Decades back, one of the most enjoyable activities in our school days was reading comics. My favourite was Phantom which was published fortnightly by Indrajal comics and how eagerly I waited for the next issue! We also borrowed plenty of storybooks from the school library and would read them with awe and wonder. When we grew up to adulthood, it was time to read all types of novels including detective novels by Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason), and James Hadley Chase. Reading the morning newspaper was an addiction and on rare occasions when it was not delivered, I would go searching to newspaper stalls to buy one. There were also glossy magazines like The Illustrated Weekly of India (edited by Khushwant Singh), India Today, and Filmfare. We had the Read and Return book stalls from where we could borrow books and magazines by paying daily charges. That was our generation.
The Changed Times
What is the present situation? I gifted the children’s magazines Chandamama and Magic Pot to a few children related to me. I was surprised to find out that they were not interested in them. Why would they read a story when they can watch the story live in colour from videos which are freely available to them on iPad and mobiles? But there is a huge difference between reading a story and watching a story. I will come to that later. Even the youth have distanced themselves from reading books, novels, magazines, and even the daily newspaper. A few of them do read books online or in the Kindle app, but their number is also fast diminishing. Many elderly people, who were avid readers of books when they were young, are now spending time glued to the TV screen. How many grandmothers are reading bedtime stories to their grandchildren nowadays? They find it more convenient to hand over a remote or mouse to them instead.
The Modern Libraries
Now we have many user-friendly and classy libraries stacked with books of all literary genres. The quality of printing of the books has also improved. But the footfalls in most libraries are on the decline. The libraries in many schools and colleges are meant to showcase the same to authorities while seeking recognition or accreditation. The books borrowed by students are mostly related to their syllabus. If any general information is required, the internet search engine is always there which will give access to any information under the sun. Not just the students, even the teachers find it easier to do the Google search. It may not be an easier option but culling out information from books generates original ideas and a creative effort instead of picking up “packaged ideas” from the internet which may or may not be authentic. The Mudaliar Commission Report said that the library should be the most attractive place in the school. True, but the students should also be motivated to use the library extensively.
Benefits of Reading
Books are an essential medium for the development and promotion of human values, for generating and spreading new ideas and they contribute to overall personality development. Reading books on varied subjects provides meaningful education in contrast to syllabus-oriented reading. Reading boosts our imagination and transports us to different places and different eras. It exposes the readers to new ideas and different ways of thinking and helps them to improve their communication skills by making them better informed. Reading improves your vocabulary too and thus improves your writing skills. Francis Bacon has said, “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man and writing an exact man.”
That reminds me of an interesting incident that happened when I was a PG student in Manasa Gangothri, Mysore. In my student days, I was writing many articles which I would send to different newspapers and magazines and would wait with the fond hope that I would see them in print. But, they all used to get rejected. So one day I took one of my best articles to Prof. C. D. Narasimhaiah (also a literary critic), to seek his opinion as to why my articles don’t get published. The famous Professor read my article but did not speak for a while and I was waiting for his comments with bated breath. After some time, he looked at me and just spoke one sentence: “People start writing before they start reading”. This triggered my passion for reading books. Reading will certainly polish your language and give you confidence.
Sale of Books in Marriages
A few years back we experimented with a program of setting up a book stall in marriage halls on the function day with the cooperation and active participation of the Islamic Book Centre, City Market, Bangalore. The books kept for sale were on the lives of the Prophets, the Khulfa-e-rashideen, the Islamic history, the heroes of Islam, and the different aspects of the holy Qur’an and the Ahadees. We were surprised to see people thronging to the stall while on their way out. More women than men purchased the books; the reason being that women are rarely exposed to such availability. Generally speaking, in matters of religion, the Muslim community prefers to listen to bayans (sermons) of the Ulemas and does not show much inclination to read books written by erudite and learned Islamic scholars which are available in all languages.
All devout Muslims recite the Qur’an in Arabic since it has great benefits. This should be done and there is no second opinion about the same. But it is also necessary to understand its meaning by reading the translation in the language of our choice. The Qur’an is there to make men and women read, understand, and introspect; and by introspection to develop faith, and by faith to develop devotion. This is evident from the repeated exhortation to mankind in the holy Qur’an:
These are signs for people who can understand.
These are signs for people who give thought.
These are signs for people who reflect.
These are signs for people who believe.