Last week I referred to two scholars I had met the previous week. A third out-of-town scholar I met that week was one whom I went to hear, Dr. Bryan Wells. He was speaking on a subject I know next to nothing about, the Indus Script. An archaeologist, epigrapher and geographer, he is in Madras consulting with local experts as he puts the finishing touches to a book he has titled Epigraphical Approaches to Indus Writing, which is due to be published next year.

His lecture was aimed at giving non-specialists an idea of what the Indus civilisation was like. But not having any background at all about a civilisation that extended over a million square kilometres from the Euphrates to almost the Vindhyas I was quite lost. I was, however, delighted to hear that there are numerous unanswered questions about that 5000-year-old civilisation ranging from ethnicity to culture to language. For instance, did the Indus people speak one language or many? The inscriptions found would appear to indicate production, storage of goods and trade, but what did they produce and with whom did they trade? And so on.

One comment of Dr. Wells that I much appreciated was his view that whatever answers are found to questions about such civilisations and whatever interpretations are made of their inscriptions, they would always have been influenced by the researcher’s own culture. Wells’s non-Asian, American background would very likely lead him to a totally different view from that of Indian researchers. In fact, I would think even North Indian/Pakistani experts would very likely differ from South Indian scholars on the Indus Civilisation. Does this mean that no definitive answers can be found in such research? I’ve always held so, particularly in the case of ancient Indian history. I was glad to hear a much more qualified person appear to tilt towards this view.