Summer in the time before mobile phones and iPads meant gorging on books and watching shows on the sole television channel Doordarshan. It was quite common to wait for fortnightly comics such as Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle, Chandamama which would be readily exchanged with friends.
These would be then replaced by the mystery novels of Enid Blyton like Famous Five, Secret Seven, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy and classics. It remained so for many generations to come as parents passed on the tradition to their children. But with internet and social media coming into the picture, that changed as children and adults alike were suddenly exposed to a multitude of options when it come to the world of literature. Now one didn’t necessarily have to go to the library or bookstore to get their hands on the latest thriller. A click of a button and the book now lands at your doorstep. Well it doesn’t quite land on the doorstep, but you get the picture.
Homemaker and parent Shalini Rao feels children are exposed to mobiles and tablets from a tender age which has affected the reading habits. “Even a five-year-old knows how to look for a nursery rhyme on Youtube. So it’s not surprising that they get addicted to these devices from an early age. In a time of ebooks and kindle, expecting kids to pick up a book over an interactive device is difficult,” says Shalini.
Ebooks vs Print
To keep up with the times, libraries too are taking measures to digitalise books that otherwise languish on shelves. For instance, the rare book section at State Central Library (SCL) in Afzalgunj has been recently digitalised so readers can peruse through the books easily without having to sift through dusty bookshelves, some of which haven’t been cleaned for many years now. The rare book room in the main section of SCL is a recent addition which took form after a laborious exercise involving cataloging and scanning.
“There are a lot of books which date back to the 17th and 18th century with very good illustrations. Some of them are bigger than an average book and can be quite cumbersome to hold. We have scanned 32 to 40,000 rare books so far. The effort has been worth it as more visitors come and ask to look at the rare books after looking at their scanned versions,” says one of the senior staff members at SCL. But in a library which is home to a whopping 5, 10, 257 books spanning across a variety of subjects in languages such as Urdu, Telugu, Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, Marathi, Bengali etc; only two or three readers can be seen in the Fiction section. Barring the Urdu and textbook section where students come for reference materials, other sections just have four to five occupants. Although the lifelong membership for SCL comes to a dirt cheap price of Rs 150, there don’t seem to be many takers. “We don’t get as many readers as we used to. Atleast 40 to 50 people come here to read daily, students make up the majority since they come to refer textbooks. But there has been a decline in readership for fiction,” says a staff member.
At the Books n more library and activity centre run by Varsha Ramesh, one gets to see a mix of adults and children reading at the Centre tucked away in the lanes of West Marredpally. As someone who grew up on a diet of Enid Blytons, classics like Jane Austen and PG Wodehouse, Varsha’s idea was to bring in fun activities that expertly brought in elements of book reading into the mix. “I do activities inspired by the events of a book. For instance, we put up streamers and drapes around the tree in the courtyard and spread a chattai just like the Famous Five books which often have a descriptive passage about food. So we got sandwiches and tea made, the children loved it. Now they just pick up a book they want and start reading it. These days, most of them like to read about the adventures of the rodent Geronimo,” adds Varsha who charges a nominal fee for Rs 100 for books. What works in her favour is the library’s location in a residential area.
“People just walk in while going about their day and errands and get a book to read. Any bookstore for that matter which is near a residential area will do well because of the proximity,” opines Varsha. Telugu author and writer Padma Kuppili agrees commute to a library and bookstore does matter. “Online ordering does cut down on the physical time spent in buying a book but there are a sizeable number of bibliophiles who will definitely go the distance to get a physical copy,” feels Padma.
Spurt Of Book Clubs
The reading culture is also flourishing owing to the rise in book and storytelling clubs of late. Literary, Intellectual and Cultural Hub, Tale Tellers Troupe, Hyderabad book club, Little Theatre and Vedika are among the many clubs that have come up over the past few years. Anil Atluri of Vedika describes their monthly meetup as “a group of likeminded individuals rather than a club.”
With a focus on Telugu literature, particularly obscure books, the group meets every Saturday at 5.30 pm to discuss and deconstruct the issues and themes covered in the novel. “We decide on a book every month and a link to the soft copy is sent to all members at the beginning. So everyone has a chance to read it and share their opinion in the next meeting.
Reading is an art according to me. What we hope to do is encourage serial reading and create a dialogue about issues we care about,” says Anil.