Re-writing history in a new context
There is so much still to be studied about the history of the sub-continent that any effort to re-evaluate it, provided done, unlike in this book, with due care and attention, is welcome. Unfortunately lack of due care and attention are merely a few of the shortcomings of his book.
Title: AN ENTIRELY NEW HISTORY OF INDIA
Author: Francois Gautier
Reviewed by Col Anil Chawla
Francois Gautier claims to have provided us with a translation of his French book “Le Nouvelle Histoire de l’Inde” which was published in 2017. He begins, not just by interpolating the word “Entirely” into the original French title, but also adding events, without qualifying so, of 2018 to 2020 that occurred after the 1917 publication of the French book. Therefore, the present book seems to be not just a translation, as claimed, but something different and certainly not an entire or even a reasonable history. Further, he certainly seems to have removed certain items, for example when he twice writes “see Box p XX” (p78 and 160 of this book) there is, for reasons best known to him, no “Box” and no “p XX” in the present book at all leaving the reader with a sense of incompleteness. That is just one example of many and one wonders what was in those boxes and why it has been removed. The book is full of such anomalies. Therefore, it would be less than honest to call the present book a translation of the original French book.
It is a small book, too small to be even cursorily discussing, much less revising, even a tiny part of India’s complex history. An author, even of the most elaborate, much less “entire” Indian histories, has to be selective and needs to point out the sources, primary or secondary with references but the author, after just 10 notes only in the pre-history, the part seems to have thought doing so no longer necessary to provide references on sources at all in the remaining 160 pages.
The title of the book by purporting to be a review of Indian history in its entirety is misleading and has not been able to address the myriad questions that arise with any of the seriousness that they deserve. This is further exacerbated by sweeping, unsubstantiated, and contradictory statements throughout the book. Assuming some of them have a germ of truth, which could well be the case, surely some sources need to be referred to in the notes.
Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, the author offers only 10 notes on sources, those also incomplete and without page numbers and even sometimes the names of the article/publication missing. Just some examples of troubling assertions are:
— “The Magadha empire (684-320 BC), so powerful …… it is mentioned in …. the Ramayana and the Mahabharata” This appears to fix the two great epics of India as having been written after 684 BC at the earliest.
— “ Ashvaghosha (80- 150 BCE) …. born …. In Saketa (present-day Ayodhya).” This would place the hero of Ramayana either being born after 80 BCE or not in Ayodhya at all as it implies that the very name Ayodha came about later. The confusion generated is incredible and has implications that should be handled with extreme care.
One can hardly blame an author for trying to squeeze all of India’s history, having little or no written records, into 210 pages of a small book but that makes it all the more necessary that the book be very carefully and concisely organized. That has not been done at all.
Starting with a very cursory and ill referenced, if determined, examination of India’s pre-history the author keeps flitting about from one aspect to another leaving the reader bewildered at best. Next, he takes us through a cursory look at “Magadha, Maurya, and Chandra Gupta in all of eight pages where to he includes counter-chronologically, Ashvaghosha of 150-80 BC before going back to saying that the reality of Ashoka is not what the history books, inscriptions, and archaeology seem to tell us.
In fact the author after the 172 BC the assassination of the last Mauryan emperor organised by his commander-in-chief Pushyamitra Shunga (p 90) does not develop the idea further and leaving the period of local history in North India one big blank switches to a chapter on “The Great Empires of South India” from 600 to 1300 CE ending with the disaster of the Vijayanagar kingdom in 1565 and beyond leaving the reader trying to make some chronological or logical connections and sense. In the process, he skips the post-Shunga, Kanishka, and even Gupta “golden age altogether and flitting back to North India almost 1000 years after Ashoka to the Muslim invasions from the 8th Century onwards whose next 700 years he covers in five scant pages much of which are about Rajput valour and none about a lot of Rajputs having converted to Islam and who presently live, well respected in both Pakistan and India. Then he gives another five pages to the Mughal Dynasty.
There is no index to help the reader to make the necessary connections and to get out of his unavoidable bewilderment. Unfortunately, this approach continues through the coming of the Europeans and well into the present of which the less said the better.
All in all, makes for a very disappointing read both for discerning adults and for children.
Disclaimer: The above views and understanding on the subject are that of the writer and not of the publication.
About the author: Col Anil Chawla is an avid reader with a special inclination towards Indian history. His passion is to re-examine Indian history and join the dots through his reading & research for the love of the subject.