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In Search of Michael Wood

Historian and film-maker Michael Wood recently visited Bristol Grammar School to talk about the BBC2 series The Story of India. Before the event began he was interviewed by sixth-form students Imogen Parkes and Nicholas Barrett; Oliver Chard transcribed the tape.

Imogen Parkes: What particularly interested you about the history of India?
Michael Wood: For a film-maker India is a dream, the most fantastic place on Earth because you can film the living past in the present at every stage of human history. You can film people who are still virtually living in the Stone Age and you can film the most up-to-date high-tech Silicon Valley community. The great ancient civilizations of India have all come down to the modern day in some form or other, especially in the South, where it’s possible to film a classical civilization that’s still alive.

India has a big chronology, bigger than Ancient Egypt or Greece. For our television series we could have begun with the Bronze Age civilizations of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, but actually we began with the first human migration out of Africa 70,000 years ago. So the scale of it is just incredible.
Nicholas Barrett: What do you think we as a society can learn from India?

Obviously India still has major problems – religious violence, partially because of what happened as a result of Partition, population growth and environmental destruction as well as rural poverty, things like that. But I think India’s attempts to contain these things and create a workable democracy virtually overnight can teach us all something. Indians have not felt the need to junk everything from their past for the sake of modernity. In South India, people are traditional worshippers of Shiva and the great goddess, and work in high-tech industry – there’s no contradiction between modernity and tradition. It will be fascinating to see whether the old belief in non-violence taught by the Buddhists and the Jains and certain Hindu sects can still play a central role.

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