One of my students asked me Sir, What is Reading Culture? I tried to explain, Reading Culture is a habit of reading books and information material; it can be enhanced by providing suitable reading materials in schools, colleges, universities and public libraries and with the use of campaigns promoting reading in masses.
The very first word of our HOLY Quran which was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was “IQRA” which means to read or recite. In Islam there is lot of stress on importance of reading in every period of its existence. History of Muslim world is filled with hundreds of libraries which were integral part of major Muslim cities. Muslims introduce reading as their culture which is dying every day passing.
On every 23rdApril of the year, world celebrates International Day for Book Reading. In Pakistan unfortunately majority of students and general masses are not aware of this day because reading is generally avoided by students and common citizens. In my view it’s the main reason and our failure as a whole nation in fighting against radicalism as we lack the tolerance for others point of view which a book reading culture can inculcate in our behavior and attitudes.
In nation building and also in an individual’s life books play a vibrant role. Reading of productive books is considered as building strong character, societal values and above all a nation at large. Books provide a window to the world of literature, knowledge, politics, economy, history, culture and what not. The reading culture is crucial for acquisition of independent knowledge and lifelong learning. In view of many experts’ domestic violence and major root cause of extremism both religious and societal is augmented only due to decline in book reading culture, and also contributed in the declining of the said.
A famous saying “A home without books is like a body without soul” can best define emphasis of the importance of book reading and the role books can play in shaping up an individual’s life as well as the nation. Reading involves the correct pronunciation of the words as well as understanding of its content. Therefore we can say both are complimentary, if one is body the other is the soul and essence of it. In 70’s and 80’s era, when the resources were limited, book reading was one of the basic requirement like water and having food daily. Those who could not buy books were able to get the books of their own choice from libraries which were spread across the country and to be more specific at mohallah level on daily, weekly and monthly basis at a very nominal amount. In our past, books were not only a regular feature in our society, but rather they were discussed in our social gatherings. Like stamp collecting as a hobby, collection of books was also considered as status symbol just like cars, houses and branded attire. It was a must practice of every household not only to encourage book readings but also provide them with story books and different magazines. The one who used to read books a lot was considered the most respectable, eminent and creditable in the society. This was almost common in every society and culture of the world. If you go through the books of history, you can witness the fact that thinkers, philosophers, scholars, writers and poets had a much esteemed role in the courts of kings and monarchs and had always enjoyed important positions in the corridors of power. The elites were looked upon with great respect that had the knowledge of art, literature, politics, philosophy, history and religion and not to those who had heap of wealth. One was proud of the collection he/she had of the books and with the size of his library.
I and generation like me grew up reading famous serial “Nanay Kay Karnamay” which used to be published in magazine “Bachon Ki Dunya”. I still remember the magazines like “Taleem O Tarbiyat”, “Hidiyat” and “Bachon Ki Dunya”. Children used to wait desperately every month for latest edition of these magazines. As every story in the magazine carried a message of morality, respect, love for humanity besides historical narratives.
The city called LAHORE is famous not only for auspicious foods but also for its old book shops and tea houses. Since decades the weekly bazar of old books at Mall Road is the hallmark of this historic city. But now it’s gradually shrinking as the book buyers are getting reduced every day passing by. One of the reasons the buyers are diminishing is the high prices of the books and lack of facilities. All over Pakistan and also in Lahore, city of foodies, one can notice an opening of new food outlet but hardly one can find an opening or inauguration of a book shop. Our youth enjoys eating junk food and wasting money on it rather than buying a book from a book shop. I would be honest nowadays book shops present a deserted look. Our leaders like M.A Jinnah, Z. A Bhutto, Justice Bhagwan Das, Nawab Akbar Bugti, Pervaiz Musharaf, Late Benazir Bhutto and our Prime Minister Imran Khan, all highly read and are lovers of books. I still remember in 2008, I had gifted a book named “The Last Mughal” by William Dalrymple to Premier Imran Khan in presence of Saif Ullah Khan Niazi (now a Senator in Senate of Pakistan) and his remarks were “Thanks Yasir I really wanted this book as someone took mine from my library”. Such an appetite for a book can only be expected from a diehard book lover.
People used to wait for Annual Literary Festivals every year in different cities of Pakistan. Young girls and boys in large numbers used to take active part in these festivals. Not only had they used to work voluntarily with the organizers of the festival but also took keen interest in books and the discussions on the literary subjects. This positive aspect indicates that our youth were in search of good reading material. I have come across many youngsters who had keen interest in Urdu Poetry and had read Faiz, Muneer Niazi, Nasir Kazmi, Parveen Shakir, Ahmed Faraz and Ghalib. This showed they had lot of interest in their poetic work. These are the giants of Urdu Language and having keen interest of our youth not only coming from major cities but also from remote areas are really appreciable. Our youth can compete anyone in the world, only if they are well read and this can only be possible if the books are easily available to them at very nominal prices.
In 21st century reading books is recognized as intellectual and cultural activity, which keeps the brain alive and healthy. Unfortunately the culture of reading books in Pakistan is almost nonexistent. The reasons of this sorry state of affairs are numerous. The predominant factor is the education system prevailing in our country, secondly the poverty which is increasing by every day passing by, thirdly the over pricing of the books. Students usually avoid reading books, why? Where are Pakistani children on the reading scale? I think in the absence of professional and standardized surveys it is very difficult to assess our children’s habit of reading. Random observations show that our children are not too excited by the books. Coming back to the prices of the books, I still remember the magazines like “Naqoosh”, “Fanoon”, “Saqi” and “Adabi Dunya” were available at an affordable price and were very popular among youngsters. The reading of good literature started dying with the prices getting higher and higher rapidly. Genuine readers find now difficult to buy the book of their choice due to the price constraint. In our neighboring country INDIA the literature is so much affordable and available to every segment of society, where as in Pakistan now the price of newspaper is out of reach from a common man. That’s why the market of books has shrunk as there is not much demand of the books anymore.
My opinion in decline of book reading habit, the major reason is the digital age which has changed the scenario completely. Students are going hi-tech every coming day. Rather going to a book shop and buy a physical book they find ease in accessing the book online. They prefer electronic copy of the same book. Students waste their majority time now on social media (Facebook, twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp) on daily basis. The productive time hence is used on these social sites and at the end of the year or semester they opt for quick reading, reading in bullets or image notes avoiding the original notes. Electronic and social media has changed the dynamics of reading with the help of latest modern innovative gadgets. Books are now the least commodity to buy.
I would recommend few solutions to the above said issues in promoting book reading culture.
- Parents: Parents should try to inculcate the habit of reading in their children. They should motivate children for study circles, writing book reviews and go for analytical reading. This habit would inspire them the essence of patience and tolerance. And also parents should gift books rather than any electronic gadget/devices.
- Social Media: I would not blame social media as the root cause. We can use this medium in playing vital role in promotion of books and events related to book reading. Pandemic has taught everyone how to use social media to maximum. Writers and book readers can start a discussion online about the books; they can exchange their views on a specific book or topic. Famous Social media celebrities can help promoting books and festival on line.
- Civil Society: Members of civil society like NGO’s can play their role by arranging and funding the book festivals. READ Pakistan is also playing a very important role by providing books to the schools and libraries free of cost. Government should help these type of NGO’s in facilitating them setting up festivals and Book Streets just like food streets.
- Reforms: One basic thing to be added in reforms of the education system is the promotion of book reading and that too creative reading skills of the students instead of making him think imaginative. The teachers should be trained to promote book reading culture in the students. This should be made their primary task of their jobs.
- Libraries: Government should try to make public libraries in every community. The more the libraries the more the book readers. The people who cannot afford to buy books can land into these libraries and get the book of their own choice hence ending the thirst of knowledge they require. READ Pakistan under the patronage of Farrukh Dall is doing marvelous work by setting up small libraries in every school which is not having the said facility. They give around 3000 books to each library catering from class 1 to class 5. The main mission of READ Pakistan is to set up/make 100,000 libraries across Pakistan. I personally believe this is achievable not only reviving the culture of book reading but also setting up 100K libraries. I would request our PM Imran Khan and our Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood to personally look into this. Help and facilitate READ Pakistan in achieving this humongous number of libraries across Pakistan.
Yasir Imtiaz Awan