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Booked! Youth is hooked to reading

Litfests across the country – several of them predating Tata Lit Live!, some newer — are seeing young audiences grow in large numbers

mumbai Updated: Dec 01, 2017 00:45 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,books,Tata Lit Live!

This year’s Tata Literature Live! was the most successful in the festival’s brief (as yet) history according to founder/director Anil Dharker. Writers, publishers and readers alike should be enthused: the death of reading and books, that great looming fear, may be highly exaggerated.

How is the success of a lit fest assessed? I don’t know the parameters used by Dharker, but the simplest method is based in arithmetic: add up the sale of books and audiences at different venues, and if these numbers exceed those of previous years, the verdict is evident.

But perhaps even more important, in my opinion, are the qualitative aspects that make up a book festival: the pertinence of discussions and debate, roster of writers in attendance and the kind of work they’ve done, and the profile of the audience.

The last mentioned is particularly significant in the Indian context. Lit fests and such have been for long perceived as an expression of snobbery involving the ‘usual suspects’ every year, making it an almost closed group activity. Interestingly, this is where one sees a big churn happening.

Youngsters, most of them under 30, made up a major section of the audience at the Tata Literature Live! this year, a big departure from previous editions, suggesting that one of the biggest compunctions about our youth – that they are disdainful about reading – is not just unfair but may be unfounded.

This is not restricted to just Mumbai. Litfests across the country – several of them predating Tata Lit Live!, some newer — are seeing young audiences grow in large numbers. This, in turn, is causing a proliferation of lit fests as well as the participation of some of the biggest names in the world of literature and books.

At the commercial level, this is about demand and supply. As literacy levels rise – accompanied by economic betterment – such events will abound. But at another level, this also reflects the thirst in India’s young for understanding the world around them.

At its core, a love of reading stems from curiosity ingrained in the human DNA. British scholar and philosopher A C Grayling captures this brilliantly. “To read is to fly, it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, shared experiences and the fruits of many inquiries,’’ he writes.

The best writers provide this and win large audiences. Some works survive centuries. Unless they’ve become moribund, good writers want their thoughts to resonate in the newer generation. Interacting with younger people, understanding their mindset can be provocative but also keep a writer relevant.

Words are the medium through which ideas have survived ever since the human race got speaking. Books have been – at least for the past few centuries – the best platform for dissemination and preservation of ideas and thoughts, but are now facing serious challenge from technology.

It is no longer necessary to have ‘physical’ books. Technology can serve out the same fare as an e-book, which can be read at minimal cost on a contraption that is easy to carry and – most pertinently – frees up space for other things.

While this has not impacted book sales, it has worked to the detriment of bookshops, which have also suffered from online outlets springing up. For instance, the closing down of New And Secondhand Bookshop at Dhobi Talao and Smokers Corner on Pherozeshah Mehta Road where I’ve spent hours and days, was a matter of great personal regret.

I must confess at being unable to adjust to contraptions on which books can be read. I like the feel of a book in my hands, and possessing them. They give me a locus, provide joy, sorrow and solace. They have been — and still are — the most steadfast and undemanding companions in my life.

I am frequently told that I am a dying breed. Maybe. But there is deep sense of gratification that (physical) books provide which I am unwilling to surrender. And for those who share this sentiment, I’ll end with a parable that has served me splendidly over the years.

There are three kinds of blind people. One, those who have unfortunately lost their sense of sight, two, those who loan out good books, and three those who return good books.

First Published: Dec 01, 2017 00:45 IST