In India, we grant equal status to myth and history as records of the past, as vehicles of fact and truth. So, it should come as no surprise that as the nation is being remade, both myth and history have turned into battlegrounds and contested spaces as we seek justifications for our disparate visions of who we are and who we should be in the still young 21st century. The last decade has seen a profusion of reconfigured histories and re-visioned mythologies, almost all of them exclusionary, that have burst the banks of discourse and flooded the plains of our lives—monuments and people, as much as narratives, have become abominations, symbols of past terrors and injustices that must be eliminated. In the quest for national and cultural purity, on the basis of religion, caste and gender, more and more of us are being erased, as fully as possible, from the new narratives.
It is not enough to reduce homes and monuments of greater and lesser importance to rubble. These acts of righteous destruction have to be accompanied by narratives that generate a moral outrage that can be sustained and nurtured. And when the reality of the present proves inadequate to this task, we must seek that which lives in the imagination, a highly combustible space of infinite possibility that combines what we know from experience and what we are told by others. Ironically, it is in the imagination that both fact and truth are established. In a simple (if unsophisticated) formula, school books give us facts, mythologies give us truths. They must be reconstructed together if a new imagination is to be born. Fictions, too, can serve to bolster an imagination that is being formed and nurtured.