Sunday, January 29, 2012

Memories are history

What prompted me to write this post were two recent articles in KR Dinakar’s blog Mysorean Musings. The first one is Earliest memories of watching a movie. This gives details about the cinema theatres in Mysore city during the 1960s and the movies that were being shown during that period.

The second one is about what I think was India’s first sports magazine, A magazine called Sport and Pastime. I used to be fan of this well brought out publication from The Hindu Group. On the cricketing side they used to have correspondents like Neville Cardus, Jack Fingleton and Norman Yardly. Apart from their deep knowledge of the game, the English that they wrote was beautiful. They could nearly match the famous American sportswriters Grantland Rice and Red Smith. Unfortunately, the publishers discontinued Sport and Pastime.

The point I am trying to establish is that the observations and memories of a person form part of history. If someone wants to do a study of the history of cinema houses in Mysore, Dinakar’s article would be an invaluable document. But not many people record their experiences. The regular excuse is “I can’t write”. That is not correct. Anyone can write if he has a pen and paper.

Unfortunately, even what is recorded is not always carefully preserved. I have seen moth eaten pieces of ancient olas (dry palm leaves on which documents were written before paper became common). That was so sad. Only recently people are becoming aware of the importance of conserving old writings and drawings.

Details of historical events are often passed on from generation to generation verbally. These are known as oral traditions. They have an important part in history. But the problem is that as generations pass by, some parts of the original story might be forgotten, or the narrator would add something new to suit his views. An incident which is unpleasant may be dropped. Therefore historians are very careful in accepting oral traditions.

It would be a good practice to note down the oral traditions that we hear. And that should be done without any bias or slant. I am not a historian but have great interest in the subject. I have done quite a bit of study about Kerala Church history. Initially there was only the Malabar Church consisting of people converted by St. Thomas the Apostle and about 400 Syrians who migrated under the leadership of Thomas of Cana.

The Portuguese domination of the Malabar Church changed that. The locals rebelled against the Westerners and there were divisions and subsequent divisions in the ancient Church. Now each denomination has its own history books – or rather books which murder history. Details are twisted and coloured and modified to establish the views of each group.

Coming back to oral tradition – Appan. (my father) used to tell me during my young days that Portuguese ships used to come to our place to load spices and that there was a shipping channel  in our Olavipe Lake. This also connected to the inland water pirate Lebba Moosa story. (See A unique prayer.) No historian would take it. That tradition would have died a natural death. But recently, quite by accident I came across a quoted Portuguese writing about their ships moving from Cochin into interior locations like ours. Also a well-known historian has confirmed that Lebba Moosa is mentioned at least thrice in Dutch documents. This is one occasion when an oral tradition is in the process of becoming credible.

I feel that each of us should realize our own importance to history. If I had not started this blog the things that I know or have heard of would have gone along with me. It is my requests that everyone, whenever they have the time, note down their memories and observations and events they participate. The importance of such records would be judged by future historians.


Dinakar KR said...

I agree. Memories must be recorded somewhere, wherever possible, whenever possible and however small and innocuous they may be. Let us make use of the web and the electronic gadgets to do that and share. Who knows, it may help someone know something, later on. We must do that before memories also be attacked by 'silver fish' of a different kind, as we age. I'd say, 'Let's not procrastinate on that.'

ahmedabadonnet said...

Really memories are history of great personalities...

Pradeep said...

The importance of history has been well said. Every current event has its roots in history and it needs to be interpreted in the historical context. We also can make better sense of the present, if we know well the past.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Dinakar KR, ahmedadonnet, Pradeep, thank you for your comments.