History revisited

Why putting less Mughal history in school textbooks may be a good idea

The disproportionate amount of space given to the dynasty has squeezed out the histories of other medieval Indian empires.

I have always struggled to explain to my friends that even though I am writing a dissertation on medieval Indian history, it is not about the Mughal Empire. That medieval Indian history is not just about the Mughals comes almost as a revelation to them. But this is not entirely their fault. In India, middle school history textbooks give unprecedented importance to the Mughal Empire as compared to its contemporaries in the South and East.

It’s not just middle school. The current NCERT textbook for high school students devotes two of five chapters on medieval Indian history solely to the Mughals. In school, I too was exposed to a similar framework, but I was lucky that my tryst with history took me far enough to realise that there is more to the medieval era than just the Mughals. Not all of us are so lucky.

Hegemony of the North

The disconcertingly disproportionate space the Mughals enjoy in our medieval Indian history textbooks is primarily because of the dominance of North India over the rest of the country. The hegemony of the North alienates us from a host of other histories that merit equal, if not more, attention. It stifles several vibrant strands of history during that era, which must be brought to the fore. This bias permeates not just medieval history, but the history of the Indian subcontinent as a whole. This is why even ancient India is all about the Mauryas and the Guptas of the North, while the Pallavas and Cheras of the South find no mention.

In the small chance that these parallel empires make it to our textbooks, it is always in relation to the Mughal Empire. I clearly remember reading about Bijapur, the seat of the Adilshahis of the Deccan only with reference to the invasion of the Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb. Similarly, Bengal is mentioned only when Jehangir captured it. This bias can be attributed to the obsession most British historians have with the opulence, art and architecture of the Mughal empire that we have inherited, much like the other biases of the British.

That the legacy of the Mughal Empire merits a special place in our history is indisputable. But it should be one of several strands of the subcontinent’s medieval history, and not come to dominate it. Thus, while removing Mughal history from our textbooks altogether would be a grave injustice to a fascinating historical narrative, reducing the space it currently occupies would help make it more representative of medieval India.

Fascinating histories

If this is done, several other strands of history can be introduced in our textbooks, such as that of the five Deccan sultanates, which struggle to find a mention at present. In its heyday, Bijapur – the seat of the Adilshahi dynasty (in present-day Karnataka) – flourished as the centre of production of some of the finest specimens of Deccani painting and lovely illuminated manuscripts and muraqqas (albums containing miniature paintings and calligraphy), much before Mughal emperor Jehangir’s famed muraqqas.

The architecture of Bijapur surpasses that of the Mughals in terms of its detailed carving and beautiful arabesques as seen in the buildings of Mehtar Mahal and Ibrahim Rauza. Ibrahim Adil Shah II, the most famous ruler of the Adilshahis, was a great connoisseur of the arts, especially music. A contemporary of Akbar, Ibrahim’s keen interest in Hinduism and his cosmopolitan attitude towards religion, earned him the title of Jagadguru (preceptor of the world) much before Akbar’s policy of sulh-e-kul or universal peace.

The Ibrahim Rauza complex built by Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1580-1627) consists of his tomb and mosque rising from a common raised terrace with a tank and fountain between them. (Photograph: Mukul Banerjee, via Wikimedia Commons.)
The Ibrahim Rauza complex built by Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1580-1627) consists of his tomb and mosque rising from a common raised terrace with a tank and fountain between them. (Photograph: Mukul Banerjee, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Further south, the history of the Zamorin or the Hindu ruler of Calicut (Kozhikode) is seldom mentioned in school textbooks either. During the medieval era, Calicut was one of the largest trading centres of the world and hosted several sets of migrants – Portuguese, French and the British – who contributed to its fascinating cultural history. The port city lay on the medieval Spice Route and was coveted by the Portuguese and the French, but the Zamorin continued to control Calicut till the 18th century by giving the European powers only the trading rights of the port and keeping the judicial and administrative authority with himself. Mosques made without the archetypical dome and arch architecture (such as the Miskaal mosque in Kuttichera) and gorgeous temples built under the aegis of the Zamorin (such as the Tali Shiva temple) are a sight to behold. They constitute a culture that is rarely mentioned in our history books.

The Tali Shiva Temple in Calicut (Kozhikode). (Photo courtesy: calicuttalimahakshetra.com)
The Tali Shiva Temple in Calicut (Kozhikode). (Photo courtesy: calicuttalimahakshetra.com)

In the East

An equally interesting history is that of the Ahom kings of Assam. Even though the Mughal forces were considered a formidable force in medieval India, they were defeated twice by the powerful Ahom army – comprising the paiks – in the battles of Itakhuli and Saraighat. In quieter times, the paiks were employed in public works and it was because of this that high embanked roads and enormous tanks came into existence in Upper Assam. Bhakti and Sufi traditions also made their way into Assam giving birth to Vaishnavite saints such as Shankardeva and Sufi saints such as Ajaan Fakir. Traditions such as shravana kirtana and bargeet (devotional songs) were also followed.

The history of the tribes subsisting alongside the “settled communities” of Medieval India is by far the most grossly underrepresented in our textbooks. The Gond kingdom of Garha Katanga took to trading with “settled communities” due to the rapid commercialisation of agriculture and the vigorous clearing of forests. This opening up of their society allowed caste barriers to emerge, with Gond rajas styling themselves as Rajputs and giving land grants to the Brahmins.

Sadly, these fascinating bits of medieval history find no place in our textbooks. The Mughal Empire’s grandeur overshadows each and every one of its contemporaries. This irksome dominance of North Indian history over histories from other regions of India is fast leading to the loss of a significant part of the subcontinent’s heritage. If we are to stop this from happening we must reduce Mughal history from school textbooks.

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Eleven ways Indian college life teaches you not to waste anything

College, they say, prepares you for life. Sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

Our quintessentially Indian ability to make the most of every resource has weathered us through many a storm in life. But this talent, as it were, is developed and honed to a fine art only in college. Frugality is a prominent feature of college life—more by circumstances than by choice and perhaps the most important skill we learn is nearly 100% efficiency when it comes to making the most of resources or opportunities. This “no wastage” policy is learned through many ways in college.

Academics
When it comes to studying, the art of “no wastage” is refined in college.

1. Exam papers. We’ve all been there before: you’re in the flow and trying to pen answers quickly in your answer sheet but you’re running out of space. What do you do? Fill up your existing one, of course. Write in tiny handwriting and occupy every bit of space without wasting the margin either. A great example of how college teaches you to waste nothing.

2. Photocopier bulk deals. In college, after you convince a kind-hearted classmate to let you copy their notes, you negotiate a bulk rate discount with the photocopier uncle and share the wealth with your classmates. It saves you time, money and the collective shame of failing together.

3. Stationery. Pencils are worn till they reach a stub. Broken rulers are used as long as you can still draw a straight line on them. Pens are borrowed and reused until their ink is sucked dry. Stationary is rarely wasted in the life of a college goer.

Food
Food occupies a special part of a college goer’s life and there is only one rule when it comes to food: don’t waste any.

4. Thalis. College kids are always hungry, and there are few options that provide better value for money than thalis. Thalis come in all sorts—the Gujarati kind on copper plates, the south Indian variety on palm leaves, or even the Punjabi “mini thali” found in restaurants all over the country. No matter what form they take, no food goes waste.

5. Shaadis. Speaking of food, you never say no to a wedding invitation when you’re in college. An invitation missed is a buffet meal wasted. The only price is to put on a half-decent looking dress or a pant and shirt that have been pressed. Then enter the hall, say your hi-hellos, and onto the food. No opportunity to attend shaadis is wasted during college, and rightly so.

6. 50p toffees. Those were heady times when things had the decency to cost nine rupees fifty paise instead of a full ten. The remaining 50 paise left over as change would not go waste either, and would return more often than not in the form of a chewy toffee or mint.

7. One-by-two coffee. Because coffee shared is friendship enhanced. In college, a full cup of canteen coffee was always cheaper than two half cups, and nearly impossible to finish owing to its milky sweetness. Converting it into a one-by-two courtesy an extra white styrofoam cup ensured that neither the extra coffee went to waste, nor a chance to make a friend happy.

Travel
Space is to be shared, not hogged. Every seat in college be it on the bench or a bike or a rickshaw would be occupied till its last inch.

8. Triple seat scooter rides. College-goers of a certain vintage remember that scooters were made to accommodate more people than cars. One person riding, another in the back, and at least one if not two people sandwiched between them. While this ensures no wastage of space, it’s not to be tried by the faint-hearted.

9. Share autos. The cheapest way to travel, of course. Share autos are a lifeline for college goers. Load up your friends in an auto, share the fare, and end up with more money in your wallet.

10. RAC tickets. Among the great innovations of the Indian Railways is the RAC or Reservation Against Cancellation ticket, which ensures that travelers can travel on the train even if they do not get a full berth to themselves. More often than not, two travelers split a seat. A boon to college students who don’t mind roughing it a little to get to their destination on time.

Freebies
College teaches you many things. The ability to not waste freebies is prominent on the list.

11. Buy one, get one free. The five little words that every college student wants to hear. Be it movie tickets, rock concert tickets, clothes, books or meals, a “one-on-one free” offer would always be utilized even if you didn’t need what the offer was selling. An unwritten if long-standing rule in college.

The fine art of “no wastage” is learned painstaking through college. But it’s good to know that you can enjoy “no wastage” after you’ve left too. Airtel’s MyPlan ensures that customers make the most of their mobile expenditure and waste nothing. Airtel’s MyPlan allows you to pick data, local, SMS, STD and roaming according to your needs. You also have the flexibility of changing your plan whenever you want and can optimize your phone bills to save up to 30%. Not just that, under the plan, you can also share the benefits with their family. For more information, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Airtel by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.

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