By Rohini Mohan
My favorite thing to do in my pre-teen and teen years was to curl up on a sofa, with a nice, juicy, comfort oozing book. The actual reading of the book was the climax of the whole experience, generally preceded by a long drawn out ceremony, starting with a trip to either the second hand book store if my parents were feeling particularly generous or nine cases out of ten, to the library where I spent most of my meager allowance. Next would follow the deliciously painstaking process of locating just the book I wanted to read which itself could take an hour or more. There would be much conferring with the store keeper/ librarian, I would change my mind at least 15 times, and when I finally picked the chosen book, no-one was happier or more anxious to get started than me.
The books I would read were slice of life, generally with a moral at the end of the story. Enid Blyton was a staple and so was Nancy Drew. The boys in my generation would read Hardy Boys or Sudden. Most stories had a moral to them. Most books were based in England or America of yesteryear. Most of us had never significantly set foot outside our hometowns let alone our country, and yet we could relate one hundred percent to all the events described so lovingly and graphically; the midnight feasts with sardines and treacle would almost always make me salivate. A testimony to the power of the written word, considering I did not even know what either looked like. Humor was PG Woodhouse. I did the rounds of fast paced reading with Archer and even Sheldon. So great was my love for reading that I would devour anything I could get my hands on. And somehow I tie it all to the fact that getting my hands on books was not easy, making it therefore that much more precious.
Kids today, on the other hand get everything handed to them on a silver platter, tied with a bow. The allowances are bigger, there are many more bookstores, libraries are free and there’s Amazon if all else fails. Like with everything else, they are wooed and tantalized into buying books. So they read. Then they watch the movie. There are theme parties, memorabilia and merchandise associated with every book. And the whole thing turns into a big, gimmicky, fantasy–like Walt Disney sort of experience. With all the competing products, each book is a short lived fad till the next one comes along.
Therein lies my pet peeve. Why are we commercializing everything? And why do we spoon feed our kids so much? I somehow cannot buy into this modern day logic of hype to cultivate basic values and human interests. To me, building a love for reading and learning in this artificial way is sacrilege. It is something that comes naturally, or not at all. But it’s our own fault. We exposed our kids to Tele Tubbies and Pokemon before they said their first words. We used virtual reading aids to get them started on their alphabet. We allowed them to watch Jungle Book ( which is truly a classic, so not a great example to state my case, but you know what I mean) instead of reading the Kipling original to them. We created the artificial world. And we are now forced to live in it with our kids. And I shudder to say that many of us even enjoy it…
Sadly, the warm, comfort blanket feeling of curling up with a good book is lost somewhere between my generation and my son’s. I love my books. I return to some of them year after year, always discovering something new. I don’t have the burden of the hype that goes with them, they are all mine to interpret.
And I feel the loss for this generation, sorely and keenly.