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A Different Historyby Sujata Bhatt
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Introductory Activity: Analyse a history textbook
In groups, have a look at a school textbook.
  • What ‘history’ is presented in it?
  • From whose perspective? How can you tell?
  • Does it seem to support a particular paradigm or theory of history?
  • What kinds of sources do you find in it?
  • How are photos used?
  • How, if at all, are statistics used?
  • What gaps can you find?

To consider
1. Explore the connotations of the title. Whose? What? Why?
2. What image of India does the poem create?
3. How does the poet use the central idea of books to explore culture? Comment on the repetitive use of the word ‘sin’.
4. What ideas about language does the poem convey?
5. Is the tone humorous, ironic, or sarcastic? Find evidence to support your view.
6. How does the poet use repetition in the poem?
7. Explore the structure (e.g. does it appear to be in ‘parts’?) and layout of the poem.
8. Theme-oppressor vs oppressed (explore similar situation in other historical contexts, the psychological impact of such events) Look closely at the verbs/nouns used in the second part: ‘murder’,’torture’,’cropped’,’swooping’,’ conqueror’ and comment/ Find words that reinforce the image of oppression.
9. Has the culture changed due to ‘colonisation’? Who de we hold responsible for this?

Sarawathi is the Hindu Goddess of Learning and being disrespectful to books and defiling them is not only being disrespectful to the Goddess and thus committing a sin, it is also a reflection of one’s lack of ‘culture’ in the Indian context. If you upset the Gods, you will face the consequences, is the belief. Alongside this is the belief that you could be forgiven, if you have ‘sinned’ and it is ‘Godlike’ to forgive the offender (strong belief in the dictum that ‘to err is human but to forgive is ‘divine’!) Every ‘sinner’ has a way out if he seeks forgiveness directly from the person he has offended or from the Gods.

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Links -includes audio of A Different History read by the poet herself and an interview.