The line between the chronicling of facts and the creation of myths lies in the very act of chronicling _ not of what is chronicled but of what is not.
But theres a tree, of many, one, A single field which I have looked upon, Both of them speak of something that is gone...
LOOKING around at the events that the media thrust upon us the global markets crashing, the British teenager raped and murdered in Goa, R.K. Sharma convicted for the murder of journalist Shivani Bhatnagar, the breathtaking waiver of farmers loans by the Manmohan Singh government there must be a fair number of people who take consolation from reading about what was news 50 years ago, which some newspapers provide every day. The Hindu has this every day, and the events featured in the section speak of a time that was quieter and simpler, and many who read them turn nostalgic and feel a sense of regret for what they have lost.
The English poet William Wordsworth from whose poem Ode Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood the first lines of this essay have been taken, seemed to speak for many of us in every generation since his time. Consider this:The rainbow comes and goesAnd lovely is the rose;The moon doth with delightLook round her when the heavens are bare;Waters on a starry nightAre beautiful and fair;The sunshine is a glorious birth;But yet I know, whereer I go,
That there hath passed away a glory from this earth.
We clothe the past with a beauty and simplicity that it probably does not really deserve. Or perhaps it does, when we try an objective evaluation with todays world. Even if it does, it was, and all of us will admit this, when it was the present, also tiresome in many ways. We tend to forget the heat, the dust and the flies that were as plentiful then as now, the humidity, and the virtual absence of air-conditioning, which is today available virtually everywhere.
What changes really is memory, the quality of recollection. Events have been chronicled, sometimes in painstaking detail, in many cases on film or on old audio recordings. The quality of the times has not been either chronicled or even dwelt on by writers, except in passing. What is comfortably thought of as peaceful times the good old days were days of dreadful poverty for millions, living on a handful of grain, sometimes not even that; for millions of children it meant no access to education, of even the wretched kind provided now in village and urban schools. If there was an acceptance of the existing social order, it was the dull acceptance of those with no hope. There was that kind of peace, but today that has gone. Wordsworths recollections were not merely romantic, they were fantasy, pure and simple, and poems like the one mentioned here helped move a vital and expressive poetic tradition to one of fantasy and unreality, leading to its marginalisation and final irrelevance. The thought of our past years in me doth breed/Perpetual benediction, he wrote, consigning the past to the world of legend and fairytale.
But even chroniclers of the past tend to overlook the quality of the times. Historians will analyse events, movements and social transformation, but in doing so the essence of those times is often lost.
The feel of the times, the clothes that they wore, the rooms they sat in and moved about in, the trees they passed under these may seem trifling details, but taken together, they build a real picture of the times past as they really were.
To go back to Wordsworths poem, there is just one comment he makes that opens a door to this world, but he chooses not to go further into it:Not for these I raiseThe songs of thanks and praise;But for those obstinate questioningsOf sense and outward things,Fallings from us, vanishings.
The present-day world, intolerable though it may appear now, will inevitably be simplified by time, as it passes, but what must remain and endure are the questionings not of the historian, which are valid and necessary, but of the essential nature of the times.
The events will be chronicled, but will the context be preserved in some way, the seemingly irrelevant, insignificant little details that together make today what it is? The sounds, the smells, the nature of the air, the talk, the look of people, all of that? Not likely.
The irony is that this will be so even in todays very electronic world. We have the tools, but we will use them for very specific limited purposes and that is where the failings come in. How many times one has watched grainy recordings of the 1940s and in the corner of one frame there was a man standing under an umbrella and one desperately wanted to know what he was doing there and his sense of it all. Sadly, we never will, because the cameraman was not interested in him.
This is what seals us off, eventually, from one year and one moment to the next. That feel we will never be able to capture, in fact do not want to capture, but which we will miss 20 years later. And while we will always know more and more about the events of a given time in minute detail, the actual feel of the time will be lost. And we will clothe that feel in a simplified and idealised form it simply did not have.
That is, perhaps, how legends are made; that is how we are at each others throats about the existence of a bridge between India and Sri Lanka that, going by geological data, is over a million years old. But who knows what we make of these facts as we do of other more recent ones? Perhaps, eventually a part of everything becomes legend and myth.
The line between the chronicling of facts and the creation of myths lies in the very act of chronicling; not of what is chronicled but of what is not. The myths start there.