Reviving DVG’s Splendid Vision of Writing Indian History Will Boost the Contemporary Indian Cultural Renaissance
History Vignettes

Reviving DVG’s Splendid Vision of Writing Indian History Will Boost the Contemporary Indian Cultural Renaissance

Read all about the iconic D.V.Gundappa's grand and sublime vision of how Indian history should be written

Sandeep Balakrishna

Sandeep Balakrishna

Wholesale falsification of Indian history was one of the key pillars that sustained the national deception called Nehruvian secularism and facilitated India’s economic plunder for more than half a century after “independence.” But then, this falsification was seeded by Mohandas Gandhi, the serial failure of serial experiments in truth. However, full credit for institutionalizing it at the Governmental level goes to Nawab Nehru. In hindsight, it appears that even this falsification is forgivable when compared to the highhanded manner in which Nehru and his cronies poisoned the well of Indian history. By distorting and nearly annihilating the truth of India’s past, Nehru, the emperor of all-encompassing cluelessness, tossed the Hindu—and the larger Indian— society into a state of permanent social chaos and is responsible for the everyday depravity that our youth demonstrate. The India, especially of the last two decades, is living proof of the timeless dictum that those who don’t care to study the past will have no future.

However, Nehru’s saner contemporaries correctly viewed history not just a bunch of dates and lineages and episodes but as a value that had to be correctly formulated and preserved for its own sake. And for posterity. Kulapati K.M. Munshi stood tall at the head of propagating this value when he conceived the mammoth project of commissioning the comprehensive History and Culture of the Indian People (in 11 volumes). In his own words, this was the

elaborate history of India in order…that the world might catch a glimpse of her soul as Indians see it. The history of India is not the story of how she underwent foreign invasions, but how she resisted them and eventually triumphed over them… To be a history in the true sense…the work must be the story of the people inhabiting a country. It must be a record of their life from age to age presented through the life and achievements of men whose exploits become the beacon lights of tradition…the central purpose of a history must…be to investigate and unfold the values which age after age have inspired the inhabitants of a country to develop their collective will.

Arguably, the aforementioned eleven volumes of India’s history have adequately fulfilled K.M. Munshi’s vision under the able and competent scholarly leadership of Acharya R.C. Majumdar. From the time the volumes hit the market, they opened to great acclaim although they were largely eclipsed by the asphyxiating fangs of Marxist darkness a short while thereafter.

However, a little known episode surrounding these volumes comes from the hallowed pen of the contemporary Rishi, D.V. Gundappa (DVG), who supplied his unique and original insight on writing India’s history.

The fact that DVG was relegated to heartless obscurity in our national life is one of those innumerable tragedies after India attained “independence.” Till the mid 1960s, DVG was a truly national figure with an astonishing range of network that included Diwans, Maharajas, freedom fighters, editors, litterateurs, musicians…who all regularly sought advice and solace from him. Even within Karnataka, he is today largely known only for his magum opus, Mankutimmana Kagga, while the full corpus of his extant writings in both English and Kannada runs up to about 15,000 pages covering almost every topic under the sun. His friend and contemporary, the Kannada writer and poet, V.Sitaramaiah said that DVG was akin to a giraffe which eats only the topmost foliage. We can supplement this remarkable observation by noting that DVG was also the patient deep-sea diver of the ocean of insight who ingested all that was invaluable in the ocean floor and radiated it through his writings, speeches and public service.   

Given this backdrop, it is quite obvious that DVG’s July 1954 lecture on All India Radio is almost unknown. The lecture was his review of the third volume of The History and Culture of the Indian People, titled The Classical Age, which he correctly calls “the history of India written by Indians.” But it is not merely a review in the sense that we understand it today. It is truly an exposition almost in the classical style, marked by solid knowledge of the subject, original insights, authority, and extraordinary thoroughness. To those who care, it is a method and model that needs urgent revival and is worthy of emulation. Perhaps it can be included as a chapter at the undergraduate level. After multiple readings, I find that it is impossible to omit even a single sentence…any effort to condense or abridge it in any form is an exercise in futility.

The kind of insights DVG provides into how to view and write history are both priceless and thrilling. Bereft of any literary flourishes, here is how DVG describes his vision of history.

History, if it should serve its purpose of stirring emotion, instigating inquiry and directing thought, must first of all be exciting. Is it impossible to be both truthful and warm-hearted, both factual and moving? Are imagination and conscience necessarily enemies to each other? In reconciling them is the art of the true historian. The flow of the story must be swift, vivid, vibrant.

This insight cannot be taught in schools or universities but every educational curriculum must hone students from an early age and create a conducive atmosphere which helps develop and nurture the possibility of inculcating such insights within the student. But then, DVG took his schooling from the University of Life and became its most exalted Vice Chancellor.

Equally, the hawk-eyed thoroughness of DVG doesn’t exclude or spare anything. Beginning from the title of the volume itself: The Classical Age. Here is a tiny sample how he critiques it:

Such a one-word summary of the peculiar ethos of an epoch of many hundreds of years would undoubtedly be advantageous as well as attractive if it could satisfy the tests of accuracy and adequacy. This should be easy enough if history had run according to a plan. But the forces of a people’s life flow like rain-water in a jungle, casual and capricious in the courses they take; and it is not always possible for us to identify the channels and fix neat little sign-boards by their sides.

DVG also reflects the same meticulousness with respect to the price of the volume: ₹ 35 in those days was considered prohibitive. Commenting on it, this is what he says: "the price of ₹ 35, however, raises the question whether this history of India by Indians is for Indians."

One can argue about the merits or validity of this observation. However, the ideal that animated and one which DVG followed by personal example was to make such valuable writing accessible to the maximum number of Indians at a time of nationwide Nehruvian shortages and in an India, which had to rebuild itself from the scratch. Indeed, DVG’s own writings and publications were available at dirt cheap prices in the early days: for less than a rupee or at most ₹ 5.

Observations on such practical matters apart, it is DVG’s perception of Indian history itself that sheds illuminative light: it was informed, perfectly in consonance with the ancient Sanatana ethos of the cultural unity of India. We see this in two places in his lecture. The first is a mild rebuke to Dr. D.C. Sircar:

We arrive in Chapter XII at the precincts of the Chalukyas, so near to our heart in this part of India. I cannot help observing…that it would have been more to the liking of people in our part of India if Dr. D.C. Sircar had used the word Karnataka or Kannada in place of the Anglo-Indian hybrid Kanarese.”

The second is even more brilliant, direct and searching.

Why is this period of India’s history,–from 320 to 750 A.D.,–called the Classical Age? In the context of Europe’s literature, the word ‘classical’ denotes standards and patterns of ancient Greek and Latin achievement; and it suggests contradistinction from the romantic. It is a question whether there is any real parallelism between India’s literary history and Greece’s or Rome’s. If a word is needed as name for the Kalidasian genre as distinguished from the Vedic and the Puranic, it will have to be of our own minting…If the volume under review had to be translated into Sanskrit or any other Indian language, which is the word to be employed in place of ‘classical’? That will give us an idea of how very foreign the thing is to our context.

Like scores of his likeminded contemporaries, DVG was among the foremost luminaries of his era who tirelessly stressed on two faces of the same coin: (i) To stop Indians getting swept away in the devouring tide of mental and cultural colonialism (ii) To decolonize the already brainwashed Indians. Perhaps history is one of the most prominent areas that offers the maximum scope for said colonization.

From all this, Indians who want to write the true history of India can derive a beautiful and workable recipe that they can use in their own writing endeavours: such a history should reflect cultural and civilizational self-confident, the prose should be full-bodied, the action thrilling and majestic, the tone should inspire vigour, and the intent, thoroughly unapologetic and leave no room for doubt. At no point should the eye of such a historian be on the market because if his or her work embodies all these features, the market will itself come seeking the author. Let’s hear it in DVG’s words.

[The] toss-and-tumble style, beloved of the political journalist, is hardly the style suited to the drawing of a picture meant to convince and inspire. The ‘must-have-beens’ and the double negatives are fatal to the purpose of creating certitude in the reader’s mind. When the door is so ostentatiously opened for doubt, there can be no seat left for enthusiasm in the house.

At the heart of DVG’s vision of and approach to the actual writing of Indian history is the cultural composure, inner attitude, and outward magnanimity of the writer himself. Culturally rooted Indians of DVG’s mould did not separate the man from the method: the man was the method. Four generations of post-independence miseducation has created a vast section of Indians who are unaware that even such a notion could exist let alone employing it in the sacred calling of history writing. However, even in the early part of the 20th Century, brilliant historians like Trevelyan swore and abided by this tenet of the inner life of a historian when he railed against the vulgar incursions made into the discipline by the so-called “scientific” historians. He denounced them as the “Potsdam Guards of learning.”

But DVG elevates Trevelyan’s caustic observation in his inimitable style in this grand passage breathtaking for the quality of its prose and the vivid picture it evokes within us.      

The antiquarian seems in our book to supersede the narrator. At every step the story has its feet held up in a tangle of meticulous debate over a point of chronology or of identity of person. The writer is having before his mind’s eye the menacing figure of a critic or a rival rather than the innocent seeker of entertainment and knowledge, awaiting the glow and warmth which the tale of the exploits of a dear old ancestor can communicate to the heart. So much need not be made of the outward shape of a fact that its inward meaning escapes the average reader.

What DVG indirectly alludes to is an exquisite legacy of history writing that was populated by eminences like Clarendon, Gibbon, Carlyle, W.E. Lecky, and in our tradition, the magnificent Kalhana, all of whom elevated history writing into a fine literary art and craft. For a superb, and comparatively recent model to follow, there is the indubitable Dhananjay Keer, biographer and historical writer par excellence.

As a closing bonus, here is another pearl of insight from DVG.

We in India have for two centuries become so accustomed to the spectacle of a world in flux and ferment that we consider that to be the sign of health and well-being. Equilibrium and stability are, in our view, stagnation and disease. This notion of ours is of course an error. True progress is not continuous whirl and commotion. It has a static antecedent as well as a static consequent.

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