Appropriating the Bard of Avon’s very own famous words…

to be

No one is infallible and we all make mistakes, but some errors are more forgiveable than others.  And when Indians distort facts and history one has to ask whether this is a case of delusions of grandeur or just plain simple lack of knowledge.

When Academic Director a few weeks ago in his address to the parents still put Tony Blair in charge of Britain, he could be let off the hook.  Let’s face it, the British colonial powers left Indian soil a few generations ago, so the need to keep abreast of what goes on in far flung corners of the globe has lost its relevance and accurate factual knowledge of who takes the decisions in Great Britain is hardly going to affect Indian daily life.

Even Academic Director attributing the theory of heliocentrism (sun as the centre of the solar system) to the great Indian mathematician cum astronomer Aryabhata rather than crediting the European Copernicus and Galilei could be overlooked.  After all, those theories have been around for a while and the line between who said what first can become a little blurred.  In fact there is some vagueness about Aryabhata as his assertions were neatly written in verse format sometime in the 5th century AD, leaving a lot of his ideas open to interpretation by other scholars.  And indeed Wikipedia, the modern fountain of all wisdom, would have us believe that Aryabhata was an advocate of the geocentric (sun moving around the earth, not the other way round) theory, although he may not have entirely discarded the possibility of the sun being in the centre of the universe.  Hedging his bets??? Who came up with an idea first is sometimes hard to establish as West and East have done a fair amount of mingling over the centuries starting with Alexander The Great’s Indian elephant safari which undoubtedly also led to an exchange of philosophical, mathematical and astronomical knowledge.  Further incursions and muddying of the waters will have come with the Mughal Empire and the Muslim rulers which will have seen a confluence of Indian and Arab thinking.  And then, of course, there were the Europeans in India: the Dutch, the Portuguese and the British who once ruled the seas.  So can we be absolutely sure that Copernicus and Galileo were totally unaware of the astronomical writings of Aryabhata, as the Indian man certainly did some serious groundwork on the mathematical side??  So, in the spirit of ancient history coming with an element of guesswork, there is no harm in letting Indians believe everything great was produced in their nation, although we can be pretty sure that Copernicus and Galilei were a lot more vocal and confident about their theory than their Indian predecessor.

But I draw the line, when it comes to literature.  There can be no doubt that the most famous line of all: ‘To be or not to be.  That is the question.’  cannot be accredited to Gandhiji.  He may have used the quote in a speech, I would not know, but every person on the planet – who is not Indian (?) – will recognise the agonising words of Hamlet when contemplating his own demise.  To live or not to live!  And when this was written on the board by an English teacher I could not let the matter rest…  and took a photograph.  I did (obviously) have a little word with said teacher, who laughed and said: ‘Silly me, of course Shakespeare.  I think I meant to write: ‘Do or Die’ which was said by Gandhi….’   And although there seems to be an overwhelming consensus on the internet that these words belong to Gandhi, the longest list of ‘Essential Quotes of Mahatma Gandhi’ does not include them…

However,  the quote below is definitely one of Gandhi’s and one I must make the school management aware of each and every time they attempt to turn back the clock of progress.  India will never change if no one is brave enough to be a change-maker.


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