Indians, as we all know, aren’t massively bothered about history. There are many reasons that are proffered for this amnesia, including: 1. We have too much of history, just where do you start? and 2. We live it!
Contrast our ahistorical world-view to that of the citizens of Britain. Here, history is dug out, scratched and brushed into life, restored, aired and debated every minute. Not a day seems to pass by without an anniversary being marked somewhere on the island.
This month, archaeologists found fossils that pointed to a mysterious race who were “fairly human,” hunting mammoths and hiding from sabre tooth tigers over 800,000 years ago. Treasure hunters roam the countryside with metal detectors in search of ancient treasures, and a hospital chef unearthed a clay pot packed with 55,000 Roman gold coins.
Cynics say people facing an uncertain future tend to look back. Whether that is the case with Britain I don’t know, but who can deny they have a Past!
Much of it is about India. Britons tend to celebrate the Raj — an irksome habit that appears to have worsened over the past two years, perhaps in tandem with the recession. The Indian story may have undergone a sea change around the world, but some Britons continue to live by stereotypes.
Over the last few days, some of the India-based British foreign correspondents reporting PM David Cameron’s upcoming visit have written about India’s economic growth story in churlish tones, raising India’s poverty in a manner they would not dream of doing if they were reporting Europe or America. It’s an old habit that borders on the racist, say members of the Indian diaspora in Britain.
Equally tiresome is the tendency of some Britons to lecture Indians – even though there is ready acknowledgment of the fact that India may well be the senior partner in an evolving post-Raj relationship.
Fortunately, Cameron carries with none of this baggage. At 43, he recognises the massive challenges India faces in addressing poverty. But he is pragmatic enough to look ahead.
This relationship can be very special indeed if, instead of being sent forever hurtling back into a rapidly-disremembered past, it succeeds in moulding a shared future.