Believe it or not, I was twenty-one once. One of the fondest memories I have of that time is that of a friend giving me a book as a birthday present - a dead ritual in the present times. The book was “The Alchemist” and I took to it like a moth to a flame; quite literally, I was consumed by the storyline. In fact, the plot of the book had a profound impact on my perspective on things at that time and it helped me get through a rough patch in my life. That wasn’t the first time someone had given me a book by way of a present, birthday or otherwise. There was another time at the tender age of eight when one of my cousins from overseas gave me a book called “Yandoon” as a birthday gift. I must have read that book at least fifty times! I was so enthralled by the adventure story that I read that book till its cover fell apart, but it remains a happy memory of a childhood full of reading literature.
I remember the time when reading hard-copy paperback editions of books was quite the norm and giving someone the gift of a book was a noble thing to do. It makes me wonder: what happened to the honorable tradition of reading for leisure? The advent of technological wizardry sidetracked us into a blackhole of gadget-driven illusory that we stopped reading altogether. Trust me, I know. Take, for example, my school-going children. When I was their age, I would find excuses to read some or the other piece of literature. If it wasn’t a mystery book by Enid Blyton or a Charles Dickens classic, it was the Archie comics series or for the sheer thirst of satiating the reading glands, the newspaper, of all things.
I’ve tried and tried unsuccessfully to get my children to at least finish reading one complete book and my efforts have gone in vain. I’ve implored the students in my classroom, in a teaching career spanning almost two decades now, to adopt the enjoyable habit of reading for leisure explaining the numerous benefits that it entails and not one of my students has honoured my pleas. When my son turned 13, he just asked me for more RAM on his PC as a birthday gift, whereas I remember that when I turned 13 I begged my father to buy me the membership of British Council Library, Dubai, which I’m glad that he obliged me with as that was one of the most knowledgeable years of my life.
I read so much diverse literature that it gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. I was so excited about that priceless gift that I wanted to read it all. Novels, classic books, story books, even encyclopedias - I would spend three hours in that place without so much as blinking an eyelid. Don’t get me wrong, there was some element of technology around even when I was growing up, for example video games were around and so were video arcades, but reading was the single most memorable and utilizable activity from growing up that I cherish. The benefits of reading are countless, too. It improves sentence structure, it builds vocabulary, it helps one get better at grammatical construct and overall diction, but above all it adds to your knowledge.
Take the example of my father, for instance; an otherwise unassuming man, he was well-read. I observed him exercise one noticeable habit all his life. Every night before he went to bed, he would lay down with a book. It could be a book on religion, philosophy, prophetic stories, politics or any subject matter that he fancied. It was a result of this constant reading that my father was a well-versed man in the areas of religion and politics, and the philosophy of life. He could quote examples, and share stories that would enlighten the other person and win him respect for his knowledge instantly. Like I said, he was mostly a down-to-earth, humble and unassuming simple person with no airs to him but when he quoted something knowledgeable or shared a piece of advice he came across as the wisest man around. And it was all because of his extensive reading.
The Tik-Tok obsessed, social-media addicted zoomers of today are really missing out on books. I lament the fact that the vacuum of technology has sucked today’s generation into a warp of digitronics and left them so dependent on the illusion of gadgetry that they can’t even remember a simple phone number. This disconnect with the world of reading has affected the new generation’s ability to spell basic words as well, and they have to rely on the spelling software in the word processor of their computers for every little word. And heaven forbid, that one should pass them a book to read – it would be like a punishment. If only I could make the current generation understand the value of a good book and take to the lost art of reading again. The world would become a much simpler place again.
Copyright: Zeeshan Ahsan Khalid