Are we reading enough?
Monday, 11 February 2008

Towheed Feroze asks

Amar Ekushey Granthamela (book fair) is on and the people of Dhaka have a new addition to their list of must-visit places. The book fair is the perfect end to a winter season though winter seems to play a hide and seek game with us. As we take the mela to be an inevitable end to the season, we often do not ask if it s inspiring us to read more as a nation. With this question a lot of other queries also come up.

But let come to the first one. The book fair, at the fag end of winter, with the afternoon sky turning romantically orange and the chirping of the birds creating a soothing symphony, is unquestionably a place to escape the smoke belching city and its concomitant stresses. But is the objective limited to that? People are obviously buying books but how much are we reading?

To trace the answer to that, we come face to face with a grim picture. In truth, we are not reading enough. The habit of reading as a pastime is no longer regarded as a priority and much of the blame lies on the modern day parents for whom life seems to be defined by monetary and material success. In the past, a teenager s best way to spend free time was to read books classics, romantic novels and the lot.

Since there were very few distractions and because of peer pressure, even the ones who did not love reading had to develop the habit. Parents encouraged the habit too as the general belief was that acquiring knowledge could never be a mistake. Regrettably, today s fathers and mothers hardly encourage their children to read because they themselves have lost the habit altogether.

The social equation is done on a plateau of loss and profit which can be weighed through material gains and as reading does not translate into something tangible, it is unceremoniously relegated. Parents set the trend for children and when a child sees that a father or a mother is only after money, it s unlikely that s/he will be looking forward to a cosy afternoon with a book.

The schools and the colleges should share the blame too because they exert so much academic pressure on the pupils that a student hardly gets time to read material outside their curriculum. Hence, the habit of bringing home books from the school or college library is such a dying trend.

However, amidst all this robotic living there are efforts like the one by Bishwa Sahitya Kendra which has taken up a crusade of sorts to take books to the houses rather than depending on people to come to the library. But we do not have a nationwide reading movement as yet. Of course, one might ask what benefit that would bring and the answer is that, at least by reading, one can start thinking beyond making money and pursuing selfish interests.

The common line used by booklovers in defence of reading is that it extends our horizon; but that needs a little explanation too. When we read and when we take in material by different writers, we learn to appreciate the finer things of life and, as we do that, we automatically promote ourselves to better human beings able to appreciate the finer things of life and demand the best from the government. But, when we do not read, we remain limited in our pursuits and, as human beings, are inspired to harbour insular views.

Does that sound didactic? Well, I will not be incorrect to say that if we had read more then we would not have perverted the notion of democracy and used it wantonly to make money and strike corrupt deals. As for the modern day young, they have too many glitzy items to command their attention and that is not a bad thing either. Society will move forward and there will be variety coming our way but, by discarding the trends of ages for quick and convenient fun, aren t we stamping on culture and heritage?

At the book fair people do buy books but a survey has to be carried out to find the number of people who read at least a book every month. Again, those defending the hectic modern day lifestyle may say and not without reason that they hardly find time and in the modern world, the market for books is shrinking. Yes, there may be fewer readers now than in the past but it s not right that the habit of reading is on the wane.

If it had been so then reading would not be big in the countries which are fast becoming economic giants. Look at India for instance, they have a huge reading market and the English fiction at present is a lot dependent on Indian born English writers. They win Booker s and other prizes and the international recognition provides the motivation both for the writers and the readers alike. This year the boil mela is on but at the mela and in the national media there must be discussions regarding the social status of a writer.

Humayun Ahmed is beyond any limits now but the writing scenario does no surround only one person. New writers must be encouraged too and sadly, we see that passionate young writers often have to spend their own money to publish their works. These books are hardly picked up and, in the end the work only remains as a printed pride for the disillusioned writer. Without any disrespect to the established writers, there must be efforts to provide some incentive to the new authors too and sometimes a well-known writer can do this.

It would only increase his popularity and develop a sense of camaraderie and fellow feeling among the writing community. The standard norm of the common city person is to go to the boi mela, meet a few friends, sip some tea, chat a bit and the come back with a book not because it has to be read but because without a book, the journey is not fulfilled.

And, naturally, when the book is just a part of an elaborate social phenomenon, it s by an established writer. In the end we do not get new readers and new authors are just left in the dark. A great way to increase the number of readers is to introduce a boi mela top ten that cannot have more than one book by one single author. If this is done at the end of the mela then a lot of new writers will get a chance to take their writing ahead.

On the other hand, taking students to the mela as part of an extracurricular activity may also increase the number of readers. To ensure that students read the books that they have bought, the system of a special test can be introduced. This exam, say having twenty marks, may be added to the main exams and that way, we will ensure new readers.

The boi mela is there and one of the reasons behind it is of course financial but as we deal with making money from selling books, let s not forget the role of books in shaping the ethical foundation of a nation. The mela is there to serve a purpose. It s the reflection of a society which has not gone morally bankrupt and, so, apart from selling books and commercializing certain authors with the help of gadgets and publicity stunts, let s try to use the mela to bring back reading as a past time.

Comments Add New
Write comment
Name:
Email:
  We don't publish your mail. See privacy policy.
Title:
Please input the anti-spam code that you can read in the image.