britain’s memory of india’s partition

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”1

we booked the best seats in the royal albert hall to attend the bbc prom #55: classical music of india and pakistan (2017).

the performances (carnatic, hindustani classical and sufi qawwali) were brilliant : the flyers given out at the venue, less so.

the description to a musical event talked about the partition, which i thought was irrelevant (because western classical performances at the venue weren’t littered with references to the violent pasts of medieval european kingdoms). further disappointing was the way the text described the partition and the independence: with only a token reference to (centuries worth of) british contribution to communal violence.

an excerpt from the flyer distributed at the venue.

as an official flyer produced by the BBC, it reflects the state of awareness in britain about their deeds in the past. the british’ve effectively erased (and rewritten) history — conveniently forgetting what they’d done — successfully depriving their generations from learning from mistakes horrors they’d committed in the past.

instead of just criticising britain, though, this is an also opportunity to reflect on what is happening in india and several other places in the world. when governments try to rewrite text-books or control what gets published where, they are denying us our right to remember our past, thence diminishing our ability to become better peoples in the time to come.

my reaction to the flyer was written in 2017 ; then, edited and expanded (with context) in 2023.


  1. (ironically) i do not remember where i first encountered this quote aphorism ; but i believe it was at the jewish memorial in berlin, in 2018. it is attributed to george santayana, and i’d likely seen a version of it.