Hanging tenuously by a faint hope

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 05 Aug 2018 10:34:09







EVERY word Mrs. Asha Bage, the celebrated Marathi litterateur and winner of Sahitya Akadami Award for her novel ‘Bhumi’, utters is lapped up by her fans. At a recent felicitation in Nagpur, she revealed one of her secrets of good writing -- reading. “More you read, the better you would be able to write”, she said. And as a post-script, she added, “You have to read good material to be able to write well”.

Because she is a writer, Mrs. Asha Bage spoke of reading to be able to do good writing. Most writers would share this view. They would insist upon reading as an essential attribute of a writer. Half-jokingly, many celebrated writers have said that when seated at the breakfast table, they would even read the labels on the sauce bottles and biscuit packs, thereby highlighting the importance of reading.

Unfortunately, reading culture appears to be on the wane at least in the Indian society. There may be a lot of people who love reading, and therefore keep buying books as well. By some indicators, the publication industry in India has grown over time.

That may be true, going by the industry stats. On the social front, however, what we find is rather disappointing. For, out of any ten persons you quiz about which book they are reading, a minimum of seven say without any sheepishness that they have not touched a book in quite a long time. General lack of reading is visible in social conversations and professional situations. There are young men -- well-settled in careers -- do not know the names of celebrated scientists or artists, except when the artists belong to Hindi cinema. This is not an absence of general knowledge -- GK, as they call it. This is indicating a serious and severe absence of reading as a habit and hobby.

This is something that one finds difficult to put up with. For, when the simple habit of reading, which was an important aspect of our culture until twenty-five years ago, is going out of fashion, it is a matter of feeling shocked. Unfortunately, reading has gone out of fashion not just in homes but also in schools and colleges. Even in professions such as journalism where reading should be the foundation of excellence, people appear to hate reading as a professional requirement. As a man who has spent a lifetime in newspapers, I find it simply galling to know that most of my colleagues are just not habituated of reading as a matter of professional need. Similar situation exists in medicine, architecture, engineering and even in teaching.
That is why one is extremely happy to find some occasional person steeped in the habit of reading -- not just newspapers and magazines, but books. Conversation with such a person is a pleasant experience, not because we can speak about books, but also because of the overall heightened awareness the person displays on account of his wide and good reading.

Unfortunately, such conversations are becoming rarer in social situations these days. And that is the real grief.
Yet, when some people assure that they realise that reading books is getting back into fashion, one senses a glimmer of hope. It is on that hope that one now wants to hang tenuously.