Saturday, June 9, 2007

A Worker Reads History

I don't particularly feel like writing or blogging, so here is a digg from the past. In 2002, I went on a historical tour of some of the remote Southern temples. That was a time when I was quite high on a diet of indology, indic research institutions and indigenous scholars and save-the-palm-leaf-manuscript type of thing. Among these temples wase Dharasuram a small tranquil spot near Kumbakonam. Like all other places the board proudly proclaimed that Rajaraja II built this temple. On one hand I was awestruck by the artistry and the architectural marvel, on the other I could not but wonder about the dynamics of temple construction. I do understand that it provided some kind of livelihood.

But Who were the thousands of workers who were commissioned for this? How did they agree to it? Were they compensated enough? Were they slaves and refugees of war who did not have an option but to pander to the ego of a king?
A million questions raged in my mind as scenes from The Ten Commandments and Egypts Pharoahs played over and over in the background. I did try to dig up some references but did not get enough answers and then abandoned the cause. And then I found this poem of Bertold Brecht and it reminded me again of those questions on those marvels of timeless art crafted by nameless faceless workers. Yes, the anarchist feels very red today!!

A Worker Reads History

Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
The books are filled with names of kings.
Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima's houses,
That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend
The night the seas rushed in,
The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.
Young Alexander conquered India.
He alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?
Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
Frederick the Greek triumphed in the Seven Years War.
Who triumphed with him?
Each page a victory
At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man,
Who paid the piper?
So many particulars.
So many questions.

--Bertold Brecht.