History is a jigsaw puzzle with scattered pieces of facts and fables; Yentha lends an ear to the old men for their take on history – By Manu Remakant
Ten years ago I met a very old man for writing a story. I wanted him to tell me about the history of the arattu festival. Instead, he rambled about the assassination attempt on the erstwhile Diwan of Travancore, Sir CP Ramaswamy Iyer. “It was not KCS Mani who did that.” I shuddered. “But history…” I tried to correct him. “Stupid, did you see the incident?” I could feel the old man’s eyes bore into me. He could be senile. Poor man, he doesn’t know history, I thought.
What is history?
It is an account of the past, and facts are its building materials. But a fact is just a sack. It won’t stand up until the historian puts something in it – a meaning, an interpretation.
A poetic anecdote of ‘water in a bucket and an ocean’ delivered by Pinarayi Vijayan at Sanghumugham was just a sack. Only when you put it against the ongoing group tussle within the Marxist party, the sack stands up and stakes its claim to fame.
The dots are connected. It is the interpretation which builds up the picture.
History doesn’t have any plot in its mind, but historians do. A majority them have political leanings and many happily wear them on their sleeves.
A historian , like a hunter, sets his trap for the animals, which are facts. The catch depends on chance, on what part of the jungle he chooses to hunt, and on what equipment he uses. These factors are dependent on the kind of animal he wants to trap.
Thus the Congress using their historians select the necessary accounts from the past, build up their historic struggle with the British and dub it as Indian Independence struggle. When the BJP came to power, they tried to alter history realising that interpretation is the name of the game. For the Communists, the struggle with the landlords and Diwan can be doubled as people’s struggle against the system.
Facts are selected and left out according to their compatibility with the narratives they build up. Thankfully History has a narrative for everyone.
The spectacles from the past are thus preselected and predetermined for us. We are denied the incidents which happened beyond the frames built by the historians. The blind now leads the blind.
See this example. We know Swadeshabhimani Ramakrishnapillai who wrote boldly against the British. But few people know the sufferings of the printer/publisher Vakkom Moulavi who sacrificed a lot for setting up the press. He lost everything, including his rightful claim to the pantheon of freedom fighters of the state. He just didn’t fit in to the historian’s agenda. They deselected him.
This writer was privileged to talk to the legendary critic, the late M. Krishnan Nair many years ago. Half an hour he talked about the progressive visions of the former Diwan. But a politician since independence builds his image up against the ‘Satan’ that was CP.
His story. History.
So, Yentha doesn’t believe in a single history anymore. It believes in histories.
Yes, we are now on our way to the old men in the city to sit by their side, listening to their (his)stories as logfires crackle in the fireplace. We wish to see through their flickering eyes, things they have seen, delicacies they have tasted, flowers they have smelled.
“There were horse carts everywhere. They used to go along the main road one after the other carrying passengers. There was that tamarind tree at Pulimoodu junction at that time, where you could see dozens of carts rested under its shade,” says the renowned poet, ONV Kurup as he reminiscences about the ’30s when he visited the city as an eight-year-old boy.
Yes, Yentha wants to build that up. Not only the dusty frames of yesteryears, but also the sound of the jadkas(horse carts) moving along the roads, the hustle of merchants carrying their ferry from Vallakkadavu country boat jetty, the lapping sound of water as the boat slowly moves along the Parvathy Puthanar to Kollam. “The young beautiful Tamil girls who loitered along the Chalai road were a sight to behold,” said M. Krishnan Nair to this writer.
Yentha will beach its yacht on such unchartered spectacles of virgin history. Even though this ferry rolls and pitches on its way to explore the unknown, we will remain undaunted. We have with us poets, artists, teachers, merchants, drivers, palace staff and men on the street. Together we build up histories.
Yes, we begin the new column ‘Histories’.
Yentha doesn’t throw down the gauntlet to the scholars. We just want to dust the surface of history for fingerprints yet unnoticed or to pick up some indistinct wailings trickling in from a sunken passageway. Because we believe, there is much in the spaces between the written words. Let us start scribbling our notes there.