Sunday, February 15, 2015

Books, Fairs and Frivolousness


The World Book Fair is the latest entertainment in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi.  The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) (always a handmaiden of the Central Government) has sent out a directive to schools in the National Capital Region (NCR) asking them to take students to the Book Fair with a view to encourage reading habits among the young generation.

Ten years ago, I took a group of students to the World Book Fair with the noble intention that CBSE is now envisaging.  The students were ingenious enough to find ways of entertaining themselves in places other than the book stalls.  While returning to school I discovered that barring one student nobody had bought a book.  Most of them had not even entered the Book Fair!  (Credit must be given for their candidness in admitting that.)

Today’s students are enslaved by the smartphone and the tablet.  While these gadgets can take one to the world of infinite knowledge, they actually end up as drugs that pander to the narcissism that has gripped the adolescents like cancer.  Social networks and other chat sites have become the ultimate sources of “likes” for the youngsters.  And the “likes” are for the most frivolous pictures and comments.  The more frivolous, the better.

A part of my personal library
That’s one of the reasons why a visit to the Book Fair may not be of any benefit to the students, much as CBSE may try to bring books back to students.

The second reason, and more important perhaps, is that books are available at online shops at much cheaper rates than at the Book Fair.  I stopped visiting Book Fairs from the time I discovered Flipkart and later Amazon India.  The last two books I bought from Amazon came at an enriching discount of 48%.  These sites give away books free too.  I downloaded William James’s classical work, Varieties of Religious Experiences, absolutely free of cost from Flipkart last week on my tab.

A third reason why a Book Fair won’t make much difference to students is that CBSE actually does not have a curriculum and assessment system that encourage reading or inquisitiveness in general.  The novels prescribed by the Board in classes 9 to 12 are sure to massacre any budding taste for literature among youngsters.  The cynicism and misanthropy of Gulliver’s Travels, prescribed for class 9 “original and unabridged,” grates against the dreams and idealism of adolescence.   The humour as well as the subtle wisdom of Three Men in a Boat, prescribed again for class 9 with the same injunctions, strikes today’s generation as too bland if not “stupid.”  And the assessment is mostly memory-based, too textual, nothing stimulating for the brainy sort. 

It is a truism to state that reading is important.  There is no other activity that can enrich our minds as much as reading.  Nothing else opens the windows of imagination and awareness as much as books do.  Magic and dreams unfold on the pages of good books.  There are no friends better than books. 

Yet I choose the online shops over Book Fairs.  In fact, the frivolous crowds in Pragati Maidan send tremors down my spine. 

21 comments:

  1. To me, visiting the Kolkata Book Fair is almost a habit..visiting it since I was a child... and as Bengali books are not that much available online, so we also buy a good amount of books. But I agree with the fact, that it has lost much of its older charm....

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    1. True, books in Indian languages are not easily available at online shops. Book fairs give good discounts too on such books.

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  2. I visit book fairs, because I love being surrounded by books. I buy books online. The only books I buy at book fairs are the Marathi books, for dad. My father isn't yet comfortable with online reading.

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    1. I too love the hard version. I order them online. My choice language being English, it is easy to get them.

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  3. Although online reading is convenient thing these days but I still love reading the hard copies probably because of the touch and smell :) Your post is good and I would like to add here a link of a poem recital of 'Kitabein' by Gulzaar sir to add to your mood. Do try to listen it complete. The end is beautiful Kitabein

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    1. Thanks for the poem, Roohi. I'll listen to it definitely.

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  4. Nice post....good to see your library.. Could you suggest some best must read category books on various section... Thanks

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    1. I don't know if my taste will suit yours. In fiction my all time favourites are the oldies like Dostoevsky and Kafka, Kazantzakis and Camus. Of late my interests veered to history: Ramachandra Guha's India, and Indian history by John Keay as well as Romila Thappar... Fritjof Capra is an interesting mix of science with mysticism: Tao of Physics and Turning Point are two books I enjoyed reading a few decades back.

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    2. Thanks, books noted my in list :)

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  5. Book fairs are more lively, you can see what all books are there, look into what you like and buy what you can afford. It is more engaging. I buy regularly on web also when I am sure what to buy but book fairs helps me find books which I am not aware of.

    Moreover the discounts on online stores looks big in % terms, but in Rupee terms, a difference of Rs. 30 to 50 does not feel heavy, so I prefer buying it instantly in book fairs.

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    1. I guess it boils down to personal inclinations and preferences. The very sight of crowds puts me off whereas most people seem to enjoy being in a crowd.

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  6. You are absolutely right when you say that social media now has killed what was left of our reading habits.
    Yet, if given a choice i still prefer a paperback rather than a kindle...

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    1. Social media are replicas of the actual society: mediocrity is its essence.

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  7. The end is truly ironical. Yet it depends on every individual to decide how he or she is going to use the technically advanced gadgets. Of course, the majority tends to be mediocre.

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    1. The chief reason why I shy away from most fairs is the same :)

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  8. How nice of you to have posted the book shelf and reminded me of our visits around it and never into it!

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    1. Just made it a little personal. Given the present scenario, the shelf will be 'dislocated' soon.

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  9. I tried all sort of tricks to get my boys to read.. But, only 1 of them reads and I think that could be genes rather than my effort. How I wish, there was some sort of way to keep them away from Internet on their phones. Especially the chat ones which beep every 30 seconds.

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    1. Gadgets are sure to become more ubiquitous and sophisticated. Perhaps, youngsters may start reading digital books. But there's no incentive for that as of now. The young ones seem to have everything, or too much of whatever they want, and yet are not contented and hence are always on ego trips!

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  10. Tomichand ji, I share the same sentiments regarding precarious situation in School system when it comes to prescribing relevant books, introduced with minimal thought whatsoever. I make it a habit to go to Book Fair for International stall and have first hand glimpse of authors of my liking. Certain book distributors and wholesalers sell second hand books at throwaway prices, always a pleasure to my price sensitive pocket. Delhi world Book Fair if not promote , may introduce kids to a whole new world, where seeing people read, they imitate and might gradually start reading in the process.
    PS: I share the same interests in writers as yours. It just feels amazing to find someone with similar choices.

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    1. Glad to see another person who shares my sentiment.

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