BOOK CULTURE IN THE PRESENT SCENARIO

Here is the paper that I presented on 31st March 2012 in the Authors’ Guild of India annual Conference held in Goa. Kindly read and comment

Mario Miranda
Mario Miranda

(Abstract: Evolution of culture / Evolution of scripts and books / Impact of changes in attitude and culture/Impact of Information Technology on Book reading and publication/Impact of visual media on the reading culture/Present trends in book publications and reading/Steps required to protect and improve this culture / the role of different agencies in preserving the Book Culture)

What is Culture?

Oxford dictionary will give the meaning of this word as “the arts and other manifestation of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively; a refined understanding and appreciation of art, literature etc.; the customs, civilization, and achievements of a particular time or people”

The society believes in certain values, consciously adopt in day today life, which in course of time becomes habitual and carefully nurtured and handed over to the posterity and that is what deemed to be culture. This culture provides stability and strength, nobility and vitality, vision and wisdom.

Evolution of scripts and books:

Indian civilization is one of the most ancient and thousands of years ago the great Vedas and Upanishads were handed over down to the generations through the word of mouth notwithstanding the fact that first written scripts were invented as early as 1900 BC known as Indus writing/Saraswathi- brahmi scripts. Probably it was during the period of Ashoka that the scripts were recorded in the stones and rocks in a large scale.

Devimahatmya_Sanskrit_MS_Nepal_11c

Earlier, writings were recorded in the animal skins, tree trunks, palm-leaves and then after the inscriptions in stone and on rocks came printed books! And today is the day of internet, e-books and kindle!

Reading of the books on various branches of knowledge contributed to the acquisition of knowledge. “Knowledge is power”. Reading the books attained the status of “culture” and that in fact reflected in the vision and wisdom, nobility and vitality of the society. The books were considered in our Hindu tradition as the manifestation of Divinity and during the Navrathri celebrations, on the day of Saraswathi puja, books are kept in front of the portrait of Sarasvathi- the Goddess of knowledge and learning- and worshipped. Books give us knowledge, knowledge gives us power and that power provides us confidence which in turn leads us to success. Hence the importance of books and book culture in the world.

DSC00437
Saraswathi Puja. Photo by Srivalli G

 

In fact a Sanskrit saying goes: “pusthakam hastha bhushanam” “pusthakam hastha lakshanam”! Book indeed is the wealth, ornament and adds beauty to the human hand!

In Tamil, research has been made exhaustively and extensively on “BOOK”. One great Bavananthi munivar has written a book titled “NANNOOL” more or less one thousand years ago, giving exhaustively how a book is to be planned, lay out, content, subjects to be dealt with, attributes of good writing etc. He explains the method of giving title, choosing the theme on four broad disciplines, 10 beauties of the language to be used, 10 flaws to be avoided, and 7 principles to be followed, 32 strategies to be adopted in bringing out a book of quality!

About two thousand years ago Saint Thiruvalluvar in his Magnum Opus Thirukkural says on the greatness of book reading:

நவில்தொறும் நூல்நயம் போலும் பயில்தொறும்
பண்புடையாளர் தொடர்பு

As one sees greater beauty and derives enhanced pleasures, from the deeper study of a great book,
Noble friendships gain in worth and grace day by day.

The friendship of really worthy persons is like the deep study of great books; the more one goes into them, the more charms one is likely to lay bare before himself in the process. The emphasis is on the resultant pleasure of deeper learning of good books, and intimate friendship with great poems.

Again Pavendhar Bharathidhasan, ardent devotee of Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharathiyar and serious votary of book culture sings in great expectation:

கைத்திறச் சித்திரங்கள்
கணிதங்கள் வானநூல்கள்
மெய்த்திற நூற்கள், சிற்பம்
விஞ்ஞானம், காவியங்கள்
வைத்துள தமிழர் நூற்கள்
வையத்தின் புதுமை என்னப்
புத்தக சாலை எங்கும்
புதுக்கு நாள் எந்த நாளோ?

தாயெழிற் றமிழை என்றன்
தமிழரின் கவிதை தன்னை
ஆயிரம் மொழியிற் காண
இப்புவி அவாவிற் றென்றே
தோயுரும் மதுவின் ஆறு
தொடர்ந்தென்றன் செவியில் வந்து
பாயுநாள் எந்த நாளோ?

Yes; look at his yearnings and thirst for books born out of his passion for creating and sustaining a positive book culture! Books on arts, arithmetic, astrology, science, literature and so on in Tamil must be found in all libraries all over the world he says and he is waiting for that golden day! The world must yearn to seek all poems in Tamil be translated into thousand languages of the world and he is looking for the happy day when he hears that voice of honey!

IMPACT ON BOOK CULTURE

While the great book culture in the country was taking fine shape all over the years to the joy of the noble minded people, intellectuals and writers from the days of yore, the society witnessed certain disturbing features emanating through several sources. First and foremost due to the increasing influence of the electronic media, reading habit among the younger generation is gradually on the wane. Elders in the households- especially when both the spouses are employed leaving little time for them to guide and monitor, mentor and advise the youngsters the culture of book reading takes a back seat. The children have little time even to read their academic books- not to think of extra curricular studies. Added to the electronic media, the advancement in information technology in the form of internet and various websites easily accessible to all irrespective of age and sex, book reading habit has become a victim. While this is the disgusting situation in the homes, educational institutions which have to play a very crucial role in sustaining the book culture, have their own priorities and extra reading has become a luxury and no special attention is paid to this aspect. True there are libraries and books in the schools and colleges and universities but the number of users is dwindling according to reliable sources. Public libraries are in plenty in most of the States, spacious buildings are available, and books in thousands are available; but then real users……….? In the fast moving world, people in their own anxiety to catch up with the day-to-day routine chores do not seem to be conscious of their losing precious values and advantages of book reading.

BUT THEN…………..
It is said that Art and Literature of the highest type cannot flourish in a world that is increasingly becoming mechanic and society a rocket! Book culture is an essential need for art and literature of the highest order to flourish. Though on the one side the people of today are not that enthusiastic about nurturing and sustaining the great book culture, there are a set of people who steadfastly hold on to this culture.

Let us have a look at the following report:

“Ranked as the sixth-largest publishing industry in the world, India has its entire gamut of publishing activities and services available in-house. An annual output of 90,000 books, with 19,000 publishers publishing them, has put the book market in India in the spotlight over the last few years.

The industry has been boosted by an infusion of capital since the year 2000, when the government of India allowed 100% equity in the publishing industry. The result has been several new opportunities and challenges for the Indian publishing industry.

With literacy rates improving each year (currently the rate is 65% out of a population of 1.1 billion people) and with the expansion of the middle class, Indians are reading more than ever, with a particular focus on skill development and self improvement. Little wonder, then, that management books, cookbooks, self-help, and self-improvement books sold very well in 2009–2010. A recent nationwide survey revealed that one-fourth of the youth population, a staggering figure of 83 million, identify themselves as book readers. Of these, 58% are either at or below university matriculation level, spelling a demand for school and academic books.

“Book publishing in Indian languages is growing,”!

Although publishers in India are grappling with the nuances of digital publishing, the buzz on e-publishing is getting louder. Print-on-demand, self-publishing, e-books, apps and enhanced e-books are all underway. Electronic ink devices and tablets for e-books are already available in the market, although indigenous models such as the Wink and Infibeam Pi have an advantage over the others due to their built-in Indian language support. In parallel, online selling is on a sharp upward curve, backed by India having the sixth-largest number of internet users in the world (61.34 million users in 2009) and the second-highest for number of mobile telephone users (670 million in 2010).

Along with online sales mechanisms, the emergence of organized retail in India — growing at 15% per annum — has opened new delivery channels for publishers and wholesalers. Currently, format retail stores account for 7% of book retail sales. Superstores, a.k.a., hypermarkets, are making steady progress into semi-urban and rural India, which will give further thrust to the trend. That books are selling alongside music, movies, lifestyle products, electronic items and the like is good news because it exposes books to non-traditional book buyers.
The Indian printing industry is said to be growing at 12% per annum, equipped with state-of-the-art printing technology. Improvements in infrastructure support from the government, availability of paper, and delivery infrastructure like ports and roads, as well as increased communication, have all transformed this industry in recent years.

On the content end, book publishing in Indian languages is growing. Whereas, during the late 1990s English-language publishing made up half of the industry, today its share has been reduced to one-third. Translation into and from India’s 24 official languages (including English) is a growing area of interest for publishers like Penguin India, which has a Hindi imprint, Yatra Books.

There is now a growing academic interest in the publishing industry in India. Literature festivals are growing rapidly, with the Jaipur Literature Festival, held each year in January, leading the way. Undoubtedly, India’s book market is expanding and buoyant, and it invites the international community to take part in its growth story.”

Report by Vinutha Mallyas Senior Editor of Mapin Publishing, based in Ahmedabad.

We have book fairs every year and some of the very popular fairs are held in Calcutta, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Trivandram, Bangalore etc. In Chennai book fair conducted in Dec 2011-Jan.2012, book sales exceeded Rs.1.2 crore registering a growth rate of 10% over the previous fair.

We have Public libraries in Tamilnadu under the control and guidance of the Director of Public Libraries having 4028 libraries in all the 32 districts where constant additions are being made year after year.

With 5 lakh books and a capacity of up to 1250 persons, Anna Centenary Library is the latest addition to the Chennai book lovers. Reports indicate that the library is almost full everyday.

Again in Chennai from where I come, we have Connemara Library started on 5th December 1896 has 7,22,000 volumes and during 2010-11, 3,39,592 visited the Library for reading purposes and during that year 2,16,813 books were lent to the members, much more than the previous year.!

books
A book shop

 

These data are quoted only to emphasize that one need not be unduly sensitive and worried over book culture in the present scenario and in fact not withstanding the impact of fast moving world, increasing electronic media, developing alternative entertainments, the book culture can not be dented to a great extent.

We know of the schools in good number inject from very young age the culture of book reading and we hear that on a particular day of the week, two books are being reviewed –one by a student and the other by a teacher which session is attended by all the higher class students.. There are numerous schools where this type of culture has evolved.

Another refreshing fact is that in most of the elite schools one hour every week is allotted for book reading in their library. The librarian takes charge of the students, they are facilitated to read other than academic books, take notes on what they have read and they are put- up to the class teachers for their review. Naturally through this system book culture will grow in such youngsters and how nice it will be if all the schools follow this system?

STEPS TO SUSTAIN BOOK CULTURE- ROLE OF VARIOUS AGENCIES
Thanks to great strides made in information technology, BOOK CULTURE is also undergoing vast changes. While hard copies of the books are increasing on the one side, ebooks are increasingly becoming popular with the computer savvy. They prove to be cheaper and easily available Next great stride is the availability of the KINDLE where dozens of books can be saved and read at leisure and ones own convenience!

Can authors be a cause indirectly in discouraging book culture? This question is bound to raise the eyebrows of the august audience in this learned society! Why then 35 books have been banned in our country during 1934 to 2011? I am not interested in analyzing the reasons-politics or religion, pride or prejudice, whims or fancy of the authority- but the fact remains! The writing has not helped improving the book culture.

“NANNOOL” – ‘Good Book’ in English authored by a Jain monk Pavananathiatikal –referred to in the beginning- refers to the attributes of a good author:
“Noble in birth, belief in the Omniscient, high principles, clarity in thought, strength of writing skill, constancy in purpose, perfection, judicial approach, flower like softness, worldly knowledge and wisdom, good character”
Only such can be good authors and through their creative writing can have a positive influence on the book readers and naturally ‘book culture’ will be sustained. I am analyzing how far I fit into such norms!

He also describes the negatives that can not make a good author:
“Lack of language skills, bad and undesirable character, jealousy, uncommon desires, hypocrisy, fear, fickle mindedness, inconsistent and conflicting thoughts”

Again as an author and teacher/trainer, I am having a self-analysis on the above and making constant efforts to free myself from such negative attributes so that I may be able to serve the literary world in a greater and more effective manner. Authors owe it to themselves and the society to give the best of content to their readers that will enhance the knowledge and wisdom, nobility and human values, induce humanism and compassion, free them from ignoble thoughts and views, negativisms and violence. Blessed with knowledge and skills, the authors must avoid sensationalism and commercialism in their creations. Not for making money but to create a better and nobler society, must be the aim and endeavor of the authors.

Connemara
Connemara Library

 

Per capita libraries available and books (including internet/ebooks) on shelves and shops has to be improved. Many book lovers find it difficult to purchase the books to their hearts content because of the escalating cost of the books. If books are made available for lesser costs more and more books will be purchased by the public which will sustain the culture. Home libraries are gradually yielding place to the circulating libraries.

If the society is to experience peace and poise, enjoy nature and its contributions, develop knowledge and wisdom, improve humanism and compassion, develop noble thoughts and deeds, become noble and great, books and libraries are a must according to the great revolutionary Tamil poet Bharathidasan. I quote below a few of his verses the substance of which I have just enumerated.

தமிழர்க்குத் தமிழ் மொழியிற் சுவடிச் சாலை
சர்வகலா சாலையைப் போல் எங்கும் வேண்டும்.
தமிழிலிலாப் பிறமொழிநூல் அனைத்தும் நல்ல
தமிழாக்கி வாசிக்கத் தருதல் வேண்டும்.
அமுதம் போல் செந்தமிழிற் கவிதை நூற்கள்
சுமை சுமையாய்ச் சேகரித்துப் பல்கலை சேற்
துறை துறையாய்ப் பிரித்தடுக்கி வைத்தல் வேண்டும்.
நாலைந்து வீதிகளுக் கொன்று வீதம்
நல்லதுவாய் வசதியதாய் இல்லம் வேண்டும்.
நூலெல்லாம் முறையாக ஆங்கமைத்து
நொடிக்கு நொடி ஆசிரியர் உதவுகின்ற
கோளமுறும் செய்தித் தாள் அனைத்தும் ஆங்கே
குவிந்திருக்க வகை செய்து தருதல் வேண்டும்
மூலையிலோர் சிறு நூலும் புது நூலாயின்
முடி தனிலே சுமந்து வந்து தருதல் வேண்டும்.
வாசிக்க வருபவரின் வருகை ஏற்றும்
மரியாதை காட்டி அவர்க் கிருக்கை தந்தும்
ஆசித்த நூல் தந்தும் புதிய நூல்கள்
அமைத்திருந்தால் அதை யுரைத்தும், நாளும் நூலை
நேசித்து வருவோர்கள் பெருகும் வண்ணம்
நினைப்பாலும் வாக்காலும் தேகத்தாலும்
மாசற்ற தொண்டிழைப்பீர் சமுதாயச் சீர்
மறுமலர்ச்சி கண்ட தென முழக்கஞ் செய்வீர்!

Yes; the poet here explains how an ideal book library must be located, organized and the books kept ready for the readers, how they are to be treated by the librarian and so on. If it is made into reality, book culture will not wane under any circumstances and that will lead to revolution and reformation, renaissance and rejuvenation! He also makes a reference to the need for translating the great works in other languages to be translated into Tamil and that holds good for all other languages also. This has to be undertaken by the Government and also by the society. Big business corporate and social service organizations can also play an important role in this area.

nypl
Inside New York Public Library

 

As authors we are, of course, concerned with the book culture in the present scenario. But then, let us continue with our creative writing in any field under the sun undeterred by the risk we undergo in expressing our thoughts and views in a fearless fashion. Fully conscious of the fact that we have our own right to express what we deem as right to satisfy our conscience, which should be our sole master , let us not be a party to the violations of norms of writing in the cause of literature and society!

Victory to Authors Guild of India!
Victory to the authors in India!

Jai Hind!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s