Nearly done. I have visa, tickets, immunisations, and some new socks. It’s all very exciting.
One wall of my study has long been filled with books about India – nearly all of which I have actually read – and now large parts of the floor are filled as well, up to about knee height. Reading is one thing, but actually going to India is another entirely. Usually an overwhelming experience, this time it will bring new excitements, and not a little pressure.
Just time to make a few more additions to the rough manifesto sketched out above.
One important area to clarify is my general approach to writing. What is to be found on this site is a personal strand of ideas, explorations of the core ideas that interest me. What appears in books is another strand, a more considered type of writing. The main difference is that I write as ‘me’ here, and in books I am trying to find a slightly more distanced view, to relate things that on reflection I believe to be true, for reasons that go beyond the simple believer’s validation – that I believe them. This is a traditional academic place to be, and in some ways I have no business being in there. I still get the feeling that someone in authority will appear any minute and throw me out.
So, the writing here is more personal, and less considered. This reflects my general understanding of myself – that I have a much more intellectual, less emotional approach to history than I do to politics. I consistently find that I am more interested in what human interactions actually produce – ideas, institutions – than in what I think they should produce. This leads me to be more interested in history (results we know about) than in present day political struggles, which I see partly as speculation, partly as side-taking and generally as morally compromised. Politicians spend an inordinate amount of time convincing us all that they and they alone (and their followers) have moral right on their side. It is not possible for them all to be morally superior.
Right and wrong are provisional and relative notions within politics. In history the point is to find out what happened and make the best stab at understanding it. This is not like politics.
I don’t think of myself as ‘in’ history. Possibly the true horizon of history – where it breaks with the present – is the point where this can first be true for the writer. And this will, of course, vary across individuals, and eras. Coming from the other direction – from past to present – the horizon of history is probably found at the point where we stop knowing how things turn out.
I am happy to separate the two elements of politics and history in my head, because most of history does not directly involve my personal interests at all. How could it? Yet so many people write history as if their own personal destinies were involved. This seems to me to be a mistake. It is certainly a way to write passionately, but not necessarily truly. People with strong political and religious beliefs tend to go down this route, and nowhere more so than in the writing of Indian history.
One Indian journalist has upbraided me (in a very fair review – here) for writing a ‘dry’ book, and I can easily accept that. From my point of view, I would not want to write one that was much ‘damper’. Well, not at the cost of truthfulness anyway.