As I’ve habit of reading anything from the last page, I started reading the "Glimpses of World History" from the last page. I read first the last letter which is 196th letter written by him to his daughter. Into that, he tells he has spread out a lot of swadeshi ink on swadeshi paper to write the previous 195 letters. Was it worth while, he wonders? Will all this paper and ink convey any message to her that will interest her? But he thinks himself that she will say yes; of course she will feel that any other answer might hurt him.
In the same letter he tells her that she must not take what he has written in those letters as the final authority on any subject. A politician wants to have a say on every subject, and he always pretends to know much more than he actually does. He has to be watched carefully. He admits in the letter that there may be many errors as a prison, with no libraries or reference books at hand, is not the most suitable place to write on historical subjects.
He tells her that he has given the barest outline; this is not a history; they are just fleeting glimpses of our long past. If history interests her, if she feels some of the fascination of history, she will find her way to many books which will help her to unravel the threads of past ages. But reading books alone will not help. If she would know she must look upon it with sympathy and with understanding. To understand a person who lived long ago, you will have to understand his environment, the conditions under which he lived, the ideas that filled his mind. It is absurd for us to judge the past people as if they lived now and thought as we do. There is no one to defend slavery today and the great Pluto held that the slavery was essential. We can not judge the past from the standards of the present. Every one will willingly admit this. But every one will not admit the equally absurd habit of judging the present by the standards of the past. The various religions have especially helped in petrifying old beliefs and faiths and customs, which may have had some use in the age and the country of their birth, but which are singularly unsuitable in our present age.
If, then, you look upon past history with the eye of sympathy, the dry bones will fill up with flesh and blood, and you will see a mighty procession of living men and women and children in every age in every clime, different from us and yet very like us, with much the same human virtues and human failings. History is not a magic show, but there is plenty of magic in it for those who have eyes to see.
The past brings us many gifts; indeed, all that we have today of culture, civilization, science, or knowledge of some aspects of the truths, is a gift of distant or recent past to us. It is right that we acknowledge our obligation to the past. But the past does not exhaust our duty or obligation. We owe our duty to the future also, and perhaps that obligation is even greater than the one we owe to the past. For the past is past and done with, we cannot change it; the future is yet to come, and perhaps we may be able to shape it a little. If the past has given us some part of truth, the future also hides many aspects of the truth, and invites us to search for them.
History, it is said, has many lessons to teach us; and there is another saying that history never repeats itself. Both are true; for we cannot learn anything from it by slavishly trying to copy it, learn something from it by prying behind it and trying to discover the forces that move it. Even so, what we get is seldom a straight answer. “History,” says Karl Marx “has no other way of answering old questions than by putting new ones.”
The old days were the days of faith, blind, unquestioning faith. The wonderful temples and mosques and cathedrals of past centuries could never have been built but for the overpowering faith of the architects and builders and people generally. The very stones that they reverently put one on top of the other, or carved into beautiful designs, tell us of this faith. The old temple spire, the mosques with its slender minarets, the Gothic cathedrals—all of them pointing upward with an amazing intensity of devotion, as if offering a prayer in stone or marble to the sky above—thrill us even now, though we may be lacking in that faith of old of which they are the embodiments. But the days of that faith are gone, and gone with them is that magic touch in stone. Thousands of temples and mosques and cathedrals continue to be built, but they lack the spirit that made them live during the Middle Ages. There is little difference between them and the commercial offices which are so representative of our age.
Our age is different one; it is an age of disillusion, of doubt and uncertainty and questioning. We can no longer accept many of the ancient beliefs and customs; we have no more faith in them, in Asia or in Europe or America. So we search for new ways, new aspects of truth more in harmony with our environment. And we question each other and debate and quarrel and evolve any number of “isms” and philosophies. As in the days of Socrates, we live in an age of questioning, but that questioning is not confined to a city like Athens; it is world-wide.
In the same letter he writes, it is easy to admire the beauties of the universe to live in a world of thought and imagination. But to try to escape in this way from the unhappiness of others, caring little what happens to them, is not sign of courage or fellow-feeling. Thought, in order to justify itself, must lead to action. “Action is the end of thought.”, says Romain Rolland. “All thought which does not look towards action is an abortion and a treachery. If we are the servants of thought we must be the servants of action.”
People avoid action often because they are afraid of the consequences, for action means risk and danger. Danger seems terrible from a distance; it is not so bad if you have a close look at it. And often it is a pleasant companion, adding to the zest and delight of life. The ordinary course of life becomes dull at times, and we take too many things for granted and have no joy in them. And yet how we appreciate these common things of life when we have lived without them for a while!
And here he closes his last letter giving 35th poem or prayer from ‘Gitanjali’ by Rabindra Nath Tagore:--
“Where the mind is without fear and
The head is held high;
Where the knowledge is free;
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
So that’s all. We will meet very soon with a new letter.