Book review

Finally, a tantalising YA book (for adults too) that uses archaeology to recount Indian history

‘India Through Archaeology’ wisely tells us history isn’t to be mixed up with ancient oral texts.

As a subject, history is associated with the project of modernity itself, for history enables an objective and conscionable assessment of progress, different in every measure, from the past. Understanding the past, however, is often a contextual exercise, when viewed via the lens of subjectivity and the mistaken use of hindsight. This is where archaeology steps in. Archaeology – a relatively newer branch within history – couples a scientific precision of fact, assessment of material evidence, with an imaginative interpretation of the past and its possibilities.

As Devika Cariapa’s India Through Archaeology: Excavating History tells us, an archeologist combines in her persona the serendipity of an adventurer, the meticulous efforts of a scholarly scientist, the sweeping awareness of a time traveller, and a multifaceted knowledge of various other subjects – philology (an understanding of historical languages), epigraphy (related to inscriptions, for example) and even geology. The book is meant for young adults but it will nevertheless engage readers of all ages.

Serendipity and science

Consider the example of VS Wakankar, who, in 1957, travelling by train from Bhopal to Itarsi, was “struck by the beauty of a series of low densely forested hills they were passing”. The “strange rocky outcrops” set his “archeological antennae twitching wildly”. What followed remade history in every sense, for Wakankar had chanced on Bhimbetka, the “world’s largest open-air prehistoric art gallery”, with paintings and engravings on nearly 700 caves and rock-shelters that dated between 1,00,000 to 3000 years ago.

It would be chance, even serendipitous discoveries, much like Wakankar’s, that would lead to a rethinking and rewriting of the subcontinent’s history – as numerous instances dating from Paleolithic times (two million years ago) to our own times in Excavating History show. The story of how the first major cities of the Harappan culture, Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, were discovered, is now familiar – a saga that involved wandering soldiers, administrators, scholarly “Orientalists” and their abler (and often forgotten) Indian assistants and associates.

The history of the subcontinent was moved back – from what was described in the early Vedas – to over three millennia and even beyond, giving it new perspectives, newer mysteries in the bargain, and then a vital continuity as well, for textual accounts had earlier left large gaping holes in the subcontinent’s narratives of its own past.

Decades before the Harappan discovery, it was archaeology again – involving the combined efforts of philologists, linguists, epigraphers, and others – that was responsible for the unmasking of Ashoka, the ruler, pillars and edicts referred to as the king Piyadassi. And archaeology – as the excavations in Muziris in Kerala begun over the last decade show – continues to bring old stories to light, giving material basis to how the history of the subcontinent needs to be studied and understood. India Through Archaeology wisely tells us and its young readers that history isn’t to be mixed up with what ancient oral texts would have us believe. Rather, history must rely on a wide array of evidence – books, coins, stone tools, constructions – for historical truths to be established, with some certainty and with rational argumentation.

They also made history

It’s a serious, responsible task the book takes on, and the reason always given for why the young don’t find history fun enough. Yet Cariapa’s book, matched with some detailed illustrations and Ashok Rajagopalan’s amusing sketches and comic strips, belies this long falsely held belief as well.

The chapter on the discovery of Kanishka’s headless statue (in a village near Mathura by Pandit Radha Krishna, who was, as Cariapa tells us, an amateur archaeologist and antique collector) is a story richly told. It brings alive the old magic of the Silk Road and its many-hued traffic when people speaking different languages traded in exotic commodities. There was also the skill of sculptors and artisans of the Gandhara and Mathura schools – with their own unique ways of depicting the Buddha – and the wondrous details of how the Kushans introduced a new clothing sense, as shown clearly in their love for peaked turbans and stitched garments.

The chapter clearly highlights that archeology does what textual accounts of the past sometimes miss – a revelation of how ordinary people lived their lives. Hero stones that commemorated local folk heroes, land grants and coins issued by queens, and not just royal consorts, upend many a conventional and widely held erroneous belief that only kings made history. Moreover, just as archaeology resolves mysteries, it also shapes several tantalising mysteries in turn. For example, the construction of megaliths to mourn the dead were common across cultures at a similar point in time in South India and in Celtic Britain. Yet there is no evidence of such ancient cultures ever being in contact.

What lies beneath

Excavating History wears its knowledge lightly and tells its stories well. There isn’t a single ponderous note, nor does the book ever take on a sternly authoritative tone of the all-knowing expert. The timeline from the before present era to the near modern that shoulders every chapter is especially helpful, though an explanation of how evidence and excavations are dated (the radiocarbon dating method for example) might have been helpful, as would have been more details on marine archaeology.

This also leads to the question as to whether recent controversies associated with archaeology needed to be mentioned. But perhaps wisely, this book retains its focus on the riches unearthed thus far by archaeology, and hints also, like the proverbial iceberg, that there’s much more that remains to be excavated, strange and politically motivated controversies notwithstanding.

The story goes that the success of the Indiana Jones movies gave a new fillip to the study of archaeology. In 2015, an archaeology exhibition at Washington DC’s National Geographic museum brought together several artefacts (true and imagined) that featured in the four Indiana Jones movies. It was hugely attended. For its part, India Through Archaeology brings alive in a vividly direct way, the magic, the mystery, and the many methods that make archaeology key to understanding history, the past, and thus, our own stories.

India Through Archaeology: Excavating History, Devika Cariapa, Illustrated by Ashok Rajagopalan, Tulika Books.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What’s the difference between ‘a’ washing machine and a ‘great’ washing machine?

The right machine can save water, power consumption, time, energy and your clothes from damage.

In 2010, Hans Rosling, a Swedish statistician, convinced a room full of people that the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. In the TED talk delivered by him, he illuminates how the washing machine freed women from doing hours of labour intensive laundry, giving them the time to read books and eventually join the labour force. Rosling’s argument rings true even today as it is difficult to deny the significance of the washing machine in our everyday lives.

For many households, buying a washing machine is a sizable investment. Oddly, buyers underestimate the importance of the decision-making process while buying one and don’t research the purchase as much as they would for a television or refrigerator. Most buyers limit their buying criteria to type, size and price of the washing machine.

Visible technological advancements can be seen all around us, making it fair to expect a lot more from household appliances, especially washing machines. Here are a few features to expect and look out for before investing in a washing machine:

Cover your basics

Do you wash your towels every day? How frequently do you do your laundry? Are you okay with a bit of manual intervention during the wash cycle? These questions will help filter the basic type of washing machine you need. The semi-automatics require manual intervention to move clothes from the washing tub to the drying tub and are priced lower than a fully-automatic. A fully-automatic comes in two types: front load and top load. Front loading machines use less water by rotating the inner drum and using gravity to move the clothes through water.

Size matters

The size or the capacity of the machine is directly proportional to the consumption of electricity. The right machine capacity depends on the daily requirement of the household. For instance, for couples or individuals, a 6kg capacity would be adequate whereas a family of four might need an 8 kg or bigger capacity for their laundry needs. This is an important factor to consider since the wrong decision can consume an unnecessary amount of electricity.

Machine intelligence that helps save time

In situations when time works against you and your laundry, features of a well-designed washing machine can come to rescue. There are programmes for urgent laundry needs that provide clean laundry in a super quick 15 to 30 minutes’ cycle; a time delay feature that can assist you to start the laundry at a desired time etc. Many of these features dispel the notion that longer wash cycles mean cleaner clothes. In fact, some washing machines come with pre-activated wash cycles that offer shortest wash cycles across all programmes without compromising on cleanliness.

The green quotient

Despite the conveniences washing machines offer, many of them also consume a substantial amount of electricity and water. By paying close attention to performance features, it’s possible to find washing machines that use less water and energy. For example, there are machines which can adjust the levels of water used based on the size of the load. The reduced water usage, in turn, helps reduce the usage of electricity. Further, machines that promise a silent, no-vibration wash don’t just reduce noise – they are also more efficient as they are designed to work with less friction, thus reducing the energy consumed.

Customisable washing modes

Crushed dresses, out-of-shape shirts and shrunken sweaters are stuff of laundry nightmares. Most of us would rather take out the time to hand wash our expensive items of clothing rather than trusting the washing machine. To get the dirt out of clothes, washing machines use speed to first agitate the clothes and spin the water out of them, a process that takes a toll on the fabric. Fortunately, advanced machines come equipped with washing modes that control speed and water temperature depending on the fabric. While jeans and towels can endure a high-speed tumble and spin action, delicate fabrics like silk need a gentler wash at low speeds. Some machines also have a monsoon mode. This is an India specific mode that gives clothes a hot rinse and spin to reduce drying time during monsoons. A super clean mode will use hot water to clean the clothes deeply.

Washing machines have come a long way, from a wooden drum powered by motor to high-tech machines that come equipped with automatic washing modes. Bosch washing machines include all the above-mentioned features and provide damage free laundry in an energy efficient way. With 32 different washing modes, Bosch washing machines can create custom wash cycles for different types of laundry, be it lightly soiled linens, or stained woollens. The ActiveWater feature in Bosch washing machines senses the laundry load and optimises the usage of water and electricity. Its EcoSilentDrive motor draws energy from a permanent magnet, thereby saving energy and giving a silent wash. The fear of expensive clothes being wringed to shapelessness in a washing machine is a common one. The video below explains how Bosch’s unique VarioDrumTM technology achieves damage free laundry.

Play

To start your search for the perfect washing machine, see here.

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