The princely state of Hyderabad was responsible for the first systematic documentation of the Ajanta caves, says Archaeology in India
It takes guts to write an ode to capitalism while the capital is crumbling. Sanjeev Sanyal has plenty of it. The Calcutta-born has written a book called The Indian Renaissance, published by Penguin Books India, which chronicles “India’s rise after a Thousand Years of Decline”.
“Keep the faith. Allow the bad innovations to die out,” is his advice to Americans. Capitalism, in Sanyal’s view, is a Darwinian system. It involves risk-taking. He faults the US federal government for keeping interests “ridiculously low” all this while and for not allowing the automobile behemoths to die out now. “For Darwinism to work some species have to die. It is painful but inevitable. Will America accept the change or go soft?” he wonders, sipping tea at Flury’s, having flown in from Delhi where he stays now.
Sanyal certainly has a problem with Barack Obama’s bail-out efforts, which smack of socialism. Just as he disagrees with the Nehru-Mahalanobis vision of the Indian economy post-Independence, and all the socialistic policy decisions, from import substitution to public sector monopoly.
All this, he points out, curbed India’s contact with the outside world. This he diagnoses as the root of the decay in all entities down the ages, from a language such as Sanskrit that stopped absorbing new words to a culture such as fifth century Europe’s when Christian zealots destroyed centres of learning. When Indian society, which once sent traders around the world, started to ostracise those who travelled overseas, it ceded ground to the Arabs, the Chinese and then the British in the Indian Ocean. “There is no point blaming the British for our decline. Had it not been them, it would have been some other plunderer,” he says.
In his view, India’s fall from pre-eminence in the world started from the eleventh century. He writes that 1991 could be “a turning point that was at least as important as 1947 and perhaps more”. Liberalisation, he says, was forced on India after the global oil crisis due to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
“If India has reacted better to the current crisis, it is because of the changes the economy has gone through since then,” says the former economic adviser to Deutsche Bank, whose passion is urban planning. “The lesson not to be learnt from the scenario is that liberalisation is bad,” he sums up.
The history of the Indian subcontinent has been rediscovered and reinterpreted by archaeologists and scholars. But archaeology in India was largely thought of as activities of the Archaeological Survey of India, when there have been countless significant initiatives and discoveries by individuals and institutions long before Independence.
On April 6, the book Archaeology in India: Ideas, Individuals and Institution, edited by Gautam Sengupta and Kaushik Gangyopadhyay, will be launched at the National Museum, Delhi. The 416-page illustrated tome — with 20 essays by eminent researchers from all over India, rare photographs and maps — tries to capture the larger multilinear narrative of Indian archaeology.
Before Independence, the desire to establish regional identity spurred some important archaeological discoveries such as those made by Kamrup Anusandhan Samity of Assam that spearheaded the quest into Assam’s past and similar initiatives in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Bihar. The book pays homage to princely states, such as Hyderabad, whose archaeological enterprise was responsible for the first systematic documentation of the Ajanta caves, and to the Gaekwads of Baroda who amassed the astounding collection of the Baroda museum.
It sheds light on the contributions of individuals, including Colonel Colin Mackenzie, who rescued the Sanchi Stupa from oblivion in 1797 and HD Sankalia, known as the founder of academic archaeology in India, geologist Valentine Ball, who pioneered studies into Indian prehistory and Alexander Cunningham, India’s first official archaeologist.
There is an essay by V. Selva Kumar on the Arikamedu, which as an Indo-Roman site holds important clues to the external influences on India’s past. Modern research finds due coverage. There is a reminiscence by MC Joshi on his experiences as the last archaeologist director-general of the Archaeological Survey of India. The book is dedicated to Joshi, who didn’t live to see it in print.
The book, produced jointly by the Centre for Archaeological Studies and Training and publisher Munshiram Manoharlal of Delhi, is priced at Rs 1,450.