Sunday, June 19, 2005

An End to Suffering by Pankaj Mishra

The western idea of history can be so seductive, with its promise of adding an extra emotional and spiritual dimension and validation to our limited life; with its ability to brighten the future and the past. It is especially attractive when you imagine yourself to be on its right side, and see yourself, in the way Jacquemont, Moorcroft and de Koros did, as part of an onward march of progress. To have faith in one's history is to infuse hope into the most inert landscape and a glimmer of possibility into even the most adverse circumstance.

Reading about these European travellers, I envied their ability to insert their personal being into the impersonal flow of events. Many years later, I would stand on a hill in civil-war-ravaged Afghanistan, where modern-day fundamentalists of the Taliban had vented their political rage on statues of the Buddha. I tried to imagine the Greek colony of Bactria, as this place had once been called, where Buddhist monks had set up their monasteries and universities, from where the Buddha's ideas of detachment and compassion had travelled westwards.

I thought then that one needed only the right historical information in order to see both forwards and backwards in time. But there are places on which history has worked for too long, and neither the future nor the past can be seen clearly in their ruins or emptiness.


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