Monday, October 31, 2005

History once more

On a beautiful Sunday, away from the tragedy, a day was spent contemplating many things happening in the world, and then trying to escape into another world- our past. Thanks to Uma, I was aware of a new release - Gombrich's "A little History of the World", a book written in a manner that makes it beautifully accessible to young ones and everyone. It charmed me, and made history alive again. "All stories begin with 'Once upon a time'. And that's just what this story is all about: what happened, once upon a time."

As Gombrich writes " What I have always loved best about the history of the world is that it is true. That all the extraordinary things we read were no less real than you and I are today. What is more, what did happen is often far more exciting and amazing than anything we could invent." Baba once told me the same thing, but I was too immature to realize or to even listen, and it is only recently that I have been on this spree of looking up and starting to read the very same books that were on the shelves of Baba's study, a room I inhabited in my teen years ignoring the history books simply because it was my father's profession. As they say, its never too late to learn :)), and my phone calls with Baba are becoming increasingly peppered with such common knowledge and more questions than ever. On my next trip to India, this book will go to him and delight him, since he has always been a big Gombrich fan.

The parts that delight me most, apart from the wonderful and compassionate writing from one who truly understood our past, is the way he introduces each chapter, making beautiful analogies that help visualize places, and how people lived.
Such as: "Can you picture the desert? The real hot sandy desert crossed by long caravans of camels laden with cargoes of rare goods? Sand everywhere. Just occasionally you see one or two palm trees on the skyline"and then "And yet it was in this strange desert land, with its few, warlike inhabitants, that perhaps the most extraordinary of all the events I have to tell took place" and so Gombrich starts the chapter on Muhammad, his teachings and influence in that period. In the book, Gombrich further describes "the migration of people akin to a thunderstorm, and the middle ages as a starry night"...... and you can visually see and feel them as such.

The book takes on a journey starting from the discovery of Neanderthal man, through the rise of different civilizations and religions across the world, culminating in WWII which Gombrich experienced personally. Elegantly and so passionately, he weaves in and out of continents, touching China, Japan, the Indian subcontinent, (sadly leaves out South America), focusing more on the European continent, never being condescending, instead being a student and a teacher through his words.

A keen observer possessing a deep understanding of the past, he knew that : "The history of the world is, sadly, not a pretty poem. It offers little variety, and it is nearly always the unpleasant things that are repeated over and over again." Looking at the state of the world now, his words chillingly ring true.

Just as Gombrich's "Story of Art", changed and deepened my perception on art, I know that after reading his beautiful lesson in history I will never be able to look at the past in quite the same way again. History will forever be exciting, a living, breathing form that has shaped our present.

If you can, please read it.

Also a more detailed review


At 5:47 PM, Anonymous Ash said...

And that goes on my mile-long list of books to read. There aren't lifetimes enough to read all the good books in the world :(

At 11:32 PM, Blogger Bidi-K said...

yes I know...feel the same way. Have a few months off before the next venture so am reading like crazy right now.


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