Thinking About Time
There was a time when you were not born, when your mother was herself a child. And, of course, there must have been a time when she was not born either, nor your grandmother, nor your great-grandmother. How old are you? If you are ten or twelve, your mother must be about thirty years old. And your mother's mother perhaps fifty or sixty years. Can you imagine what it must have been like a hundred years ago? A hundred years seems a very long time. It is as long as a man can live. But countries are much older than men, and a hundred years is very little time in their lives. Some countries are older than others. The country in which we live is one of the oldest in the whole world. Can you guess how old India is? Well, she is many thousand years old.
People have been living in India for thousands and thousands of years. We know a good deal about people who lived nearly 6,000 years ago. We know how they lived, and what they did. If you could, by some magic, meet the children of those days you would not find them very different from you. This is very remarkable. The seeds of what we are today were sown right at the beginning of India’s history. This is what we mean when we say that India has a continuous history of nearly 6,000 years. There are not many countries with a history so old.
Have you ever counted the colours in a rainbow? It has many, but they are all a part of the rainbow, and you cannot separate them. In some ways, our country is like the rainbow. People of many races have come to India at different times. There have been wars with the people who were already settled in the country. But in the end those who came from outside to make India their home, found themselves, their way of life and their ideas slowly accepted by the country, and made her own. This happened again and again through the ages. There came the Aryans; after them people came from Central Asia and Mongolia and other countries. Some came to conquer; some to travel and see the country. Still others came to study at India’s great universities. The result was that everything we call Indian is made up of many strands, just like the rainbow.
This did not happen in a day; it took thousands of years. It is not easy to think of thousands of years, is it? That is what history tries to do. History is just a long long story. Instead of being about fairy princes and magic carpets, it is about real people. And it is a story that tries to be true.
It is a wonderful story, the story of India, and you must know it for many reasons. Great men and women have been born here, and their greatness in a way belongs to you. It is your heritage and you can be proud of it. There have been times in our history of which we cannot be so proud, but these also you must know. To know what you are, you must know your past both what is good about it and what is bad.
But don’t you always want to hear a story from the very beginning?
Right at the beginning of our story is the land of India, which we love. The ordinary people and the great men, the brave kings and the saints, about whom you will read, also loved this same land and called it home.
Some day you will travel and see the whole country for yourself. But until then you can see India on the map. It looks like a huge triangle. The great Himalaya Mountains in the north form one side; the western coast washed by the Arabian Sea forms the second side; the eastern coast on the Bay of Bengal is the third. Just below the Himalayas are rich plains, through which flow three big rivers of India the Indus, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra. India gets her name from the Indus, also called Sindhu. It had a lot to do with the story of our country. But the land through which it flows became Pakistan and was separated from India some years ago. Across the middle of the country lie the Vindhya Mountains, separating the north from the south. The big rivers of the south are Narmada, Tapti, Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri. The tip of land at the extreme south is washed by the Indian Ocean.
Before people knew how to make ships, the only way to come to India was across the mountains in the north. But the Himalayas, as you know, are the highest mountains in the world and it is not easy to cross them. In these mountains there are small gaps called passes. It is through these passes that large numbers of people were able to come into the country from time to time. If the Himalayas had not been there at all, the whole story of India might have been different.
The Himalayas and the sea, mighty boundaries given to us by nature, have held India together as one country through the ages. This holding together is a remarkable thing, because lndia is a very large country. It has many different kinds of people, who speak different languages; it has many different kinds of scenery, and many kinds of climate.
You and your friends have different names. That is because you belong to different families. There is another kind of family that is much bigger. It is called a race. The Indian nation is made of a number of racial streams. How can you tell one race from another? Usually, you can tell one race from another by the way people look; the colour of the skin, the shape of the nose, and so on. But in India it is almost impossible to tell one race from another because they have become quite mixed. These various people have not always lived in India. We do not know for certain how or when many of them came.
People who live in the southern part of India speak what are known as the Dravidian languages Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. People living in the north speak the Aryan languages, which were born of Sanskrit. Some of them are Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi and Gujarati. People living in the hills of northeast India speak Tibeto-Burman tongues. We also have some other tribal people who live in remote forest areas. They are called Adivasis, which means the first inhabitants. They speak their own ancient dialects.
We do not know the full story of how all these people came to make up India. But this much we do know. When the Aryan people came to India there were already people in India who built big cities and carried on trade with other countries.
The earliest Indians we know something about are people who lived in the valley of the river Indus.