On the opening page of his only book ‘The Histories’, the great Greek historian Herodotus explains why he set out to write it in the first place : ‘The purpose is to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time.’ A simple goal, yet the founding block of our civilization. Herodotus was obsessed with memory, even scared of it. For him, memory was something defective, fragile, impermanent or even illusory. It can simply vanish without leaving a trace. His whole generation was possessed by the same fear. Memory is what elevates man above beasts, and yet at the same time so unreliable, so elusive.
We are not obsessed with memory as Herodotus was. We live in abundance of memory – search engines, books, documentaries, libraries, audio and video recordings and archives. Countless words, sounds and images have been recorded by the human civilization and it is now being done on an unprecedented scale. History and communication are the two pillars on which our societies have been formed. In most animals, history is something genetic and biological, it forms the basis of all their actions but we as human beings, have managed to engage with history on two levels – biological level and also an emotional and intellectual level- the other side of history that forms the basis of our knowledge and our wisdom.
But there are questions that haunt us – are we any wiser than people in 400 BC were? Many will say we are not. Some nostalgics will even say that we are worse off than people in elder generations were. And yet none of them would argue that we stop recording history, stop writing words, and capturing images; for all of our foolishness can be attributed to lack of knowledge of history. We have written about tyrants, genocides, wars, injustices, sufferings – only in the hope that future generations will learn from past.
The only serious challenge that has been posed to the written word and our recorded history has been from the Buddha. It may seem strange that the most wisest among human being never wrote a word, and advised his followers to live in the moment. But Buddha understood that memory is also the root cause of all our mental suffering. Our past affects our present more deeply than we can understand and forces us to constantly worry about our future. The experience is so enchanting, the sense of calm we feel when we try to follow Buddha’s words on living in the present, and yet, we have never thought about letting go of our memory, our history.
Herodotus and Buddha, both have been proved irrelevant over the years, and yet here I am, writing about these two men. A young man like me has a lot of goals when he sets out to write something, He maybe wants to change the world, or he wants to become immortal through his thoughts, when he’s wiser enough, he wants to prevent the traces of human events being erased by time. In the short term, he wants to get famous, be admired, or simply wants to earn some money. But on a deeper level, it’s always about connecting with some other person, touching someone’s heart. I have come across so many random blogs which have left a smile on my face and a feeling of companionship in my heart. It’s always about making someone feel a little less lonely and a little less alienated by telling them that they exist, like I exist and they are not alone in their pursuits, they have a fellow traveller. For a while, I am not trying to sell anything, I will do it if my profession requires, selling words and making viral content, but meanwhile, what I can offer is me, and what you can offer is you. And maybe long after I’ve stopped writing, some people will visit this blog by mistake and realize that they are not alone in this world, that someone thought like them. As E.E. Cummings once said, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.”