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Reading Culture

Reading Culture

When a group of young students who belonged to Hindu community came to participate in the leadership training I noticed a girl wearing a gold chain with a small cross. Because of my curiosity I enquired about her reason for wearing the cross. “I follow Jesus Christ, I like his teachings” was her prompt reply. I asked further to know who instructed her about Christ. “I have read your book, The Key”, she replied.

I was pleasantly surprised by the prompt answer. She had purchased this book when she had come to USM community a year ago to participate in a training session with a group of students from her school. The book, ‘The Key’, contains lessons of leadership and personality development based on the life and teachings of Christ. The girl confessed that the book helped her to develop self-confidence and face challenges in life. Inspired by the person of Christ and the lessons she learned from the book she started wearing the small cross from that time.

Many speak about lack of reading habit among the young people. I have come across several young students who are passionate about reading books. Their parents and teachers have inculcated reading habit in them. The young students who come to Universal Solidarity Movement for one week leadership training are asked to read a biography of inspiring people within four days and write a review of the book to present it in the group. This was a very successful project because students get a taste of reading about the life of great women and men who made a difference in the world by their lives. Students also are made to read the daily newspaper and write a letter to editor on any issue about which they read in it. The purpose of this project is to develop a taste for reading newspapers, critically analyze the issues and express their opinion about them. After the training many students continued this practice and have written in newspapers about various issues. They are trained to be responsible citizens who play their prophetic role.

Unfortunately a vast majority of teachers do not have the habit of reading any books or newspapers. During all my seminars for teachers across the country over the years, I have not come across more than 7 percent of the teachers who read newspaper daily. Out of them, hardly any one reads articles in the editorial page on various social issues. Many of them have not read a single book after they completed their university studies. When the teachers do not have the habit of reading how can they inspire the students to do it? They remain mere instructors who do their minimum routine job for earning a salary. When the teachers and parents fail in their duty of mentoring, students waste their time with mobile phones and internet for unproductive things which adversely affect their studies and life.

Some bishops and provincials who believe in the power of reading purchase good books to be distributed to their priests and religious as gifts on occasions like birthdays and Christmas. Once I asked a bishop who used to gift books to his priests, “will the priests read the books you gift them?” “Some of them may open a few pages and read. When they get interested they may read the whole book. The rest of them will read at least a few pages,” was his argument. He felt the need to make inspiring books available to his priests.

I recall my childhood days when many newspapers were available at home. I not only developed a taste for reading them but developed a dream to edit and publish a newspaper. I was lucky that I could edit and publish hand written magazines in the school and later edit and publish printed magazines. I was privileged to have a library at home from my school days. I purchased biographies of great people like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, Rajendra Prasad, St Francis of Assisi, etc. Reading these biographies helped me to develop a broad and lasting vision from the early school days. Reading and writing became a passion for me that I could write and publish more than a dozen books and write numerous articles in newspapers and other publications. Regular reading of books, newspapers and magazines sharpened my thinking and reflection.

The positive impact of reading and writing prompted me to include them in our training. The young students benefit immensely from this practice and learn to use their time productively. Many young people started giving books as gifts to their friends on special occasions. I am happy to note that many school principals also started the practice of gifting books to teachers and important guests.

Austin Phelps said about his passion for reading, “Wear the old coat and buy the new book”. Jorge Luis Borges says, “I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books”. Regarding the importance of having a library at home Heinrich Mann has this to say, “A house without books is like a room without windows”. Purchasing books only to decorate the shelves is a crime. Joseph Brodsky says, “There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them”.

(Published on 17th July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 29)