Our History, Their History: The Contrasting Historical Narratives of East & West, GS Cheema, Manohar, Pp 248, Rs 825
History is proof to the fact that most people and States in position of power tend to become overbearing and arbitrary and exploit their position to acquire riches. Yet, there are striking differences in the way states evolved in India and Europe. Most observations in the book regarding India stand good for much of Asia, particularly Islamic Middle East and Central Asia. In Europe there was the traditional divided between East and West Europe as for many centuries East Europe was ruled by Turks, Mongols or Tartars.
On reading this book one is struck by the relative fragility of India and Asiatic States. The political structure of the European kingdoms was incomparably stronger. Europe had relatively small kingdoms which were apparently eternal. In India, great empires rose and fell with surprising rapidity; the smaller kingdoms which arose out of the wreckage had no permanence. In most cases they were accidental creations and disappeared after a few decades.
Europe too had its imperial rules but no holy Roman Emperor or Napoleon was able to destroy any of the ancient kingdoms of Europe, all of which were founded between the 9th and 10th centuries.
Here one is tempted to ask that what was so special about Western Europe that Asia, particularly India, missed? Why is the history of India so different from that of Western Europe?
The book provides answers to these questions and many more. However, the book tries to show that the Europeans were no better or superior. Actually European history is as violent and, probably, much more sanguinary than that of India. Weapons of mass destruction were all developed by Europeans and Indians were more tolerant than the Europeans.
There never was any systematic religious persecution in India. Actually India absorbed and accepted all the conquerors, who came and settled here. Even Islamic Middle East was much more tolerant than Christian Europe.
The poor peasantry of Western Europe was no better off than the Indian peasants. In fact, even today, landlordism flourishes in the West, with the people owning thousands of acres as individuals.
The author says that though Europe, even today, has “achieved a very imperfect unity,” the only remarkable thing about it is the permanence of its internal boundaries. In spite of its history of sanguinary conflicts, the basic political units appear to be indestructible. State boundaries may have shifted a little here and there (in the case of France and Germany by about 200 kms), but nearly all European States as we know today have been in existence for as much as 1,000 years.
In contrast, “There is nothing comparable in India. There were, indeed, a number of states – mainly that clutch of erstwhile kingdoms or rajwaras that make up Rajasthan – that can claim nearly comparable antiquity, but except for a relatively brief period, they are only a sideshow of Indian history.”
European wars and conquests were there but their history presents a picture of stability and continuity. The same royal families continued to rule for hundreds of years, with no war or revolution able to shake their social pre-eminence. Whereas in India, its patterns were fluid, ever changing and in constant influx, says the author.
This study identifies certain factors which were responsible for the differences that have come in our histories. The book makes for interesting reading.
(Manohar Publishers and Distributors, 4753/23, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110 002)
Transform life, follow the Master
Self Power, Deepak Chopra, Random House India, Pp 212 (PB), Rs 499
When confusion and darkness overwhelm us on account of being hurt, betrayed, abused, misunderstood, ill, worried, anxious and at times, desperate, Dr Deepak Chopra, who has devoted his life to helping people to transform their situations and achieve their heart’s desire, shows us how to learn to connect with the incredible source of power that resides within us; discover how to meet life’s greatest challenges – personal, spiritual and practical – and find the answers to tackle each new day with hope, joy and love.
Life throws up challenges, making it difficult for us to live. No matter whatever advantages we are born with, like money, intelligence, personality, shining outlook or good social connections, but none of these provide the magic key to an easy existence. Somehow life throws up difficult problems, which become the cause of untold sufferings and struggle. How we meet the challenges makes all the difference between the promise of success and the spectre of failure.
Dr Deepak Chopra says that it is spirituality that provides the solution. When we can take our awareness outside the place where the struggle is present, our awareness expands and with that, new answers begin to appear. When awareness expands, events that seem random actually aren’t so. A larger purpose unfolds before us and we become like an “architect who has been handed the blueprint. Instead of laying bricks and fitting pipes at random, the architect can now proceed with confidence as he knows what the building should look like and how to construct it.”
For instance, when we enter a situation, we respond through certain aspects of awareness-perceptions, beliefs, assumptions, expectations and feelings. Perception is viewing a situation differently. For example, one person may see a situation as a disaster and the other may see it as an opportunity. Beliefs hide beneath the surface and we are not conscious of them. Assumptions work by leaping in to fill a gap of uncertainty within us. Expectations are linked to desire or fear. Positive expectations are ruled by desire but things do not happen as we desire. Feelings lie on the surface but by accepting them, we do not blame them on others.
Deepak Chopra advises that we should join the flow of evolution instead of fighting against what life gives us in the form of suffering and frustration. Life flows from within itself and “seizing of any kind of rigid or fixed position is contrary to life. The more we let go, the more our true self can express its desire to evolve.” Once the process is under way, the inner and outer worlds reflect each other without confusion or conflict because now the solution arises from the level of the soul and meets no resistance. All our desires lead to a result that is best both for us and our surrounding. In the end, happiness is based on reality and nothing is more real than change and revolution.
(Random House Publishing India Pvt Ltd, Windsor IT Park, 7th Floor, Tower B, Sector 125, Noida – 201 301; www.randomhouse.co.in)