In Season 6 of the Game of Thrones, an American epic fantasy television drama series, an adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels, one of the characters Lord Baelish poignantly remarks, The realm You know what the realm is? Its a thousand blades of Aegons enemies, A story we agreed to tell each other over and over till we forget it was a lie
Replace the word Realm with Civilization and we are closer to the view that is espoused by Ranjit Hoskote and Ilija Trojanow in a remarkable book titled, Confluences: Forgotten Histories From East and West.
Perfectly poised under hybridity, the book locates the formation of culture at the brink of civilizations and resurrects histories that have been forgotten. The authors locate culture formation in the tributaries that lead up to the ocean that have been forgotten in the annals of a particular kind of history or as they call it, the great river.
But do not be mistaken.The book is not merely about highlighting the formation of culture via hybridity. It uses hybridity to ward off the evil arguments of identity politics and gears the intellect with the armour to be free. To be free of identity as promoted by the neo-culture we are presently located in. It gives us the perspective to fight off the naturalization that our education system or the lack of it, the polity, the society, promotes. Urging us at every step to fight the thought and the passions whipped ‘in the name of difference’.
To quote from Ranjit and Ilija, ‘by the time cultural achievements become sufficiently established in public consciousness as to be taught in school, the turmoil of their evolution has been forgotten. The confluences of every culture are concealed, and homogenizing foundational myths are installed in its place.’
One of the things which the book succinctly is able to do is to arm intellectuals against the fight against homogenization, particular strands of globalization and especially identity politics.
It is a delight to be reading the book and searing with anger and pleasure at the same time. Pleasure to have your perspective shifted and armed, anger for it having been naturalized to have fallen into the trappings of a euro-centric history and worldview, amongst other things. At multiple levels the authors have been able to debunk several myths and narratives of continuity as they traverse through deconstructing connections between Europe and Asia, Zoroastrianism and Christianity, western revolutionary thought and the destructive politics of Jihad and Hindutva.
To quote from it, ‘being used to regarding reality through maps, we tend to see the blue stretch of water as a division; more often, it is a fluid bridge.’ It is this fluidity that the book espouses and uses to debunk the notions of identity politics which would make US v/s THEM the norm of the individuals identity and the daily being. ‘Although globalisation is currently depicted as a celebration of diversity, the dominant elites of every tribe continue to define cultures in opposition to one another.’ It opposes singular pasts. It is in some ways armouring the individual to redefine himself by steering the individual away from the tribalism of our times.
Confluences attempts to uncover the ‘ancestry of confluences’ from the quagmire of the river of history. It takes us through the influence that links Panchatantra, Hitopadesha, Thousand and One Nights, Canterbury Tales, Decameron ….constantly arming the memory. Urging us ‘To remember where something came from (is) to acknowledge the many sources of culture and the many debts that each civilization owes others.’
Not to be mistaken by the simplicity of style and language, the book is breathtakingly researched as it traverses through various histories. Histories of culture, music, art, food, religion, the history of thought itself.
It goes straight down the heart of the euro-centrism of culture and debunks renaissance as a purely European phenomenon. Through the various examples from history of thought, Ranjit and Ilija are able to place renaissance as a mere offshoot in a larger global context. They elucidate on how philosophical thought and literary imagination, the two pillars of renaissance were augmented by hybridity. It is this hybridity which emerges as the true winner or hero of the book. Through the research and the simplicity of style the authors are able to showcase the transformation of the Mediterranea into the Continent of Europe and bring into question the political identity and assentations that have made Europe the only Penisnula in the world to have been given the status of a Continent.
The approach and the simple style peppered with fables, poetry and fiction make Confluences a very powerful force against the puritanism of culture and the identity politics that has become the norm of every nation state.
It is a noble attempt, hopefully a new beginning in a new kind of intellectual questioning of culture and identity that frees the thought from the bigotry of fundamentalism. It is an interesting and a disruptive fact to know that the chants of Ole Ole in the European football stadiums is nothing but the resonating sound of the Arab word for God: Allah. Almost all of the Saviour narrative were invented by Zoroastrianism, the religion of ancient Persia.
It puts the canonical and classical through the x-rays of hybridity and what gets reflected is just a history of conflict and confluence.
The book is peppered with several episodes and stories in the formation of culture as we know it today. It traverses the stream of thought to show the various disruptions that made it possible for one civilization to take from the other.
Confluences promotes diversity against singularity. It guards us against a monolithic version of history and culture.
The book comes at a great time as the world is orchestrated in a struggle against Jihadist stands, the US led misadventures in the Arab world, Euro-centrism against Islamicism (Turkey for all its achievements is still perceived as an Islamist state and not a part of European Union), and the growing discourse of a new messiah of India (read Hinduism) in Narendra Modi. Even the Gujarati culture is now bereft of the tributaries that went into making it.
While the world forces us to be a part of either ‘US’ or with ‘Them’ as if these were the only options of being in life, Confluence reenergizes the hybrid and empowers the individual to take solace in the abnormal, the non-normalized strands of persona beyond the trappings of the monolithic cultures we are gradually and subliminally being forced to become part of.
Hybrid is powerful, Hybrid is disruptive. ‘After all the hybrid threatens the stability of the Society and the State, subverts the Gospel truth of “One People, One Nation, One culture”’ The book is a must read. If it weren’t for the archaic thought structures that rule the Indian education system, it would be a stepping stone into a better world if it were made a compulsory part of the curriculum. It more than demonstrates ‘that confluence is the most vital and dynamic energy in the development of human culture. Confluence is to Culture what Gravity is to Nature’.
In order to fight this selective amnesia that certain politics of forgetting and puritanism propagates, confluence positions itself as a corrective against this puritanism and selective amnesia of the politics of identity.
Confluence is much more than just being against puritanism of culture. It is a handbook of intellectual self-defence in the face of identity politics. It arms you against the manufactured fictions of identity politics.
To quote the end of the book, ‘We conclude with a syllogism of our own: to embrace culture is to renounce conflict, to renounce conflict is to embrace culture.’
Naved Farooqui is a media and marketing consultant with Times group.