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“For many of us, history was never as “relevant” to the ambitions we cherished in school. After all, how were dates, and battles of long-dead kings going to help us become a great engineer, doctor, serial entrepreneur or even an astronaut or a pilot?” Pradeep Chakravarthy tells me.
“But, it appears that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. Take the example of Tirumeyyam, a sleepy town in Tamil Nadu. The town was the setting of a bitter religious dispute that was settled on 7 May 1245 – exactly 775 yrs ago. It was partitioned, a dividing wall erected and communities forced to relocate across the wall. If you read newspapers now, we are still fighting on the bases of religion, separating people and erecting walls against those we are angry with,” says Pradeep.
Pradeep feels our past is always relevant – even a thousand years later.
His passion for history is a tangible presence when you talk to him. A Chennai-based behaviourist, and a graduate from the London School of Economics, I asked him how the transition to being a history buff happened. And he told me that it began with the exploration of Peninsular India.
A Tryst With the Past:
“A chance visit to Tirumeyyam made me explore its history. It pulled me to the world of inscriptions carved in many monuments of India,” he says.
Tirumeyyam opened his eyes to the less explored field of South Indian history. What fascinated him, even more, is that these stories that occurred hundreds of years ago, are still relevant to contemporary problems, aspirations and passions.
“The problems that we have today, we had in the past as well. And history gives us a cheat sheet into understanding what may be the consequences of our actions. And by knowing how a certain king thought and acted and the consequences he faced later, we may be able to learn from him. We find that great kings were also prone to error and small kings could do great things – just like us,” he shares.
Before his visit to Tirumeyyam, Pradeep was into Political Science. He pursued his education from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and London School of Economics before coming back to India in 1998. He then worked in McKinsey & Company but in 2005, he heard the siren call of the stories of the past.
This newfound passion for history and untiring efforts to know more about our heritage and culture made Pradeep delve further into the history of our country. He started writing articles in renowned publications and authored books on the lesser-known temples of Tamil Nadu, Thanjavur’s cultural history and more.
Making History Relevant to The Young
When India imposed a nationwide lockdown, Pradeep began organising workshops for young learners and took history outside their textbooks and made it exciting, visual and relevant.
“The lockdown got me bored. So I collaborated with a friend to start a daily zoom call. I was provocative in my titles, eager to dispel the “boring”, “dry”, “irrelevant” tags of history. I also pushed for the unknown facts about South Indian history in textbooks that largely focus on the North and Mughals,” he shares.
So, his talks focused on things that firstly, were questions that puzzle young minds and secondly, were far from the bulky text one reads in history textbooks.
“Stories, ancient poems, sculptures and artwork all brought dynasties alive. The first batch had 77 children attending an hour a day. Most were logging in ahead of time, noted things down diligently and overwhelmed me with a range of questions – all of this when there were no exams! The attendees zoomed up to anywhere between 178-200 for the next session!” the Chennai historian shares.
He further adds that it is rather unfortunate that children today are not exposed to the wonderful arts and crafts that were common in the yesteryears. So with pictures and artefacts, he tries to bring alive that craftsmanship for his attendees. But that’s not all. The sessions also had subtle lessons to be learnt.
“They learnt that history can be relevant to their immediate and future lives, that it is connected to geography, maths, astronomy etc and that every dynasty is connected to multiple other dynasties and places!” exclaims Pradeep his excitement palpable.
Pradeep is currently working on a book about South India’s history tailored for children between the ages of 12-15 years. In normal times, he conducts heritage walks with MysticalPalmyra. You can check out more details about it here.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)