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Ramya Maddali on Rudrangshu Mukherjee

AVery Brief History of Time Spent

I am against the practice of taking notes in class. ‘Running notes’ as they were called in school never appealed to me because I like to give the teacher undivided attention. If I am unable to, I create meaningless art-cartoons and figures that fight to death for space on my pages. But the faculty of the Young India Fellowship have redefined teaching and Prof. Rudrangshu Mukherjee, a celebrated Indian historian and author, is that redefinition. By the end of his quota often lectures, which I thought was too small a number, my notebook had not a single doodle but was crammed with every word that he gifted us. It’s a veritable replica of his lectures in print. What made me violate my principle of anti-notes, I wonder. Was it because I wanted to remember his exact words that gave me goose bumps, sending me back two hundred years in twenty minutes? Or was it because I wanted evidence to gloat to my not-so-fortunate friends back home that I took a History course like no other? Or maybe I became a scribe for Mr. Mukherjee’s lectures because I knew that I will want to skim through these notes someday to recreate those moments that he created for us in those ten lectures. I suppose it’s a combination of all three. Time tends to lose all meaning in his classes. We go back in India’s time but the time on the wall clock races ahead: one minute it is one in the afternoon when his lecture starts and the next, it is three, signalling the end of his lecture and we would be shipped back rudely to the present.

When I learnt that we had a ‘History’ course in the second term, I groaned inwardly because I was sick of studying India’s freedom struggle for the fourth time, having done it three times at school! But Mr. Mukherjee’s course was called ‘Reason and the Making of Modern India’, not ‘How India freed itself for the nth time’. The course dealt with ten thinkers or reformers, whose ideas shaped our past and continue to influence our present. He made it clear to us that mere facts were not as crucial as were the causes, consequences and the reasoning behind a particular event. I never knew this; I always thought ‘History is all about remembering dates’!

Mr. Mukherjee shattered illusions left, right and centre, illusions that we, as students,were forced into believing by our textbooks. For instance, Mangal Pandey was not a prominent figure in the revolt of 1857 nor was this revolt the ‘The first War of Independence’, as it was referred to in the NCERT books of our time. I use ‘was’ because now, thanks to his intervention, the books have been revised.He wouldn’t throw a bunch of details about the reformer for us to remember.Instead he would hold our mind’s hand in his and walk us through the reformer’s life from the start to the finish, telling us in detail what the events were that led the reformer to reform or the thinker to think and the revolutionary to revolutionize. He was neither overtly humble nor arrogant. He knew how good he was and he knew, by the deafening silence that his voice commands, how much we enjoyed his tales.

I requested Mr. Mukherjee a couple of times to come back to YIF on some pretext or the other, say a guest lecture. He didn’t make any promises. I am waiting for him, waiting to be transported again on an unforgettable cruise along the ocean that is our past. I must keep an empty notebook with me, just in case.

Ramya Maddali

YIF Fellow,Class of 2014

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