A book is a mirror, a lamp and a window
In common discourse, there are views that favour reading books and those that disfavour reading them. As far as their popular appeal is concerned, the latter are more imaginative compared to the former.
As children, we would get sick of our parent’s constant refrain, “Padhoge likhoge banoge nawab,” to goad us to study. On the other hand, in Hindi cinema there’s no dearth of songs that cock a snook at or deride rote learners. I’m reminded of a song in which a damsel tries to wean her beau away from a book with the plea that it’s more edifying to read faces than books, stating the obvious that books are inanimate and cannot substitute the real world of flesh and blood. There is another song from the blockbuster, Roti Kapda aur Makaan, which questions the whole point of an education that steals your prime without compensating you with a job. Actually, the part of humanity that has no truck with the written word is God’s plenty compared to the minuscule population of bibliophiles. For a normal person, the lure of being out and about is more enticing than the desk-bound pursuit of tomes. As a teacher for whom books are bread and butter, I often ask myself, what after all makes reading worth all the strain in the eye.
There is surely nothing pristine or primordial about either books or reading. Sages and seers have attained enlightenment or seen the divine light without the aid of books simply because inquisitiveness, common sense and wisdom predate books. And it’s more common to link genius with lack of education than with its abundance. It’s held that genius is born not made. Even from a historical point of view, books are a relatively recent invention.
Ages and ages of human life went by before scripts were developed and books and manuscripts came into existence. Today many may believe that unlettered leaders are a liability but history bears testimony that some of the greatest emperors were not formally educated. On the contrary, today a literate person is often at the receiving end. He or she is a perfect candidate for getting pilloried for trivial mistakes as transgressions of an educated person are less easily tolerated by society.
Then what is it that justifies reading and makes it a good investment? One answer could be that it hasn’t got much to do with the origin of books or the question whether wisdom is within or without. Books have no monopoly over knowledge because age, experience and inborn sagacity have an equal claim. Yet, their value lies in the rare property of magical transformation into mirrors, lamps and windows.
At different times and depending on how we perceive them, books act as mirrors when they truthfully reflect the realities of our life, lamps when they perform the illuminating function and make old and familiar things appear in a new light and windows which encase everything in the world whether near or far. In this sense, they do not drive a wedge between the animate and inanimate worlds. Rather, they thrive in the annihilation of such divisions. firstname.lastname@example.org
The writer teaches at the Punjabi University Regional Centre in Bathinda