We always discuss the progress of the human race. We also take pride and talk about how progressive was the life in Egypt and Harappa thousands of years back. Considering the technology of those days and knowledge about worldly things, including science during those times, the human race at respective times was progressive compared to life five thousand years before that period. Ancient Egyptian civilisation was around 3100 BC, and the Harappan culture was between 2600 BC to 1500 BC.
We sing paeans of those times and talk of golden age or era! But why is it called the Golden era? Why was it the Golden age? Compared to which times? If this life is compared with new stone age then, Yes, it was Golden age.
Egyptian civilisation succeeded because they adapted to conditions and the vagaries of the Nile river. They handled the floods correctly and managed to have a good irrigation system. This helped them produce surplus crops that fed the dense population. Since resources were more than needs, exploitation of minerals and many other developments like joint construction projects were implemented. Of course, famous Pyramids were built in those times. Medicine, Architecture and civil engineering were developed sciences of those times.
The evidence of the Harappan valley suggests that they had a highly developed city life. Many houses had wells and bathrooms as well as an elaborate underground drainage system. They had excellent writing skills and maybe military skills. But since their writing still cannot be deciphered, many things are vaguely known.
Ok, but what is the point of writing all this. Let us compare the old civilisations with today’s times in a country like India. India has progressed by leaps and bounds in last 20 to 25 years and showing overall progress. World population in the late 18th century was close to a billion people. India’s today’s population is 1.2 billion. Even today India is not considered a developed country. Some parts of India are highly developed, and some have remained extremely backward. I don’t think we can call today’s Indian age as a golden age.
But in the comparison of the golden age of ancient times, in today’s average times, we are way ahead of the “old” golden age. In those days it was almost impossible to overcome droughts or floods. Societies have vanished in floods, or large populations have died due to drought in those times. Diseases in those days would kill thousands of people. In today’s times also, we have floods and droughts, but the aftermaths are managed pretty well. A few years ago rainfall was deficient in Maharashtra. Government transported water from water excess regions of the state to the shortage regions by freight trains. Many such trains carried water over a period. The situation was brought under control till the next monsoon rains arrived. Droughts today are more of distribution issues. India cultivates vast amounts of food. Many times our problems are commercial, like framers not getting good rates, storage godowns issues, and distribution issues in general. Why was the old period then called golden age?
Currently, I am reading a book by an Israeli author Yuval Noah Haran, called Homo Deus. The book talks of the Green Lawns as power centres. How can the lawns be power centres? The lawns came into vogue about 300 years back. In those times, only the nobility could afford such lawns. The lawns required land, people to maintain them, a lot of fresh water, fertilisers and so on. The lawns became cost centres, and there were no returns from them. The lawns gave the owners bragging rights. What is the significance of the lawn story?
In the recent past human race is galloping towards newer discoveries, newer methods of doing things. The last twenty years are the peak of this activity, especially with the advent of the internet. In the olden days, life was very predictable. What would happen after 50 years? Except for a few floods, famines and a war or two, things would not change much; this situation existed until about three centuries back. Now it is impossible to predict where the world will move in the next 15 or 20 years. Everything has changed. The bragging rights for lawns continued for centuries; slowly lawns became possible in middle-class homes too! But now if you are lucky, the bragging rights for some new invention could be there only for ten years.
Last year we had a significant flood in Kerala; the whole nation and part of the world came together to help Kerala come back to normal in a couple of months. Yes, there were losses of both material and human. But rebuilding is being done quickly. Nowadays, in India there are no famines; there may be shortages of a few things. It is a simple question of redistribution of that item to shortage zone. But we consider India as a moderately advanced nation. India’s agriculture and other products can feed the population of 1.2 billion; some of the items like grapes, sugar, flowers are even exported. Days of people dying in millions due to cholera or plague are gone. Today the epidemic is declared even if a few hundred are affected and controlled fast.
In olden days, dying of loose motions and fever was very common. Even the kings and the queens used to die of such diseases. Today, even a worker with low income gets easily cured of such “simple” to handle ailments. Today, millions of people get tap water, most large cities have underground drainages, though millions live in such towns. Transportation of today’s time, communication of the current era are incomparable with those of the golden age. Classic examples of the progress of today’s times are how people live in areas where there is heavy snowfall; how people comfortably live in desert areas.
We study history and try to analyse what mistakes were made during that time. This helps us with a better tomorrow. But nobody can predict tomorrow, especially in today’s average times. I am calling Indian society as a moderately developed society compared to the rest of the world. But why historians keep on calling Egyptians and Harappan times as a golden era?
To me, today’s times are golden times, till we move in a newer better era. But we will do well not to call any period as a golden era. If we think of some era as the ultimate thing, we take time in accepting modern and better technologies, processes and products. We still keep on talking about how the systems and technologies were better in olden days. By doing this, we make the error of accepting better stuff and delay its implementation. We keep on talking of Pushpak Viman whereas we still cannot make a quality aeroplane in India. We speak to progress in medicine in olden days, especially of Ayurveda. But there has been no research, and all new inventions are made in Allopathy. Things are going to change at a faster and faster pace. Let us accept them with an open mind and heart and make our life happier, more comfortable and maybe longer.