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December 21, 2014 / subramanyam

Removing the “Aavarana” over History …


Let me start by asking a fundamental question.  “Why should we read history ?”  Why should we read about the lives of our forefathers? Why should we be interested in the lives and times of the kings who dwelled on this earth a few centuries ago ?   Why should we be interested in the lives of the people who ruled the nations , built great monuments and were the originators of various customs and rituals?  The learned men of the world give us the answer , “History curses those who do not read it by repeating itself  for them”.  Well, once we begin to read history are we sure that we are reading the correct version of it. First of all, is history authentic?  Big question isn’t it ?

 They say history is always written by winners and losers have no place in it.  True, history to me is the “story” of the winners.  I always feel that we are unfortunate and donot get to hear the story of the vanquished , well that’s something we ought to live with.  However, what should we say about the people who wilfully distort history and present it to the masses  in  a way it suits their needs?  or the needs of their political masters ?  In a scenario where one section is already disadvantaged, we have one who wants to play with their story to meet his/her ideological needs, in a situation of this sort , we,  the  people who want to  read history and take lessons from it are genuinely doomed aren’t we ?

Shri S.L. Bhyrappa, the renowned Kannada writer tries to expose these acts of self styled historians and intellectuals in his book “Aavarana  :: The veil”.  Here is the blurb of the book that was reprinted 10 times in the first five months of release .

Lakshmi, a rebellious, free-spirited and intelligent film-maker, breaks ties with her staunchly Gandhian father to marry Amir,

The Cover of the book

The Cover of the book

the man she loves. She even agrees reluctantly to Amir’s request that she convert to Islam, as a formality, and change her name to Razia. However, she is shocked to discover that her husband is not the open-minded, progressive individual he claimed to be. For after marriage, Amir takes his family’s side in trying to force her to follow the more rigorous tenets of their faith. This sets her off on a personal journey into India’s history to uncover the many layers of religion, caste and creed. Her quest leads her to the many parallels in the narratives between the past and the present and she gradually finds that though much has changed in Indian society over the centuries, much remains the same. 

The second historical novel by celebrated Kannada author S.L. Bhyrappa, translated for the first time into English by Sandeep Balakrishna, Aavarana: The Veil raises pertinent and searching questions about religion, liberalism and identity, and highlights the importance of unshackling oneself from the bonds of false knowledge.

The book starts with an incident that creates a lot of turbulence and internal turmoil  in Razia Qureshi.  What she sees in Hampi disturbs her, little does she know that these were the first ripples of the ocean she is about to cross.  While the disturbing sights keep coming to her , a very bad news awaits her back home.  Her father with whom she severed all ties, passes away and he leaves her something that changes her life altogether.

She leaves to her native village and takes a deep dive into the books that adorned her father’s personal library. What does she discover? How does it impact her life and lives of the people around her?  What does she do with the resources at her disposal ? Do read the book to know all that .

This is not just a run of the mill novel, it opens the readers mind to a wealth of information about the customs , practices and lives of the Muslims of India.  It takes us into the annals of the history and introduces us to a totally different world where the Mughals lorded over this nation.  What were the customs of them? How did they treat people of their ilke ? How did they handle the ones who were not following their customs? How did they treat people whom they conquered ? etc..

This book also gives us great insights into slavery that existed in the times of Mughals, the eunuchs of the time and the way people were made into eunuchs to serve some specific needs of the kings.  Then we also get to see how intolerant a few people were and how they destroyed many places of worship. The author uses the technique of story inside a story to get his point across and that worked extremely well as far as the book is concerned. It’s some thing you ought to read and experience.

What did I like in the book ? A lot actually.  Frist the research, it takes prodigious amount of research to come up with such a book and it takes humongous courage to write  what S.L.Bhyrappa has written.  Yes, he goes against the widely accepted view of the Mughal rule and brings out facts and figures about the tough times people of other faiths had to endure under that rule.  Then he proves that all he is saying is not a cock and bull story, he actually provides proofs from the books written by the Mughal historians. He gives names of the historians of that era and as to what they recorded.  Yes, at the end of the book you see a list of 59 books that Lakshmi aka Razia refers to. That’s the amount of research that went into the book.

We get to realize that Mughal rule was not the paradise as it is widely touted to be, we also get to realize that many of the so called progressive people do have their own agenda, the Marxist historians of the country are exposed.  Well, if you think that these historians are being criticised unjustly, just have a look at history text books of ours. I remember reading pages and pages  about the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire but I read only a few paragraphs about the heroes like Sivaji.  How many of us remember reading good amount of history about the Vijayanagar empire.  If I am not wrong we would have read a

The author Shri Bhyrappa

The author Shri Bhyrappa

few paragraphs about Harihara and Bukka and then a paragraph or two about Sri Krishnadeva raya.  Is it in any way comparable with the mammoth reading you do about the invaders who came and controlled less than half of what the kings of Vijaynagara controlled.  This books raises some very good questions about all this.

Standing up to the politically correct version of discourse is not easy .  You will have to take harsh criticism, endure tough and at times rogue comments, will have to take comments like anti-national, communal, partisan and all in your stride.  I would commend Shri Bhyrappa ji for doing this .  One ought read the book for this.

I also liked the way the characters were built, the way he portrays a certain Mr. Shastri the progressive professor, Amir,  the man who made a lot of promises to Lakshmi and breaks them when she becomes Razia.  Razia’s son , Shastri’s father and the villagers all of them were very well sketched.  I loved the climax and the way the transformation begins.  I liked it all.

What I did not like in the book, honestly I am not qualified to criticise a man of that stature and the work of this sort.  I only felt

Sandeep -- The man who translated it to English

Sandeep — The man who translated it to English

that there must have been more space devoted to Aruna (Professor Shastri’s daughter) and why she chooses to marry a stranger and convert to new religion.  Again just plain curiosity that’s it.

All in all a wonderful book, awesome message. This is not against anyone or any religion, it speaks about an unbiased narration of history and acknowledging the mistakes and wrong doings of the past.  It would be tough to accept these things but then every thing that’s very good in the long run will start with the acceptance of a bitter truth, won’t it ?

I must thank Sandeep Balakrishna for the wonderful translation of the book.  He kept the narrative in simple plain English and ensured that the book is easy to read. It is because of him that we are able to read such a wonderful book today .  Thank You sir.

Reading this book was indeed an educative experience for me.  As Shri  Bhyrappa himself says, “The act of concealing truth is called Aavarana in Sanskrit, the act of spreading lies is called Vikshepa” Read the book and understand as to how the truth was concealed while telling the history of this country.  Do read the book .

You can buy the Book here

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