An interview with Bhagwan Gidwani of 'Tipu Sultan', the TV serial, fame, and now the author of 'The Return of Aryans'.
Montreal based 72-year-old NRI author Bhagwan Gidwani could easily pass off as an energetic 62 on Bombay's stressed out streets. Sustained by the comforts of a retired senior bureaucrat's pension in the cool Canadian air, the man thrives on controversy, and has found that it pays. That certainly was the case with his historical novel on Tipu Sultan which inspired Sanjay Khan's mega serial The Sword of Tipu Sultan. It managed to antagonise both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists - the former because it portrayed Tipu as exceptionally tolerant towards his Hindu subjects, the latter because he was not sufficiently orthodox.
His latest offering, The Return of the Aryans, is another historical novel which hit the stands recently and has already been widely noticed, especially by TV producers including the Hindujas, for conversion into another TV serial. It contends that the Aryans did not come down to civilise ancient India from northern Asia and Europe as is widely believed by historians and archaelogists, but rather that they went out from Sind on the banks of the Indus river and civilised the rest of the world.
Meanwhile Gidwani claims that this huge 944-page blockbuster is his magnum opus - a book he has been working on for the last 18 years.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q. Why has your Aryan novel taken so long?
A. While the title is the The Return of the Aryans, the book actually has much more to do with the forgotten, ancient roots of Hinduism. You will notice that the story of the Aryans only begins on page 697 of my novel.
Q. Why doesn't the title say so then?
A. Because a novel with the word 'Hindu' or 'Hinduism' will have no market, certainly not an international market. Nor even an Indian market, come to think of it. And this is the whole point: over the last 40 years or so, Hinduism has become an ebmarrassment for the Hindus themselves.
Many NRI novelists and even intellectuals like Dinesh D'Souza in the USA, have made careers out of denigrating Hinduism and traditional Indian culture; the press has portrayed Hindu India as obscruntist at best, casteist at worst; the politicians have exploited Hinduism for electioneering and greatly vulgarised both our religion and our culture.
This would not be a problem if Hinduism was some minor culture. But that is not so. I think it is the best set of ideas produced by human civilisation. No religion comes close to it in terms of its open-mindedness, its pluralism and generosity of spirit.
So what I want to do is restore a sense of pride about Hinduism among Indians everywhere. And this cannot be done without a sense of its history, which is so little-known even to my generation, let alone our children and grandchildren.
Q. But where do the Aryans figure in all this?
A. Well, the Aryans were Hindus before they became Aryans. I know this will scandalise the historians, especially since the claim comes from one who is clearly an intruder in their realm. But my starting point was a basic puzzle: why have we educated Indian - especially the historians among us - accepted the western argument that the Aryans came down to this subcontinent from the north? I've read some 150 major historical books on this subject, but nowhere do they give any real proof, only guesses, of the Aryans having originated in the north.
Implicitely aware of this lack, those historians and archaelogists bolster their Euro-Aryan thesis by citing similarities between Sanskrit and Latin, or that the originals of some names of river and mountains mentioned in our ancient texts can be found in Eurasia up north. Yes, but my point is that these coincidences can just as well be interpreted the other way round: i.e. as signs of Aryans from India having travelled there.
Why not? I'll tell you why not: because looking at us today, and even more yesterday as a colony under the heel of the British raj, it is inconceivable to the advanced West that we could have civilised them.
Our historians should take up my book's contentions and test them. They may not agree with me, but the discussion will be enriching. We can quarrel over something important.
Q. What personal need do these ancient, in fact you call them 'pre-ancient', legends and 'memory-songs' answer for you as an NRI?
A. Let me speak about NRI community as a whole because the book has been such a hit among them. Hinduism is much older, grander than Aryan saga, and what has appealed to the NRI is the Hindu aspect of my novel. Hindu NRIs in North America and also in other countries live in an emotional island surrounded by a sea of western culture which will soon swallow us, unless we find the resources to resist. And India today is no help in this regard.
The NRI is disappointed with India; we don't feel that sending our children here is a good thing. We now fear that that will give them the worst of both worlds - in India today you have technology without scientific wisdom, consumerism without culture. The message is that Hinduism as practised here today offers no hope, no pride, no solace.
And yet, of course, there are many more NRIs coming to India today than earlier, but this is a marriage of convenience whose bond on both sides is money.
But in matters of the heart, it is only ancient India which confirms the belief that we were great once. And if so, then we can be great again. One can believe that the present degradation is a temporary phase. That's my book, in a nutshell.
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