History Lesson

There is divine beauty in learning… To learn means to accept the postulate that life did not begin at my birth. Others have been here before me, and I walk in their footsteps. The books I have read were composed by generations of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and disciples. I am the sum total of their experiences, their quests. And so are you. 

-Elie Wiesel

It’s too bad that growing up, History to me seemed so boring. Perhaps it was because I didn’t have good teachers or that the history curriculum in my school, and most other schools in India at that time at least, seemed so narrow in scope. We studied in painful details about the Rajas of eons past and then about a handful of freedom fighters from the struggle for independence. There was barely any mention of international history except the usual suspects like Pakistan and China, and as one can imagine that too was very biased. In other words, history class was just a bunch of monotonous patriotic non representative chatter. The burden to study world history, to make it interesting, to learn from it, to question it, all rested on the students. What a heavy burden that is for a kid who just wants to be a kid.

Then mid high school, I immigrated to America. I was too sad and too lonely from the move to care about history or anything else for that matter. I had already missed a large chunk of American History, and one class of World History was in no shape or form enough to bring me current. Thusly I became an adult knowing dangerously little about my motherland, about the World Wars, the Cold War, the Holocaust, and all other significant events of the history of mankind. Life goes on still.

Sometimes it feels like I am the norm rather than the exception. There are very few people I know who actively take interest in learning more than what they were taught or even remembering what they learnt. It seems so unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. It’s a hobby to have, not a prerequisite of a good life and for most part, I am okay with this.

But once in a while I read a book (fiction or non) that leaves me so filled with emotion. It could be something witty like Confederates in the Attic or On the Grand Trunk Road. It could be something serious like A Fine Balance or Elie Wiesel’s Night. Whatever it is, it makes me slow down and reflect on what the world used to be like. Sometimes I wish I was a part of it, and other times I give a million thanks for never having lived through any of it. Then I wonder how many others know.

In a way living in a history-less bubble for a while worked out okay for me because now I’m voraciously reading these books. They are more extreme and scandalous than any textbook for sure. The makings of a new addiction perhaps; one that I wouldn’t mind keeping.

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