PM finds time for daughter’s trek into ancient history

August 6th, 2008 - 1:01 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Aug 5 (IANS) His daughter did not speak a word about him - not even the ritualistic thank you mom-and-dad speech that goes with such ceremonies. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh didn’t seem to mind. He loved every moment of it as Upinder Singh held forth on the magic and mystery of bringing ancient Indian history alive as her mould-breaking book on ancient Indian history was launched at the Hotel Taj Mahal here Tuesday night.

Away from the hurly-burly of politics, Manmohan Singh sat quietly with his wife Gursharan Kaur, son-in-law Vijay Tankha, a professor of philosophy at the St. Stephen’s College, and scores of relatives and friends, listening to his daughter.

Scores of diplomats, cultural commissars, academics, history buffs and students of Upinder Singh turned up to toast this rare attempt at history writing that subverts academic clich├ęs and seeks to bring centuries of Indian history close to their life as they live and experience it.

“A book that can be read by all kinds of people, students, teachers and just about everybody,” Upinder Singh, a professor of history at the Delhi University (DU), said describing her book “A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India”, published by Pearson Education.

“Writing the book was a kind of catharsis. Reading history can be a joyous experience,” said Upinder Singh, who had taught history at the St. Stephen’s for over two decades before joining the DU.

“It’s not a light, frothy entertainer. This book shows how the history of South Asia can be constructed,” she said.

Her passion for history and history-writing was palpable as she underlined that she wanted to communicate, rather than lecture, through this form of history-writing that combines high seriousness with an engaging narrative and exquisite photographs that tell the story of ancient India in all its glory and little-known details ranging from Sangam poetry and hymns of Rig Veda to artfully executed pottery of the Stone Age.

Above all, the book-launch event also turned out to be an occasion for inspired camaraderie as her students, teachers and fellow travellers from the St. Stephens’s tuned up in numbers to celebrate this passionate attempt at breathing life into a subject that many are wont to treat as just history.

“A teacher has enormous transformative power,” Upinder Singh said in a generous tribute to teachers and the vocation of teaching that appears to be a little out-of-fashion in these market-driven times.

Manmohan Singh, who once taught at the Delhi School of Economics long before he started India on its reforms journey and became prime minister of the country, knew what her daughter was talking about. And remembered happier times when he was better off teaching than shouldering the burdens of more than a billion people of India.

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