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.