With the availability of digital devices and the increase of our business in urban life, the habit of reading books is dwindling. We are compelled to waste significant hours in urban areas due to traffic jams. With the financial constraints our country that is currently graduating from its LDC status could not ensure a quality public transportation system to ease the movement of the commuters. During office time there starts a mad rush for availing crowded public transports where people sweat in hot and humid conditions of summer. Under such suffocating conditions you cannot expect the passengers to do anything but manage a space for them in vehicles they ride to and from their offices. In the wake of launching the metro rail, a new addition to the public transportation system in Bangladesh, an optimism is peeping into my mind that it would help revive the reading habit of the urban people.
If you have ever been to developed countries where metro trains run as public transports you will certainly notice that people on board are carrying books or other reading materials along with them and turning the pages of those standing or sitting inside the car. The comfortable and cozy air conditioned cars create a congenial atmosphere for the readers to spend their time on the books or other reading stuff they have available with them. Thus they make the best use of their time that their journey takes.
How many of you are in the habit of reading newspapers and magazines delivered at the desks of your offices? I believe the number will be very few because our workloads at offices or businesses do not allow us to spend time on these. In many cases these newspapers get heaped onto our tables that eventually find their ways to the hawkers again. But metro rail will pave the way for reading newspapers to those who otherwise cannot manage time to browse those owing to their hectic schedules. Each metro rail station may encourage the hawkers to sell daily newspapers, magazines etc. to the commuters. Riders having no reading materials with them won’t mind buying those items from the hawkers.
I had the opportunity to observe the people at close quarters in a developed country for quite some time. I found people making the best use of every moment. I saw them read books in buses, in trains, in ferries, in bus stations, in train stations, in parks, beside the rivers and where not?
They know that reading enlightens us, books are our best companions and whatever you read is rewarding. I didn’t notice anyone on board having that much interest in one's fellow riders. This is because they remain immersed in their own world while reading. That is why incidents like eve-teasing, becoming rude to fellow riders, and exchange of abusive words are rare. Their reading habit has made them polite and gentlemen in the true sense of the term.
For our previous generations, reading books of different sorts like novels, fictions, non-fictions etc. was a great pastime for them. Those generations seem to be lost now. Unfortunately, the current generation is growing with less interest towards reading. Publishing companies are also passing challenging times due to paucity of readers.
Francis Bacon argued in his essay “Of Studies” that reading makes a full man. A well-read man can execute his plan efficiently, manage his day-to-day affairs with expertise and lead a healthy and stable life. Therefore, the usefulness of reading is undeniable and unfathomable. We must restore the habit of reading that we shunned over time. At this critical juncture of our economic advancement, we must make books our constant companions. Reading books will feed our soul and refrain us from immoral and misanthropic activities. I hope the metro rail will not only bring dynamism to our life but its cozy compartments will also create a new group of readers who otherwise cannot manage time for study in their busy urban life.
The writer is a Deputy Secretary at Planning Commission and holds an MPA from Pace University, New York.