Perhaps, books are worst victims of advancements in information technology. Reading books is a rare habit. Buying them is a dying practice. Presenting them to others is a fading phenomenon. The race to do more in less time does not allow for the luxury of reading. There is general unwillingness prevalent amongst the youth not to invest their earning (savings) on acquisition of these life time assets (books). I recall spending endless hours not only in bookshops but also on the foot paths near Regal cinema house, where second hand books were available in plenty. So was the case at Frere Hall. On most occasions, the bargains were good. Some of them due to the vendors own lack of knowledge on the importance of some specific books. The pursuit of books is a continuous activity, at least with this scribe.
Last night I spoke at a university convocation. I was meant to inspire the young graduating students some 330 of them. Later whilst I was removing the velvet gown laden with heavy brocade and an equally discomforting head gear, whose tassels kept brushing my face, a young helping student said, ‘sir you spoke well. May I know how you developed your fund of vocabulary?’ I said to the innocent student, ‘young lady reading…excessive reading. Nothing more, nothing less.’ Apparently, she seemed to have been inspired to do, as well. The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of the past centuries (Descartes). It is in fact our declining standards of education that impair the development of good reading habits in our young generation. What they read is just the syllabus. No extensive reading beyond the subjects taken to pass an examination. The methodology is to cram and parrot it out on transcripts for better results. Recently I heard a young lady who was speaking on ‘education and empowerment of women’ at a local university and she remarked, “…. For the whole academic year, we just had from fun, a ton load of samosas and zillion gallons of tea to drown them effectively; just two months before final examination, I crammed everything and ended up with distinction in most subjects at the graduation level.” Education (if it is) or getting a degree is so easy she concluded. Here lie the perils of our outdated teaching methodologies. The world has moved. If it is not what you know then it is what you remember is the wrongful foundation of our system. The consequence is at display- just speak or listen to the ‘educated’, politicians, analysts, experts and the likes thereof on the TV screens, who appear day in and day out…you feel sorry for at least three people in order of its negative impact, firstly your own self, secondly the speaker and thirdly for those who may have taught them.
Reading across various subjects, is almost done to death. Speak to any medical or business student and ask them about our own country’s history and its leaders you end up being embarrassed. The whole world’s education experts have come to conclude with unanimity the significance of liberal arts in today’s global environment. While it is good to possess first degree in any subject relative to the professions to be pursued, there is a need to follow that up with a degree in liberal arts. Some medical universities have decided to offer the first degree in six years instead of five. The first five spent in seeking the graduating qualification through heavy dosages of medical science; the sixth year is dedicated towards imparting lessons on empathy, compassion, interpersonal skills, doctor-patient relationship and its dynamics, duty of care and obligations. Only then do we see complete doctors.
Buying or reading a book is not meant to be an investment to secure a promotion, a bonus, an increment or to have greater marketability of yourself; the investment has to be for the purpose of gaining better awareness of surroundings and a deeper insight into the human psyche. This only leads to better human resource management. No manager will think otherwise than the fact that the basis of greater productivity does not reside in best technology platform, best systems, processes and procedures on a standalone basis but on the foundations of effective development and utilisation of human capital that is well read. A widely read human resource component assures the presence of great corporate culture of learning, tolerance, compassion and a very high degree of integrity, gratitude and humility. Generally, well-read people are bastions of incorruptibility be it financial, ethical or moral.
Although we subscribe to Hazrat Ali’s thought and maxim, ‘don’t see/judge who is saying it, instead ponder/think on what he is saying, “yet we all indulge into and grudge about the who? Therefore, without quoting the name a leader from across the eastern border had this to say, ‘if you were with me, I would love to talk about this beautiful world of ours, about flowers, and trees and birds and animals and stars and mountains and glaciers and all other wonderful things that surround us and yet we who are grown-ups often forget and lose ourselves in offices and imagine that we are doing important work…” Now give me one leader worth any salt, who could say this today, in our beloved homeland. Why can’t they? Because they do not read. The last in the line of Quaid-e-Azam, Manzur Qadir, Altaf Gauhar, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who read voraciously and profusely, was Benazir Bhutto. She had a sense of history. And a keen eye on sense of destiny.
Take stock of today’s leadership, be it political, business, social, economic, religious or for that matter in any field or discipline, all collectively seem to be not interested at all in education, culture, literature, philosophy or ‘things of the mind’. The arrogance of present day standards of science and technology (management) cannot even outstrip the wisdom of our forefathers or even the need of ‘thinking straight’, ‘acting straight’ and ‘not to be afraid of discarding any out-dated thought, concept or system’.
Whilst the world we live in today has evolved much. So has the habit of reading. In the old school way, books and paperback were the predominant form of indulging in this past time. The new era heralds, Kindle, Webinars, Podcasts, Audiobooks, Youtube channels, Tweet channels and a host of social media armoury to expose oneself to. In saying this if people feel inclined to learn through a specific source eg visual learners watching ted talk subscriptions to gain and retain the same message that is equally useful. An auditory learner can benefit by listening to audiobooks, CDs, MP3 downloaded podcasts on the go to suit an ever busy lifestyle. Whereas a kinaesthetic learner can get much satisfaction by physically holding the book and turning pages after pages getting the feel of the experience.
If you are a book person, then whenever you read a book, keep a pencil close by to mark the aspects that appeal to you both emotionally and professionally. I saw my father do that; consequently, all of his books and mine have his ‘comments’ on the margin. Today when I revisit these books, his comments help me understand the subject better.
To me, holding a book in my hands to read is not a similar pleasure experience as downloading it off the internet or reading it on an e-reading device, as a choice I prefer the old school way. What adds another dimension to richness is the vastness of subjects covered in the reading expedition. Personally, I enjoy reading, for it gives me the chance to travel alongside the writer.
Said an Urdu poet, who has great talent in composing verses ‘Sham’ay khirad, Khayal-e-Anjum, Jigr ke Dagh, Jitni Charag hain tayeri Mehfil se aa-aaye hain’. A very lose translation will be; the glowing candle of intellect, the stars that illume the mind, the passion that burns in the heart- all these lamps have borrowed their light from thy mehfil (congregation).
Prophet Mohammad (Pbuh) had remarked, “Knowledge and wisdom are the lost property of the man of faith. He is entitled to it wherever he finds it.” Therefore, all young professionals in particular and others in general, rush to “Iqra”, now.
The writer is a freelance columnist