General ravings, Remembering

Rewriting History, and Historical Mam…er…Memories

History is back in the news.

As the Union Education Ministry, the NCERT et al. embark on yet another exercise at rewriting Indian history, ostensibly with the noble purpose of creating better history textbooks for our school kids, yet again do we see the usual culprits—a plethora of netas and academia and intellectuals and activists and journalists and social media influencers cutting across ideological, political, religious, ignorance and idiocy spectra— snarling at one another over what should or should not be depicted in the history textbooks, and how the depictions should be done, and by whom, and so on ad nauseum.

Sounds familiar, no?

It’s always been like this. Since Independence. Every time a new political formation comes to power in Dilli, our netas and their chelas at once develop acute hysteria over history and  proceed to rewrite and re-rewrite already rewritten history … till the next elections come along and they are thrown out and the next lot comes in and does the same.

Over 25 years ago, my dear departed friend and colleague-writer Ghatotkacha had suggested what I still believe is a fine and most sustainable solution to the problem of how to depict our history…but sadly, no-one paid attention to him and he passed into history.  [You can, if you like, read about Ghatotkacha’s solution herebe warned, not for the faint-hearted or politically correct]

My own earliest yet most vivid and enduring memories of history are of historical mammaries.


I schooled in Shillong from 1962 to 1972, at the St Edmund’s School. The Irish Christian Brothers who ran the school were among the finest of teachers; but they were as thoroughly confused and clueless about the history curriculum prescribed for Indian schools as were the Powers-That- Were: meaning, the political leaders, academics, administrators, and affiliated geniuses at the Union and state levels who were responsible for deciding what kind of history we Indian kids were to be taught in Independent India.

And so, in the absence of any sensible guidance from the Powers-That-Were and non-availability of any decent standardized textbook on history for junior school kids, the Irish Brothers in their wisdom decided that we kids would read from a history book that was a kind of supplementary reader for kids our age in the United Kingdom.  And so in the mid-1960s, from Class 3 to Class 5 if I remember correctly, we kids read from a hardbound history textbook titled ‘The March of Time, authored by the rather interestingly- named E C T Horniblow and published in Britain in 1932.

The March of Time was a work of extraordinary beauty to us; well written, with large-sized text in attractive font  and many full-page illustrations in colour.

The March of Time was also a work of extraordinary irrelevance to us.

It taught us of historical characters we’d never heard our parents or anyone else ever mention before. We read of characters like Canute, and Ethelred, and Alfred the Great, and Angles, Saxons and Jutes; of Vikings; of Magna Carta (no, not the rock band), of Romulus and Remus being brought up by wolves and roaming around till they founded Rome (or perhaps I got it all wrong and they were actually lost till they found Rome?); of a Roman soldier named Horatio who stood on a narrow bridge over the Tiber with two other soldiers and fought off a million-strong army of horrible villains called ‘Goths’ (or were they Huns?).

I was particularly thrilled by the full-page depiction of Horatio and his friends fighting off the Goths/Huns; because some of the Goths/Huns   bore striking resemblance to adults I knew, including a couple of teachers and relatives.

All in all I found The March of Time very interesting, but quite mystifying.  I just couldn’t figure out what all those blue-eyed fair and lovely people and their stories in The March of Time had to do with my life or my past.

But I didn’t care—nor did any of my dishevelled-collared, muddy-shoed, classmates.

Because The March of Time also gifted us, on page 23 (or was it 25?), with a full-page depiction, in glorious colours, of the Celtic Queen Boadecia.  

Boadecia the Great, Boadecia the Beautiful, Boadecia the Warrior, who led the common people of Britain to revolt against their Roman rulers! Boadecia, who wielded a sword and possessed not only a courageous heart but the most magnificent and gravity-defying pair of mammaries we had ever seen in our less-than- ten-year-old lives.

No textbook in the world has ever been opened as frequently to page number 23 (or was it 25?) as we did The March of Time; no textbook page has ever been studied more intensely, pored over more devotedly or dog-eared more severely than that page with its full-colour depiction of Boadecia the Bodacious baring all (and Boadecia had a lot to bare, and she bared it very well indeed).

Boadecia left a lifelong impression on my/our young minds; she opened our eyes and minds to the beauty of history.

Even while writing this, I took five minutes off to try and find The March of Time’s incredible depiction of her on the Net…alas, to no avail. The portraits of Boadecia in Wikipedia etc. are pitiful, pathetic, fifth-rate imitations of the supremely endowed Boadecia we were privileged to gape at all those decades ago. 

Even today, whenever the word ‘bodice’ is uttered by anyone (admittedly a rare occurrence), all thoughts are instantly swept away from my disintegrating mind by a mighty flood that rises from the Cache of Ancient Memory; and in the flood’s wake there remains only one shining crystalline cerebro-neural vision, untarnished by decades—of  Boadecia the Bodacious, She of the Magnificent DD-scale natural resources.

Sadly, the March of Time itself is now but a mam…er…memory.

Still, considering the ghastly never-ending  arguments in India over how history should be written and taught,  I do believe I and my classmates were luckier than today’s school kids. We had a glimpse of a much better depiction of global history—rather, many glimpses of one glorious depiction of global (if not globular) history—during our school days in the 1960s.

Jai Hind. Hail Boadecia!

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