History in the Present Tense: On Sumit Sarkars 'Modern India
IN THE REGENT YEARS, as several universities have gone through the motions of revising their syllabi for under-graduate and postgraduate students, there has been considerable discussion on the availability of adequate text-books. The discussion has, however, mainly veered round the question of the language of the text-books, their physical availability and, only occasionally, on their quality. Rarely, if at all, has there been much discussion on the very role of text-books, such as they are, in under-graduate and post-graduate education in Indian universities. Are text-books mere starting points of education or do they represent the very end of education—veritable encyclopaediae on particular subjects—meant to tell students all, omitting no detail howsoever slight ? What is the relationship between the teacher and the text-book ? Do text books become substitutes for the teacher ?
Since the role of text-books has never been adequately discussed, the purveyors of packaged knowledge have made hay. Bearing the heavy burden of unfiltered knowledge, the clients in the educational system— the students—have been forced to accept as common currency the 'Bazaar Notes* which have encapsulated the information and analysis required of them to pass out through the narrow gates of academe. And, as the numbers of such 'Guides', "Notes' and ^eys' have proliferated, inculcation of logical thinking, the honing up of the scientific investigation, critical analysis and even good reading have been pushed inexorably to the edges of the academic scene.
In supplying such packaged knowledge, which saves the young student the trouble of reading anything else, or thinking for himself, private enterprise has to date played the most important role. In the field of history, the prolific L Mukherjee, the redoubtable V D Mahajan or the partnership of Grover and Sethi, etc, have helped thousands of students in passing examinations. Recently, however, the State Text Book Corporations, the National Council of Educational Research and Training and the National Book Trust have made the production of packaged knowledge a public sector activity also.