I met Ruskin Bond about two decades ago in a luxury hotel of ITC in Mumbai. He was the chief guest of a prize distribution function organised by ITC and one of my students was a winner whom I accompanied from school. The young students lost interest in the great writer as soon as they got the autographs. Eventually Mr Bond stood all alone in a corner of the dining hall where dinner was being arranged. Even the organisers were not in sight. I smiled at him and he reciprocated. I hesitated to start a conversation with him just because I had not read anything much of what he had written except a few articles in some newspapers. Anyway, Mr Bond didn’t have to stand there alone for long. The organisers arrived and took him to a prominent place in the hall which he deserved.
Those students who received prizes from him that day were all winners of a national level short story competition conducted by ITC which had just launched a new brand called Classmates for students’ stationery. I don’t know if any of them went on to become a writer of any significance. My own student is a dentist today and as far as I know he doesn’t write anything worthwhile except medical prescriptions. However, as a student, he used to take a lot of interest in reading. He was familiar with some of Bond’s popular characters too.
Towards the end of my teaching career in Delhi I noticed that students had lost interest in reading altogether. Very few of them borrowed books from the school’s library which had a good and regularly updated collection. The small ones used to read comics and other such books, but the senior students focused on their coaching classes.
As a teacher in Kerala today, I notice that hardly any student is interested in reading anything except silly messages forwarded for the umpteenth time on some social media.
There are writers galore, however. Not in schools. In schools you don’t even get enough articles to fill at least a few pages of the annual magazine. But you find writers and writers in the Blogosphere and the E-book publication sites.
Ruskin Bond mentioned it recently at a function which he graced as chief guest. “With so many people writing now, there is a danger of having more writers than readers,” he is reported to have said.
Danger is the word he used. Is writing dangerous? I always ask my students to write something every day so that their writing skills as well as thinking will develop. But I always add that without reading they won’t get new ideas, better ideas, wider perspectives. This is the danger that Bond speaks about. Writing without reading tends to produce trash and trivia.
In one of his essays, Jonathan Swift compared modern writers (of his time: 1667-1745) to spiders which wove menacing webs out of the substance that their own bodies produced while classical writers were compared to honey bees which collected the raw material from the external world. The bees transformed that raw material into sweet honey. This is what a good writer is supposed to do: gather ideas from the external world and produce new ideas. Unless one reads, that is quite impossible.
PS. Written for In[di]spire Edition 273: