Speechs (Text)

Convocation Address at Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute Deemed University, Pune

August 31, 2018

Text of the Convocation Address delivered by Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe at Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute Deemed University, Pune

At the outset, let me congratulate the Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute — Deemed University for having done a truly pioneering work in institutionalising the study of archeology, museology, linguistics and Sanskrit. There are several examples of creation of a seminal and path breaking body of knowledge to the credit of this great institution. It really is an honour to be here in this great temple of knowledge.

Our scriptures say ‘Sa Vidya Ya Vimuktaye’! Knowledge has the power to liberate oneself from the darkness of ignorance. It’s a matter of great pride that the efforts of this premier institution at Rakhi Garhi in Haryana — I am told —have led to reconfirmation of the fact that the theory of Aryan Invasion is sham and is nothing more than a cleverly manufactured myth. I congratulate the Deccan College team that unearthed several new facts and once again, conclusively and convincingly rejected this Aryan Invasion theory.

At the very outset , let me also offer my respectful Pranams to two giants of Civilisational Studies namely Shridhar Bhaskar Varnekar, a great Sanskrit scholar, whose Birth Centenary we are celebrating these days and Vishnu Shridhar Vakankar, the "Pitamaha" of Rock Art School in India who carried out extensive work on Rock Art in India and abroad since 1954. In depth studies and several seminal works regarding rock arts in UK, Austria, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Greece, Mexico, Egypt and USA are to his creator and we will be celebrating his Birth Centenary from May 2019. While at this prestigious institute that had uniquely contributed to the study of archeology, I also offer my tributes to Late Dr Madhukar Dhavlikar , whose contribution in the development of this institution is simply unparalleled.

In fact I felt very humbled when I received the invitation for this Convocation, mainly because I am not a student of history, much less that of museology and archeology. However, as President of Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) I do deal with cultural diplomacy and soft Power related issues. And as we all know, History, Archeology, Museology as well as Linguistics and Sanskrit are all about Culture, I do try to gain some insight in these. I am using this occasion to share some of them with you today!

While on the one hand, there was a time in our country when the study of history was considered as a job of any tom, dick and harry, archeology and museology were considered as the most specialised knowledge systems. Due to this very perception, archeology and museology were looked at as reserved for only those who were keenly interested in digging into the past or preserving and showcasing the same, and consequently very difficult to be chosen as a field for any bright and glamorous career. To put it in other words, while the history of history was considered apparently attractive, both the present and the future of history was hardly considered as an IN THING, or something fashionable. Besides, it is also true that archeology and museology are considered as relevant career options only in niche areas. This is mainly because of the fact that its utilitarian value is considered as very low compared to its knowledge value. 

In this backdrop, I believe that the relationship between History and archeology with the present and the future needs to be made less obscure, more obvious and articulate to seek a rightful place in popular consciousness.

Modern, post-modern and post-truth are all terminologies that non academics consider hard to understand. Since most of us live more in the present, what is modern today is un-modern tomorrow, what is fresh today is stale tomorrow, what is trendy today is more likely to be out of fashion tomorrow. Hence, those who learn history must try to gauge the future of history. Unless every yesterday is given a rightful space in the consciousness of today and later tomorrow, the relationship between the past, present and future cannot and will not be appreciated the way it should be. I remember Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay, who had rightly described the civilisational journey of humankind as from the past, through the present and to the future.

History, archeology, museology and culture; I am extremely confident have a very bright future. It is not for no reason that schools of liberal arts in many IITs and other technology institutions are attracting a good number of students. This is because technocrats have understood the fact that poetry is inherent to history and archeology and while technology tells you how to live, poetry helps you understand why to live.

Remember, that identity is a still a very significant driving force and ‘back to the roots’ is the trend world over. Those who indulge in self denigration and self flagellation for our Govts changing the names of Bombay, Calcutta and Trivandrum to Mumbai, Kolkata and Thiruvananthpuram, ignore the fact that Peking was changed to Beijing, Ceylon to Sri Lanka  and Burma to Myanmar. 

Social scientists world over have realised that identity is not about anything primordial. Identity is a human requirement and although William Shakespeare asked what is in name? We all know that name has everything. Name is your first reference point, it is an inseparable part of your persona, your identity and it reminds you always as to Who you are.

History, Archeology and Museology are the three principal areas that deal with issues in and around identity. However, this fundamental significance of these subjects is, I am afraid, largely unknown to the students of these subjects. It is ironical therefore that while technocrats have discovered the music in museology, poetry in archeology and dramatics in history, many of ourselves who study these areas are perhaps oblivious to them.

Once, as a regular columnist for a Marathi daily I had interviewed Dr Sadashiv Gorakshkar, well known museologist and former director of the Prince of Wales Museum. Dr Gorakshkar had told me that if the importance of museology is to be reinforced, we have to appeal all institutions in our country, whether public or private, to have an archival section gradually to be converted into an in-house museum of those institutions. Whether commercial banks or industries, schools or public libraries, Govt offices or courts, jails or hospitals all should be mandated to set up a team and allocate financial resources for this. They must know that they are shaping the history of tomorrow and we as society can’t afford to allow them to be lackadaisical on this. This is of utmost importance to ensure that the future generations are able to respect their past.  Failure in investing adequate amount of efforts and resources for this, will cost us heavily in many ways.

Society at large needs to be made conscious of the fact if we don’t value the present, and thereby preserve, document, analyse, research and recognise the present times, generations next will find it easy to forget it. Localisation of history, archeology and museology would get great impetus if Local Self Govt bodies are mandated to have an independent department of archive and museum. If required, Govt can also think of making the setting up of such a Department compulsory. Should this happen, newer and brighter opportunities for students of archeology and museology will increase exponentially.

In so far as body of knowledge is concerned, I believe there are many areas research in which would greatly re-establish the relevance of archeology and museology to the contemporary times. When I take an impressionistic view as a bystander, I come across at least three significant areas in which, perhaps more work is essential. 

Firstly, people in India need to know as to what are the factors that brought misery, defeatism and a kind of inferiority complex to us during the last several centuries, as a society. Unless and until there is a well researched body of knowledge analysing the causes of decay and degeneration of any given society in a structured manner, I am afraid the ability to face the challenges of tomorrow may not be acquired easily. Diagnosis is central to the idea of healthcare and hence the criticality of studies around this is more than obvious.

Secondly, while we keep on telling each other about what we famously describe as Unity in Diversity, what is also essential is to emphasise the elements that bind us together than those who give sections of the society a so-called independent and distinguishing identity. Archeologists should tell us as to how our apparent diversity is the manifestation of our essential innate unity. Social studies in India have perhaps devoted disproportionately more resources in telling us how we are different from each other. True, that smaller identities of socially diverse groups are important, but in the Indian context it is an established fact that these are a part of a larger, holistic identity. I am more than convinced that it is high time; we evolve a branch like Integration Studies. And where else can this new branch of study find roots than in India? While in most parts of the world, there are scores of examples of a dominant language or language group adversely impacting the growth of other languages, in India four different language groups like Astro-Asiatic, Tibeto-Burman, Indo-Aryan and Dravidian are coexisting without any conflict and confrontation. This is what is essentially Indian assimilative approach. This is also a Democracy of Languages!

Lastly, I wonder as to whether we can also think of interdisciplinary studies that would evolve a branch like Archaeological Technology. If technocrats are befriending social sciences and humanities, social scientists also need to make deeper inroads in the fields of science and advanced technologies.  Those who study past can certainly not remain in the past and hence a futuristic vision of archeology and museology with technology interface needs special attention.

History, as compared to any other subject, compels one to look more deeply within. It tells you the starting point of your civilisational sojourn, and holds a mirror to you to realise how far Humanity has travelled and how short and insignificant is your individual journey so far. History and archeology help you look within introspect and think more profoundly of the present and the future. It provides you the underpinnings for your journey ahead. 

With this greatly humbling experience in the precincts of this great institution I once again express my gratitude for bestowing this honour upon me and conclude my address.