Can Reading Habits Be Changed?

Doing away the dander of sycophancy, Loksatta, the largest Marathi daily has finally come out to peoples’ provisos.

Recently, a daily published a survey in its Sunday edition, regarding the habits of reading, asking the opinions of library heads from different regions of Maharashtra. The libraries have survived for about a hundred years. Hence the analysis had a solid foundation, it can be assumed; the opinions collected, however were of the present generation.

The general conclusion drawn by the compiling team though mentions that the taste is changing, it seems to have said so to satisfy their buds opting for change. Scrutinized thoroughly, it is evident that the reading habits of Marathi readers have been showing a never diminishing attraction towards the old and easy kind that never had any complexities. For generations the same books are being read with the same appetite. The mentality neither approves change nor challenges.

100-year old Pune Marathi Granthalaya has noted that the number of casual readers and serious readers is around same. They have not quoted it to the exact or nearest proportion but by just saying as ‘mixed’.

Everywhere else almost the same books are read. Obviously these readers are the kind of getting-carried-away-species. They go by the reviews that are managed by the publishers with the newspapers and form an opinion. Some really good and thought provoking books are sent to dust bin by the newspapers and libraries too. How many of the readers who have read Hindu would be able to convince other readers as to what could be appreciated out of it quoting some parts or at least a few quotes, like that from the writer’s earlier Kosla?

Chetan Bhagat is read only because of the publicity beyond proportion it gets. However at the time of the movie controversy he ran away behaving like a white collar management man than a rough and daredevil workman from the field. The figures of his book sales and the signing amounts he is promised could have sky rocketed had he defied the chaffering Chopra.

This would remind anyone who is in his late fifties the Laxmikant-Pyarelal music composer duo. Thousands of listeners from Rajnandgaon and Bareilly used to recommend playing the duo’s songs to particular radio stations then. This was the post card trick parceled to the till then unknown villages and posted to radio stations afterwards. This worked beyond imagination. The getting-carried-away public was mass hypnotized.

The moot question is not this, notwithstanding.

Who reads seriously is the question. In U.K., the essays, criticism, research, derived thoughts are written and rewritten for hundreds of years on a book, of course on a time surviving book. Does it happen here? And in Marathi? Unfortunately ‘no’ – a sad answer.

From the survey it appears not a single reader has taken the trouble to read meaningful and revolutionary books.

While reading Dostoevsky one has to face the ultimate difficulty to remember the names ending with mostly ‘vsky’. Otherwise it’s a maze to remember the characters. The best way was to make a list and their relationship with other characters or a chart of family tree. Many a professors have advised to their students so. In a few books the family tree is drawn to help the reader.

There are a couple of articles in the same supplement of Loksatta. But I didn’t find a single reader who has liked (let us assume, he has read) the author like Kiran Nagarkar about whom the tough nut to crack, who once was an editor of Illustrated Weekly and had refused to meet an ambassador of a country, as the ambassador didn’t have a prior appointment, Mr. Khushwant Singh has said – Nagarkar is a born story-teller, thinker one has a way with words uniquely his own…You enjoy, you learn and you are made to think. What more can you ask from an author? He quotes about Cuckold as a historical fiction at its best. Remember “Cuckold” is a novel based on Meerabai’s husband. You will be shocked to read the novel that reveals the quantum of research Kiran Nagarkar has done for this mammoth size novel.

The next is “God’s Little Soldier”. Again a mega research on Muslim and Christian religions apart from Hinduism. Let us keep it aside as the novel is not yet translated in Marathi. But “Cuckold”, “Ravan and Eddy” and “Saat Sakkam Trechalis” are available in Marathi, the first two translated by the Sanskrit professor and experimental theatre activist Rekha Sabnis. “Saat Sakkam Trechalis” was written in Marathi a couple of decades ago and translated by Kiran Nagarkar himself in English recently.

At least three books are available for Marathi readers but not a single mention. Accepted, he is a difficult writer. But if the reader wants live on a mediocre, school level; how would he be mature. This is a mediocre mentality. The people of this “once-upon-a-time” most socially and educationally advanced state do not want to move an inch ahead to raise the level of appreciation of higher standard, stubbornly.

Rest of the popular writers copy-pasting the matter from the other sources are throwing back the readers to past with the stuff that is almost useless for the generation they harp on. Retrograde steps regarded as progressive principle by them. So there are also a few darkened spots at the centre of the brain.

On Facebook I found only five clicks on Kiran Nagarkar. This defines how shallow our interest is, in literature. In such insouciance do you think literature would grow? Or just swell?

To go by perpendicular popularity only without profundity is like hypothecating your brain.

P.S. In his Saturday column, Anyatha (dt. 16th April, 2011) bylined by him, the executive editor, Girish Kuber in the post script has brought out a nice point; though about software engineers fitting well for writers.

He says, the another anguish is that there are so many of us in Software, but not a single new and pioneering idea is conceived by an Indian excepting the Hotmail by Sabeer Bhatia. That’s also a part of Microsoft now. The real challenge before us is to throw this impoverishment of thinking. There is a further comment on that article by one Devika-Rani under a title -Stale Mentality- quoting: you have pinpointed the remorse rightly. Some lower middle class software company owners who were scholars in their student days (not anymore) and had been successful in creating a myth that they would be able to create a miracle, turned their backs suddenly like a mule and took to writing high school level books!

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