A Past Without History

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639 Ashis Nandy, A past without history

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A past without history

Ashis Nandy, political psychologist, social theorist and cultural and political critic, in conversation with Hilal Ahmed and Priyadarshini
Vijaisri, CSDS
How would you look at the project of writing a history of the Centre?
This question is significant because your work has had a great impact on the writing of colonial histories with a critical stance to the very project of history and historiography. How would you react to the idea of tracing the past in the disciplinary mode? Similarly, as the Centre reflects on its past, what do you think are the possible ways in which its institutional biography could be written?
I look at this project with great enthusiasm but with a robust skepticism too. I am excited because this is an important project, but at the same time I am skeptical of the entire enterprise of history itself.
As a psychologist, I recognize the fact that everybody requires an ancestry – real or imaginary, genuine or fake. However, the modes by which such lineages are traced and constituted by communities in the realm of everyday experiences do not entirely depend on what is often called professional ‘history’. History is just one kind of engagement with the past, which absolutizes it in such a way that the inner world of human emotions, sentiments, motives and pains are erased to accommodate the larger impersonal forces or compulsions of history.
There are other possible constructions of the past – public memories, legends, myths and popular stories – which represent a very different world. Our engagements through them operate within a moral universe which reminds constantly about the relevance of remembering and forgetting. The markers of distinction and sameness, imaginations of

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