has tried to signal that doing business in the past has come to and end with a new era and new rules.
What is happening to our cities?
Cities, like history, are evolving. Ecosystem is changing. Unfortunately in India, our view is that if we had planned the cities in the beginning we would have ended with better cities. This is wrong way of thinking. The problem is that we don’t adapt to change and manage.
What prompted you to write history from fresh perspective?
I was not satisfied reading history books as the story was never told from the perspective of India. It was always from foreign rulers’ perspective which was embedded with bias. Secondly, it’s the story from the perspective of Delhi.
You don’t hear about great kings of Assam or Vijayanagara, but you will hear about Lodhis, who were a minor dynasty in Delhi. So taking uni-dimensional view of history is not only partial but is actually incorrect. What I am trying to provide is multi-faceted history.
What, according to you, is the defining moment in Indian history?
I have a problem with the way of thinking. There can’t be one defining moment. History is an accumulation of all kinds of influences. If you read my book ‘Ocean of Churn’, I talk about an idea of complex adaptive system which has multitude influences that are happening. We are just the sum total of many things. So, taking a single date as a defining factor for all of Indian history is wrong.
Do you think Indian historians failed to engage their youngsters in history?
One of the tragedies of independent India is we did not get rid of colonial biases from our history books and we perpetuated it. We also added Nehruvism and Marxist biases. The result is people are not noticing this. But they consciously understand this. This is why youngsters are simply not engaged with mainstream narrative because they don’t believe in it as it is fundamentally flawed.