Boxed or out of the box? | 2019-02-24 |

Boxed or out of the box?

Nasih Ul Wadud Alam (Paolo)

24 February, 2019 12:00 AM printer

Boxed or out of the box?

Salon-based library in Rajshahi

Library is a storehouse of knowledge. Nowadays, we do not  have much time to read or surface through books at the library. Smart phones have replaced our old-aged habits of leafing through pages. Digital emotions have monopolised us. Fortunately enough, many people are trying to revive the art of reading hard-copies at the library. One such man is Shohag Ali, who, seeing the dearth in readership, has founded 10 salon-based libraries in Terokhadia, ward 14, Rajshahi. He aims at improving peoples' opportunities to read books at free of cost.  The Daily Observer marks it to be the first library of such type. Whether Ali's efforts are gimmick or not, time will say.  At least for now, I laud him for his unorthodox thinking. He has inspired, so far, others to follow his footsteps.

When I was a student, I spent plenty of time at the library. My senior brothers, at the tertiary level, did not give me machetes. They inspired me to spend more time at the library. Our library, at East West University, Bangladesh have plenty of books. Although our library (on the previous campus) was of a miniscule size, still I found plenty of space to swim in the thoughts of my imagination. I still yearn to become a student. I hanker after those days. Now, I am a teacher. I teach to learn and learn to teach. Sometimes, I wish, I would do no work in my cube. I yearn to leave all my works aside and spend more time at the library. The silence of an ideal library brings serenity and serendipity in one's soul and body. I wish I would find a separate room at home. That will be a place of books only for exercising utopic thoughts. There will be no space for temporality. I am a late-starter. I am a late-developer. I never liked reading books. I enjoyed frolicking around. Once I stepped into university life, I felt I was lagging behind my peers. Then, I felt the urge of reading books. Ulysses inspired me to know the unknown; Joyce's "Araby" made me feel romantic even in the most unromantic places and Fanon taught me that the world is a wretched place made of complicit intellectuals living in a node within a network to establish bourgeois consciousness.

I have worked in four educational institutions. The common feature I have discovered among most of these universities is: most libraries at the tertiary level have plenty of empty chairs and tables on regular days. They remain calm and cool places. That situation changes, however, when exams knock on the door. Students find a haven in libraries. They hop from one place to another for surfacing the best available books for them to read and prepare notes on the eve of the exam. They start cramming but some of the insincere students cum sincere cheaters jot down important information for adopting unfairmeans at the exam hall.

Library is not only a place for gossiping and dating. Sadly enough, students use this place only for dating and flirting with others. Not all of them are like that. Exception cannot be an example. Many of us from Chattogram do not know where our public library is. Even if we may get a hint of that location (thanks mostly to Google) we do not have much time to go there. True, many public university libraries, despite having more books than most private universities, are in a dilapidated condition. The private universities have lesser books than public universities. If University Grant Commission had granted more subsidies to private universities, the owners could have invested more money on purchasing and collating new books that would have been healthy for a new generation of thinkers to enhance their intellect. We have a huge chunk of private university graduates. The government subsidies would improve the standard of education in many private universities too. The cost of running a private university is always high. Many owners, like my university's honorable trustee board members, do not take one single penny from the revenues that their charitable organisations generate. Whatever profits ideal private universities earn, they invest on their own educational resources and structural facilities.  In public universities, new books hardly come by and the old ones are losing their glosses due to sheer negligence and a lack of preservation.

 We cannot ignore the presence of private universities. They have produced many gems of thinkers. But our institutional biasness debars us from having a look at two sides of one coin. We should be open-minded in a pluralistic society. We should hire and fire (if needed) without institutional biasness.

Why don't we have much time? Why don't we go to the library?

We are busy in hoarding one pence after another. We have our children to feed. We have more distractions than ever. Social networking sites kill plenty of our time. We prefer reading newspapers online. Many foreign newspapers like The Telegraph, The Washington Post, The New Yorker and many others have special pay walls that block many people from finding any reasonable access to them. The aforementioned newspaper agencies, because of the exorbitant cost of printed papers and lack of newspaper purchasers, have resorted to this subscription policy. The Guardian, UK has a donation system. The newspaper does not block anyone from reading their newspaper. But they request for donations from its readers. Even if we do not pay, the newspaper is free for everyone to read. I do not donate. The British colonialists have taken a lot from us. They shaped the way we think. It is now our time to read some benefits. Apparently, the empire is striking back! Thankfully, our newspaper agencies do not have a Paywall system.

I keep two dailies at home. One of them is The Daily Samakal and another one is The Daily Sun. My wife and I read the latter. My father-in-law reads the Bengali one. Both these newspapers are of great qualities. Many times, we do not find time to read the print copies. We know, we are just one tab away from reading them online. Therefore, our paper remains untouched at times. It is not my own story. Many people, I believe, have similar anecdotes to share.

Is it the changing time that has been catching us unguarded? Are we reading enough? Is spending less time in reading inside or outside the library has abrogated our cognitive capacity? Perhaps, the answer is yes.

There is only one solution. Build more libraries. Make it accessible for everyone. Our government should take this initiative. If petty-bourgeois do not read; if they remain phillistines, then the middle part of the three-tier society will lose its fabric. There will be a vacuum, lack of questions leading to lack of transparency and accountability!

Therefore, reading is a must. Petty-bourgeois must lead the way. They should educate proletarians with moral lessons. The middle class should question the way artistocrate lead lives. Otherwise, our country will be intellectually poorer. The more we read, the more loopholes we will find before posing serious questions; answering them will lead to more solutions to the existing problems that will only make our society richer temporarily and cognitively. Didacticism will lead the way!

Therefore, let us read to inspire others to read inside and outside the library!


The writer is a Lecturer, Department of English, Chittagong Independent University