23 April was proclaimed World Book and Copyright Day by UNESCO in 1995 to encourage reading. All State Parties are enjoined to put up such viable activities in their countries to create awareness among the wider public of the benefits of reading.
Books and Child Development
The importance of books in child development needs to be emphasized and brought to the knowledge of parents. Books are an important medium to develop the growing child’s curiosity. It is at home that the baby learns and acquires his first habits by observing parents and other people of the kinship and siblings. The more exposure the growing child has to colourful books with illustrations, the more he will develop and sharpen his imagination and faculties. We give a number of different kinds of stimuli to growing children. Let us make books one of them. As an educational tool, it cannot be underestimated. In the old days, grandparents used to tell stories and folk tales to their growing children. These used to whet their appetites and ignite their imagination and sense of excitement.
Nowadays, grandparents do not tell stories. The TV has taken over. But what types of films the growing child is exposed to? If you read your child stories of valiance, courage and heroic deeds, you will nurture such qualities in him.
Some parents prefer to give children a treat by taking them out to restaurants or five star hotels, but few will spend some money on providing good books for leisure to them. I have seen parents who hesitate to enter bookshops. They are intimidated by books. Maybe they only go to buy textbooks. It is good to expose books around at home to the growing child even if he will tear or chew the books. But most parents prefer to remove books away in order to keep “la maison en ordre”.
What is a book? According to a book has been defined as a “non-periodical printed publication of at least 49 pages excluding covers”. Books have had a long history now: From the cave dwelling paintings and signs to papyrus rolls, the parchment codex and the Scrolls of the Dead Sea in Egypt to the palm leaves and barks of trees of India, and stone edicts and Ashokan pillar engravings; the rock edicts of Ashoka of the Mauryan Empire of Bihar to the Pali scripts of Buddha preserved in Tibet and China; the cuneiform tablets of Mesopotamia, Persia are all diverse forms of the beginning of books. The Chinese made primitive books out of wood or bamboo strips bound together by cords.
In ancient times, books developed as a means to arrest the loss of oral traditions which had developed to such gigantic proportions that it was difficult for human memory to record. Early books comprised of “collections of magic formulas, prayers and rituals, epics and sagas, dynastic record, laws, accumulated medical experience and observations of the physical universe”. The Vedas are the most ancient books of knowledge of the world and the Vedic, the language of the Vedas, an early form of Sanskrit, the mother of Indo-European languages.
Books as Burial Gifts
Imagine how the Egyptians had prepared scrolls as burials gifts for the departing souls to guide them on their afterlife journeys! If only today we could gift books to the living as a guide to them on the onward journey of life on the planet during their lifetime!
With the development of printing in Europe in the mid-fifteenth century and beyond in centuries to come, a large number of people had and will have access to reading and become more educated. Throughout the world, literacy and knowledge were previously limited to only a few. In those early days, books had to be copied by hand. We have in Mauritius quite a few handwritten copies of the Ramayana preserved with illustrations from natural pigments and flowers. The invention of printing has been a landmark in the evolution of human history. The inventive genius of the German Johann Gutenberg, established him as the father of printing but such processes were known already in the Far East particularly in China and Japan centuries before.
The Industrial Revolution and the 2nd World War brought rapid changes in printing. The development of phototypesetters, computers, electronic scanning machines for use in colour printing and the combination of computer technology and photo composition have revolutionalised typesetting. Will the ICT in the postmodern era with its enormous corpus of digital techniques and gadgets, including the internet and smart phones, make printed paper books obsolete?
Libraries have preserved thousands of ancient volumes of knowledge. The collection of Greek volumes in the libraries of Alexandra were known to be the largest accumulation of books ever undertaken, being a result of the expansion of Greek civilization following campaigns of Alexander the Great. But when he and his ambassadors came to India, precisely to the courts of Pataliputra, they were put in presence of a vast development in Sanskrit and Pali literature. The Taxila, now in Pakistan, the Nalanda and Vikramshila Universities in Bihar with their enormous libraries were burnt down by marauding invaders.
So far, the West has claimed the monopoly of presenting and disseminating knowledge, because of the great developments and their contributions in science, technology and inventions. But many other developments in knowledge have yet to be made known to the world. Many others have been destroyed, such as the old civilizations of the different Indian tribes in the Americas. Within the next few decades, India as a rising Super Power as well as China and the Southern countries will bring revealing surprises in knowledge preserved. A new interpretation of things is awaiting. So far we have looked at the world through the prism of the West.
Recently, I received a beautiful book as a gift from my friend Bali. He is a business traveller and brought a book from his recent travel to UK for me. He insisted that I read the book. The book is entitled “Being Different” by Rajiv Malhotra, published by Harper Collins Publishers India. Rajiv Malhotra is an Indian American researcher and his book “Being Different” is indeed an eye opener that makes all the difference about the way the West has been looking at things! We have too often been nurtured into looking at history and the world from a euro-centric perspective. This book questions many of the western aesthetics, ethics, modes of religious thinking and politics so far put as a fait accompli in front of the world. Rajiv Malhotra’s Being Different is an Indian challenge to Western Universalism. Don Wiebe, Professor of Divinity, Trinity College in the University of Toronto says it espouses an “audacity of difference.” He says “Malhotra writes with passion… undermining the attempts to domesticate and expropriate Indian traditions in a process of interreligious dialogue that is ultimately based on a western cosmological framework.”
Bhojpuri as an Evangelical Medium
My love for reading and interest in Bhojpuri took me to an academic paper presented by Professor Surendra Gambhir of the University of Pennsylvania at the Second World Bhojpuri Convention in February 2000 at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute. What is amazing is the fact that “Bhojpuri has captured the interest of many administrators, researchers and religious leaders all for different reasons.”
According to Prof Gambhir, as far back as 1985, the US Department of Education published a list of 169 languages that the US Government considered to be ‘critical’ for scientific research or security interests of a national or economic kind. They included Bhojpuri and Hindi separately in this list.
Another revealing part of Professor Gambhir’s paper is the following: “Bhojpuri is mentioned separately in a project of Christian evangelists.” The Joshua Project 2000 focuses on some 2000 communities around the world which evangelists view as needing a ‘church planting movement.’ Evangelists in this context seem to be interested in Bhojpuri-speaking communities, whom they consider as a soft spot for conversion to Christianity.
* Published in print edition on 1 May 2015
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