Last week, Ms. Lavanya Sankaran in an infamous article in the New York Times titled “The Good Men of India” created ripples by dividing Indian men into two categories; either feral and rapists or “common Indian”, as in “gharelu” and domesticated. The badly written piece did more to make her known than her two previous books.
It’s not just Ms. Sankaran. While Mr. Chetan Bhagat and other similar authors sell copies and are feted at lit-fests, the truth is that hardly anyone reads books anymore…and even if they do, they are typically the non-fiction, management guru varieties, with titles like “How to Be the Best Manager Who Can Wag His Tail”, etc.
Sure, everyone “reads” (blogs, columns, tweets, pulp, texts), but the “reading” of literary fiction, both classic and contemporary that typically excludes novelists like Dan Brown and Amish Tripathi seems to be dying.
My eventual dream is to write the one novel I know is inside me. But I know I will be writing for myself, because by the time I finish and perhaps even get published, I am not sure there will be “readers” left to read it.
Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Anjali Bhelande, the Head of English at Ruia College, where I had earlier done by XIth and XIIth. I also met Samantha, a student of hers who was able to discuss authors, novels, genres, idioms and subtexts with such ease that I was transported to a time almost 30 years ago, when so many of us were able to do so all the time.
Perhaps we read in those days, because there were few other distractions and reading was the one relatively inexpensive activity we all had recourse to. Maybe! My kids hardly read. They do the usual Harry Potter stuff, but nothing much beyond. Their friends don’t read as well. Perhaps we are to blame for not inculcating reading habits earlier on…I thought if they saw my wife and me read every day, that would be enough…but after their school-work, some television, YouTube and playing and talking with friends, there doesn’t seem to be any time left to read.
A recent study in Science showed that reading a little Chekhov or Alice Munro goes a long way in helping people develop empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence. Intuitively, I know that reading helps develop characteristic modes of thinking and understanding that go a long way in navigating the world and so I worry when faced with younger generations that do not read seriously.
I wonder what the long-term effects of this lack of serious reading will be. And the funny thing is…it is not just the kids. So many of us who grew up reading have stopped as well. Even I…while I religiously buy what I want to read and store the books on my Kindle, the amount I actually read is perhaps 1/10th of what I used to.
I have always believed that reading defines a person. It is also obvious that the value of reading in the current world has been significantly devalued as the focus has shifted away to shorter and quicker methods of intellectual stimulation. Perhaps, this is a new direction in our social evolution…the way Malthus has been proven wrong so often, hopefully I will too.
And yet I can’t help but feel that somewhere along the way, we are missing out on something important and significant and it will come back and bite us sooner rather than later.
What do you think? Am I over-reacting or is it perhaps worse?