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Gift a Book And Lift A Life

Gift a Book And Lift A Life

One of the quotes that decorate the walls of USM (Universal Solidarity Movement) Indore is “Gift a book and lift a life”. A significant outcome of one-week Enlightened Leadership Training for students conducted in USM is students imbibing the habit of reading and writing. As a part of the training, the students are given various personal projects and they include reading a biography and writing review and writing two letters to the editor after reading newspapers and news magazines. At the end of the training, many students take the resolution to read a book once in two months, read newspapers every day and gift books to friends on their birthdays. Parents have given testimonies that their children implement the resolution of reading books and newspapers. USM has started the practice of honouring the guests at various functions by giving books instead of garlands or bouquets. On the occasion of festivals USM gifts books to its friends instead of giving sweets or other items.

Matters India on January 23, 2020, published the news of gifting 100 books by a bridegroom to the bride. In October 2019 Ijas Hakim and Ajna Nizam were newly betrothed to be married. Among many things, Ijas too had the Mehr, which is usually a large sum of money or possessions that a Muslim man gifts his bride, on his mind. But Ajna did not want money or diamonds. Instead, she gave him a list of 100 books that she wants to read. Ijas was surprised by his fiancée’s wish list. He decided to fulfil the wish of his future wife. He managed to get 96 books before the marriage and the other books were bought within three weeks after their marriage.

The list of books included the Quran, Bible and Bhagavad Gita, besides the Constitution of India. The couple has already set up a bookshelf in their room. They have decided to set apart a fixed time for reading books as well as to gift books to their friends and relatives.

According to Matters India, this isn’t the first time, however, that a couple has broken convention. In 2016, another Kerala bride, Sahla Nechyil, a political science graduate from the University of Hyderabad, demanded 50 books as mehr. She said she wanted to show the Malappuram Muslims that a wedding can take place without obsessing over the amount of gold transacted between both parties.

On the same day, Matters India published another interesting story of a valiant septuagenarian woman, Umadevi, who walks for about 4 to 5 km daily just to deliver library books to houses. For the past 14 years, she has been bringing books to the doorsteps of 220 houses, that too on foot, in the village.

Every day she takes books from the Kalaposhini Library in Budhannoor village near Chengannur in Kerala. She collects the books back after two weeks and hands them over to the library. She does the work of a field librarian even at the age of 73. In her own words, she is ‘carrying Saraswathi Devi in her hands on the run’ and is extremely glad that she was chosen to instil the reading habit in the younger generation.

The technology has changed the way people read books. A good number of people read e-books using an e-book reader, smartphones, tablets and laptop computers. Still printed books may not disappear because they have certain advantages. People may choose the way to read books in accordance with their taste and the circumstances. What is important is cultivating the habit of reading books and widening the horizon of knowledge. It is said that Knowledge multiplies in every three years and one of the best ways of enhancing or updating knowledge is reading books, newspapers and periodicals.

Those who read books have broad views and mindset and they are open to learning from any source. Ajna Nizam wanted to know what the Bible and the Gita teach. While she is rooted in her faith she respects other faiths and wants to learn about other faiths. Often people entertain prejudices against other people, their faith and culture without making any effort to know and understand them. The fundamentalists, in general, are not ready to read or listen to any view that is different from that of them. Reading books about other faiths and cultures can prevent a person from becoming the victim of religious fundamentalism.

One of the reasons for Mahatma Gandhi’s liberal attitude towards other faiths is his eagerness to learn about other religions. He strongly believed that religion does not teach mutual enmity. He considered that different religions as the different roads going towards the same destination. Gandhi out of his own experiences and readings came to the conclusion that all religions are based on the same principles, namely, truth and love. Gandhi had the good fortune to have as his colleague's people belonging to different religions. Two important examples are C.F. Andrews and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. The Ashram prayers of Gandhi had passages from holy books like the Gita, the Bible and the Koran. Gandhi also maintained that a reverential study of the different religious tradition is necessary. 

Ajana’s selection of Bible and Gita along with Quran for reading sends a message to the religious leaders. Along with teaching their faith, the religious leaders shall tell their people what are the basic teachings of different faiths and what is the uniqueness of each religion. The institutions run by the minority communities should have the generosity to respect all faiths by keeping the symbols and sacred books of all religions. For example, the schools run by the minorities and private organizations shall have a common prayer room to which the students of all faiths shall have access for prayer and meditation. The scriptures of different religions shall be kept in the prayer room so that the students and teachers will be able to use them. Similarly, in order to create an ambience of universality, the symbols of different faiths with a brief explanation can also be kept in the common prayer room. Celebration of different religious festivals will be another noble expression of respecting all faiths.

Ajana selected the Constitution of India for her library in October before the starting of the protests against CAA/NRC/NPR, using profusely the constitution of India and National flag. Very rarely have I found a copy of the Constitution of India in a family or religious community or parish library. Ajana is aware of the fact that the Constitution of India is the very foundation of Indian society, consisting of different religions, cultures, languages etc. The various problems India is facing today is due to the failure of the people of India, especially the leaders, to read, understand and teach the young generation the constitutional vision and core values. A movement may be started to provide every family with a simple book on the Indian Constitution in their mother tongue, explaining the vision,  core values and the fundamentals of democratic governance. Many may not have the patience to read the whole Constitution. Even if some people read the Constitution they may not be able to understand it properly. Hence there is a need for making the constitution understandable to the common people.

Reading biographies of great personalities and persons, who struggled in life due to poverty and various setbacks, but succeeded and reached heights in life because of their determination and hard work, can strengthen the will power of the readers. The biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Swami Vivekanda etc. can influence a person, especially the youth to form a broad, inclusive and lasting vision for their lives. 

The Bible says that God created human beings in His image and likeness. It means that every human person is endowed with creativity and immense capacity. Life becomes meaningful when a human being maximizes the God-given capacities and creativity and makes a unique contribution to the world. Reading books on self-development and leadership like ‘You Can Win’ by Shiv Khera, ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey, ‘The Magic of Thinking Big’ by David J. Schwartz, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie can motivate people to bring out the best in their lives. Some religious preachers discourage people from reading such books, branding them as “books from the market”. These preachers want people to accept their views without using their intelligence and critical thinking.

A sense of history is very important for the holistic development of a person. Reading history books helps us to understand our past, which in turn allows us to understand our present. History also provides us with insight into our culture and the other cultures which will lead to cross-cultural awareness and understanding. Two books of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, ‘Glimpses of World History’ and ‘Discovery of India’ are very useful from this perspective. 

Developing reading and writing as a hobby helps a person to be intellectually alive and find joy and satisfaction in life. This will be extremely useful in the old age when physical activities are reduced substantially due to the limitations of ageing.

Because of excessive attraction to TV and smartphones, often children and students give up the habit of reading books. Hence conscious efforts are needed to motivate and encourage children and young people to read books. Schools may organize competition in reading books and writing reviews. Those who write excellent reviews could be awarded with some gifts. Parents can motivate children to read books, starting with stories and moving to biographies and later to other serious books.

Every family shall have a small library with a shelf for keeping books and spending a particular amount of money every year for buying books. Those who have better facilities can set apart a room for library. Reading and writing are inter-related. If the children are encouraged to write articles, stories and poems they will be motivated to read more books. Reading books will enhance the quality of their writings. Parents can start the practice of gifting books to their children on their birthdays.

Reading and writing should be an essential dimension of the formation or training of priests and religious. The role of priests and Religious has to shift from service providers to leaders, animators and facilitators, if they are to be relevant in the days to come. This requires expansion of knowledge and excellent communication skills. Reading and writing are essential for enhancing knowledge and developing communication skills.

The candidates of priesthood and Religious life shall be asked to read a particular number of books from a list of books suggested every month and write reviews. The formation-in-charge shall go through the reviews written by the formees and give feedback. The candidates also should be given the task of writing a particular number of articles in a month on the topics allotted to them. Reading newspapers every day, especially editorials and articles, should be another discipline the formees have to develop if they are to be prepared to play their leadership role effectively.

Intellectual poverty is one of the drawbacks observed in today’s leaders whether it is in politics or religion. The most effective means to remove this deficiency and to be intellectually alive is reading books, magazines and newspapers. Let the parents, heads of institutions, leaders of religious congregations and dioceses adopt and promote the practice of gifting a book. Surely, this practice will lift the lives of many people by widening vision, broadening the mindset, expanding the intellect, enhancing knowledge and increasing vocabulary.


(Published on 03rd February 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 06)