Myview The false in­evitabil­ity of his­tory

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Or, in­deed, for much longer. It was only in 1974, 13 years af­ter the an­nex­a­tion, that a de­tente was ar­rived at between both na­tions.

Here we are, a gen­er­a­tion later, cel­e­brat­ing a fes­ti­val of Por­tuguese films in Goa. This slow trans­for­ma­tion of af­fairs may seem triv­ial to most In­di­ans and Por­tuguese. But for a few with vivid mem­o­ries of those events, things are any­thing but triv­ial. In 2007, Por­tuguese film-maker Luís Galvão Te­les vis­ited Goa for the 38th In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val of In­dia. It was a mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for Te­les. His fa­ther, Te­les told Tony Tharakan of Reuters, had ar­gued for Por­tu­gal, against In­dian claims on Goa, at the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice in 1960. Te­les was then a child.

Shortly af­ter­wards when In­dia lib­er­ated Goa, Te­les re­called, there was heart­break at home in Por­tu­gal: “I re­mem­ber peo­ple cry­ing at my place. We were pray­ing and still hop­ing for a mir­a­cle.”

His sen­ti­ments changed, Te­les said, when he went to univer­sity and re­al­ized colonies didn’t make sense. In In­dia for the first time in 2007, he told Tharakan that Goa was so rem­i­nis­cent of his home­thus, land that he felt “like he’s walked into a film set with Por­tu­gal as the back­drop”.

It makes you won­der what In­dia will look like a gen­er­a­tion from now. Will we have fes­ti­vals of Pak­istani films in Kash­mir? Or will we have fes­ti­vals of Kash­miri films in Pak­istan? Is it beyond the realm of all pos­si­bil­ity that In­dia can have last­ing peace, and abun­dant trade and move­ment, across all its bor­ders with neighbouring na­tions? (Yes, even with the Chi­nese?)

This might all seem fan­ci­ful and, I dare­say, a bit lib­eral. But who re­ally knows?

All of this harks back to two of the smartest things I have ever read about his­tory. There is a cer­tain as­pect of trite Zen koan about th­ese two lines. But they are, I think, deeply in­sight­ful.

The first is that his­tory is in­evitable only in hind­sight. When we read grand his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tives about wars, re­li­gions, na­tions, economies and such like, we are of­ten tempted to see not only a log­i­cal or­der to events, but also rule out the pos­si­bil­ity of any other po­ten­tial se­quence of events. So, for in­stance, ob­vi­ously Western colo­nial­ism would have spread to Asia via the sea, be­cause the seas were un­con­tested. Nei­ther In­dian nor Chi­nese navies par­tic­u­larly stood in the way of the Por­tuguese...thus ob­vi­ously...

But is it that ob­vi­ous?

What I mean to say is that the world of 2017 will seem ut­terly ob­vi­ous in 2018, but may well seem in­com­pre­hen­si­ble to some­one even in 2010—Don­ald Trump as US pres­i­dent, the UK wal­low­ing in Brexit, Chile out of the foot­ball World Cup.

his­tory only makes sense in hind­sight. And even then, of­ten, it only ap­pears to make sense.

The sec­ond smart ob­ser­va­tion about his­tory I’ve re­cently read, is that his­tory can be seen as a se­ries of re­place­ments. (This per­haps makes more sense in the ar­chae­ol­ogy pa­per I read it in. But bear with me.)

This means that the world of to­day does not sit next to the world of yes­ter­day, but on top of it. Each pe­riod of his­tory ut­terly re­places the ones be­fore it. His­tory is only a se­quence or se­ries in the ar­chives of mu­se­ums, li­braries and the mind. Ev­ery­where else it re­places ev­ery­thing that came be­fore it. Al­most in­stantly nor­mal­iz­ing things as it goes.

Who can for­get the head­lines that won­dered if an Obama pres­i­dency her­alded the be­gin­ning of a post-racial Amer­ica? And yet look at the state of race af­fairs to­day in the US. The present has re­placed the past. This present makes sense. The past then seems like an ano­maly.

Does some­body in the US to­day re­spond to race as it is to­day, or as it seemed in 2010?

Again, we of­ten for­get this when we read those grand nar­ra­tives and won­der­ful books of his­tory. We as­sume that events and peo­ple play his­tor­i­cal roles in th­ese books. That they do things with an eye to the past and one to the dis­tant fu­ture. We can over­look the some­what com­plex idea that their present is his­tor­i­cal to us, but was an on­go­ing re­al­ity to them. So they are act­ing in a way that makes sense to them in 1948 but may prove to be folly to us in 2017.

All of which is a round­about way of say­ing that noth­ing is in­evitable. Each day is a new nor­mal. A Por­tuguese film fes­ti­val in Goa? Just a gen­er­a­tion af­ter the war? Mad­ness. Or maybe not. A gen­er­a­tion from now young In­di­ans may well read about, say, the border stand-off with China and won­der: What the hell was wrong with th­ese peo­ple?

SIDIN VADUKUT

Déjà View is a fort­nightly con­ver­sa­tion on his­tory. Read Sidin Vadukut’s Mint col­umns at www.livemint.com/de­jaview

Com­ments are wel­come at views@livemint.com

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