Reading: A fast vanishing art.

The modern world of printed books owe their existence to Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, who was a German blacksmith, goldsmith, printer, and publisher who introduced printing to Europe. His introduction of mechanical movable type printing to Europe started the Printing Revolution and is widely regarded as the most important invention of the second millennium, the seminal event which ushered in the modern period of human history. With the advent of computers and onslaught of smartphone and other devices like kindle and e-books, the very existence of books as we knew them, is under threat.

The availability of almost everything worth reading in electronic format is further reducing the inclination to read printed books. Social networking has further eaten away into the time which was earlier available for reading books for those who wanted to read. Now the only reading most of us do is read status on Facebook, 140 characters of tweet and forwarded WhatsApp messages. What could be more ironical than, the project to convert physical books to e-book is named as Project Gutenberg.

Few years ago there were big book stores with huge shelves stacked with all kind of books, it was a pleasure being there in the midst of the books, the smell of fresh paper and ink was amazingly intoxicating, which I suppose every bibliophile would remember. Due to fast reducing footfalls and non-existent customers, the book shops are closing down; the big stores in malls which had huge bookstores like Crossword, Odyassy etc. are now replaced with apparel or electronic goods showrooms.

My affair with books started quite early and has never faded since. My earliest childhood memories are about reading some or the other book sitting at a corner in my home. The passion for reading was inculcated by my father; I remember he used to get me books every time he came back from where he was posted as an officer with a department under ministry of finance, and my eagerness to finish the book in one sitting. There were children pocket books being published from Gyan Bharti Prakashan, Gwynne Road, Lucknow, I had a box full collection of it, some of it are still there in my library. There were many magazines Parag, Nandan, Chandmama, Baalbharti, Champak and Vigyan Pragati, Later on I got addicted to comics of Phantom, Mandrake, Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby and Bahadur, brought out by Indrajal Comics published by Times of India Group and then I was introduced to Asterix, Tintin and Commando comics by my friend Saurabh Biswas. I was a regular subscriber to all the magazines and used to purchase them from AH Wheeler Book Stalls, which used to be the favorite spot for me on every railway station. I remember spending hours at those book stalls browsing through the magazines which also matured with me when I graduated to Debonair. The magazine which inspired me to serious read, though of course that was not the primary reason to start purchasing that magazine. I liked the editorials of its first two editors Mr. Vinod Mehta and later Anil Dharkar, who also ensured that the magazine had excellent content over and above the prime attraction feature of nude centerfolds.

There were other magazines like Dharmyug, Saptahik Hindustan, Dinmaan, Sarita and Kadambini which were also regularly purchased by my parents and I also used to read whatever I could, and this also helped me in expanding my reading horizon. Later on I took to reading novels by Sidney Sheldon, I read all his books which were released till that time and used to purchase his latest release the moment it arrived in the market. I enjoyed reading novels by Jeffrey Archer, Robin Cook and others, till a friend of mine Adnan Zaheer gave me a book “An Autobiography” by Lee Iacocca, that book changed my perspective to work and also my reading interest. I am proud to have a very rich library at my home, and infection of reading bug made me read books of many subjects. I have almost all the books by Carl Sagan the eminent NASA scientist and author, I purchased his first book after watching his TV serial Cosmos. I liked his way of narrating and explaining even the most complex scientific phenomena in simplest possible manner. His books Dragons of Eden, Broca’s Brain, Billions and Billions and of course Cosmos are my favorites. My interests kept on expanding and now I read books on arts, philosophy, astronomy, religion, spirituality, self-help, psychology, history, biography, cinema, management and language, and I do have an excellent collection of these books as my most prized possession in my library.

Technology, innovation and new inventions have always changed the way the world operates and mostly in positive manner. But over indulgence has never helped mankind. All inventions are triggered by the need or a certain requirement, most of them are useful but reckless use of technology sometimes ends up being counterproductive.
Though there are obvious advantages of computers and smartphone as a reading device, in terms of fast accessibility of content, cross referencing, availability of multitude of reference medium like video, sound and text, but overdependence and almost addiction of it is detrimental to the process of learning as our attention span on the electronic device is far less than on printed piece of paper. I am not against e-books, or e-book readers but they can’t and should not substitute the printed books. It’s a fact that people too addicted to reading online or on electronic devices find it hard to concentrate and read a full page of content properly with accurate understanding of the content.
A research published in The Guardian says – “…readers using a Kindle were “significantly” worse than paperback readers at recalling when events occurred in a mystery story is part of major new Europe-wide research looking at the impact of digitization on the reading experience.

The study, presented in Italy at a conference last month and set to be published as a paper, gave 50 readers the same short story by Elizabeth George to read. Half read the 28-page story on a Kindle, and half in a paperback, with readers then tested on aspects of the story including objects, characters and settings……. “The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, ie, when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order.”

The researchers suggest that ‘the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does’.”

I know this information would not do much to revive the fast receding art of reading, because if such warnings really worked then all the smokers would have left smoking after seeing the warnings on cigarette packs.

Yes reading is an art; go to a library if you can find one and see people engrossed in reading books. Just watch any avid reader with his book, you will find him lost in his book, some with a pencil marking and noting, some too engrossed in reading, forgetting to drink the tea which is lying on the table. Unfortunately such scenes are becoming rare and rare. But as long as there are people who read this blog completely, there is hope. The foot soldiers of readers’ army should take it upon themselves to inculcate the habit of reading in young and not so young ones. Start giving books in birthdays, anniversaries start sharing books. Start reading and referring to books. If you are still not a reader, you can start by reading just for 15 minutes a day, not a very tall order, but can sure help you inculcate the habit. Read my earlier blog on Personal Quality Initiative PQI, maybe take a PQI of reading 15 minutes daily. Just go to any library watch the books, they seem to be asking you to pick them up and read.

Gulzar the famous writer, poet, film maker has wonderfully expressed their feelings in his poem, Enjoy the beautiful lines and think.

किताबें झाँकती हैं बंद आलमारी के शीशों से
बड़ी हसरत से तकती हैं
महीनों अब मुलाकातें नहीं होती
जो शामें उनकी सोहबत में कटा करती थीं
अब अक्सर गुज़र जाती है कम्प्यूटर के पर्दों पर
बड़ी बेचैन रहती हैं क़िताबें
उन्हें अब नींद में चलने की आदत हो गई है
जो कदरें वो सुनाती थी कि जिनके
जो रिश्ते वो सुनाती थी वो सारे उधरे-उधरे हैं
कोई सफा पलटता हूँ तो इक सिसकी निकलती है
कई लफ्ज़ों के मानी गिर पड़े हैं
बिना पत्तों के सूखे टुंड लगते हैं वो अल्फ़ाज़
जिनपर अब कोई मानी नहीं उगते
जबां पर जो ज़ायका आता था जो सफ़ा पलटने का
अब ऊँगली क्लिक करने से बस झपकी गुजरती है
किताबों से जो ज़ाती राब्ता था, वो कट गया है
कभी सीने पर रखकर लेट जाते थे
कभी गोदी में लेते थे
कभी घुटनों को अपने रिहल की सूरत बनाकर
नीम सजदे में पढ़ा करते थे, छूते थे जबीं से
वो सारा इल्म तो मिलता रहेगा आइंदा भी
मगर वो जो किताबों में मिला करते थे सूखे फूल
और महके हुए रुक्के
किताबें मँगाने, गिरने उठाने के बहाने रिश्ते बनते थे
उनका क्या होगा
वो शायद अब नही होंगे!!

Try reading a book today.

Bye for now.


Contributed by
Mr. K.K. Bajpai
Associate Professor
SMS Varanasi


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