Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | January 13, 2012

Books, Gadgets etc.

I grew up in an atmosphere where books were my best friends. All the elders in my family have always been very studious but my father (who I call Baba) has always taken a keen interest in reading about various subjects. When I was about 7 years old, Baba already had so many books in his collection that he thought it will be useful if we tag them and prepare a catalogue. To me, the thought of getting involved in such an activity was exciting enough. More than anything else, I thought Baba intends to start a public library and I will be the librarian signing library cards, collecting fees, maintaining records etc. – much like our school librarian. So, I spent one afternoon tagging nearly all books with Baba and arranging them. I also worked additional hours preparing library cards and a library rule book (which of course Baba did not ask me to do).

In those days, I took immense pride in exhibiting those books to others. Even if all the visitors to our place were not that keen, I used to show them our small little library. Later I found out it was not that great idea, as some of them would borrow books only to never return them to me. Alas! I did not have any authority as my school librarian had.

The annual Saraswati Pujo (the worship of Hindu goddess of knowledge) was also a big event in our home. My parents and I would decorate the whole house and especially the stage where the idol was to be rested. Every year, Baba will think of something unique. I do not have the photographs here otherwise I could have posted some of our decorations. I used to strangely believe that only those books should be kept near the idol which was difficult to understand. So the science books were regular every year. I wished that the goddess blessed my science books, so that they become easier to comprehend (how silly! I should have sought the blessings so that I do well in Science).

While I am not aware about the current status of children’s literature in Bangla, but our generation had a wide variety to read and enjoy. In English, I was mostly introduced to the traditional books written much before my birth.

Now that again, I am in touch with children’s literature, I do browse through the library and book shop collections. The Auckland public library where I regularly visits organises free play time classes for infants and toddlers to get them acquainted to nursery rhymes, children books etc. I borrow some of those books. The quality of illustrations and overall presentations are quite good. It gives me hope that there are people who are publishing really attractive books for toddlers to get attracted too. The play time classes are well attended and every day the enthusiasm is the same.

However, as I speak of the kind of attention being given to introducing books and traditional forms of entertainment to toddlers and infants, I see slowly schools are trying to make computerised reading mandatory, book shop going out of businesses, children more interested in a mobile phone than a book.

Even if I concentrate on more positive aspects of technological advancement, this scares me. In my primary school, while learning English, we had to sit for handwriting and spelling tests. That helped us more than MS Word does. What if our kids never learn what a dictionary is?

Like the original inventors of camera (even possibly digital camera), Kodak has gone bankrupt, will the publishers of dictionaries go bankrupt too?

Life was so simple in my childhood days when we did not have video games, gadgets and computers. There were so many things to think about as a kid. As kids we were very busy thinking of apparently childish thing, rather than learning to press the appropriate button on a particular gadget. Most parents that I meet say proudly about how their kids use iPad from a young age. How iPads help them learn “youtube”, music etc. I don’t appreciate such people but then increasingly I am surrounded by such people.

Will I “have to” become one such parent? How can I avoid being one? Should I place curfew on my child and ban these things at home. Is it fine, to curb a child’s sphere of interest? Or should I not cling on to my interests and accept that preferences have changed.

This is a huge question that I find myself facing increasingly. I will try and do what is rational.

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Responses

  1. Dear Tanmoyda,
    This post of yours reminded me about some of my first memories with books. It seems strange to me today that eight or nine years ago, my father had had to use force one afternoon to make me read a book. I clearly remember that day. I had been dilly dallying with a Five Find Outers for more than a month, reluctant to proceed more than two pages. Some kind of a block must have grown in my mind that prevented me from concentrating and completing the book. That day, my father scolded me and put me into a room, forbidding me from leaving the room before I finished the book. At first I spent half an hour crying, but then I knew that the only way to get out of the mess was to read the book, which I did. I did not complete it that afternoon of course, but by the time my father allowed me to come out, I had become so engrossed that I did not want to leave the book until I had completed it! So that was my introduction to Enid Blyton, and thanks to my father’s rebuke that one afternoon, I had become an Enid Blyton addict.

    A few years later I read a book called “The Call of the Fledgling” which had a story similar to your father’s library. That story impressed me so much, that one evening I sat down and covered all my own story books (most of which were children’s adventures and the like) with brown paper and made a diary in which I wrote down the names of all those books with the intention of making it my own library notebook. At that time my father used to lend out his books to his students, and he maintained a notebook called “Books Lent Out”. I made the dairy my own version of daddy’s notebook, and started to convince my friends to borrow books from me. Needless to say, my efforts went in vain, and the handful of friends who did take my books returned them months later in tattered condition. So I had to give up my efforts of civilizing my friends and making readers out of them.

    Most people here, my friends and their parents alike refuse to have anything to do with books. In fact, I sometimes suspect that in many families the only books in the house are school textbooks and a few women’s magazines! There in Auckland you at least have a public library, which I guess is well in use. Here, there is not one real library in the town, and all children are discouraged from reading. These children however are allowed to spend half the day on their cellphones messaging their friends and using the various ‘apps’. Being able to press a few buttons makes them ‘smart’.

    My parents have always encouraged the habit of reading in my house. Even when I was a small child, I used to see my parents reading books. My father has sometimes coerced me and sometimes cajoled me into reading. Today, I am hugely grateful to him, and also to my mother because of whose constant efforts I have acquired a permanent friend in books. Long before I had attained the age of becoming interested in gadgets, reading had already been deeply ingrained in me. Had that not happened, I doubt whether they would ever have been able to drive down the attractions of gadgets and make me interested in reading.
    Pupu

  2. Dear Pupu

    Thank you for your comments. We also were brought up in similar atmosphere. Problem is these days, gadgets have invaded people’s lives like never before. Even 7 years back, I did not buy a phone since I did not want to have one. These days, my office in some way will force me to have a “smart-phone” which I cannot avoid. It is tricky times where schools make computers mandatory instead of books. We will see where this will lead up to.

    Tanmoyda

  3. Dear Tanmoy,

    I shall refer you to the post titled ‘Google instead of brains?’ in my wanton whimsy blog.


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