Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Point to Ponder on the World Book Day: Intellectualism is kindled by literary curiosity and unfortunately Kashmir's civil society is not getting it

We may be celebrating the day but the passion for books is long dead, writes Ajaz Ahmad

Library culture in Kashmir: An obituary!

It is pathetic the way our authorities make a lot of fanfare when it comes to form but wholly ignore the spirit behind any venture. Lately it has become a trend of sorts to hold seminars and functions and celebrations at the drop of a hat. Unfortunately this tends to be more of an exercise of projecting things in a much magnified manner, though usually the ground reality is quite different. Since some years now the ‘World Book Day’ has also been added to the calendar of official happenings in our part of the world.

Every year the World Book Day is globally celebrated on the 23rd of April. There is a quaint history attached to this day and how it evolved as a day of celebrating man’s romance with the written word. It is said to have originated with the booksellers of Catalonia, Spain who selected this particular day to celebrate the memory of the legendary Spanish writer Miguel de la Cervantes who is supposed to have died on this date. The day already happened to be a day of celebration of some ancient festival wherein every lover would gift roses to his lady love. The booksellers modified this celebration by adding the custom of the lady folk responding to this overture of their lovers by gifting them books in return for the roses symbolizing ‘a rose for love and a book for ever’. Expectedly there is a leap in the sale of books on and around this day but it is by no means just about profits in the book trade.

It is more about celebrating the world of books with publishers putting out special editions of books at throwaway prices. The day happened to have yet another association which resulted in its being readily accepted by the English speaking world as well as being an ideal date for the ‘World Book Day’. It is claimed to be the date on which that greatest of writers of the English language William Shakespeare was born as well as the date on which he died. The date was internationally designated the ‘World Book Day’ by UNESCO at its general conference in 1995 with an avowed mission of encouraging people to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity of having a book of their own.

This is a fact that the reading habit has seen a steady decline over the years this being more or less a global phenomenon largely due to the invasion of the electronic media, the coup de grace being delivered by the idiot box. In the not so remote past, reading used to be a part of education as well as entertainment. Story telling and relating of yarns may have started with the wandering minstrels and troubadours, but it was the written word that established these as one of the greatest pastimes discovered by man and ‘the only addiction that pays rich dividends’. The television with its predigested and pre-processed fare, which substituted images and technical wizardry for the unique faculty of mind that is imagination, dealt a fatal blow to the reading habit. A need to nurture the reading habit, to revive man’s fascination for the written word was badly felt by intellectuals the world over.

In keeping with the tradition of keeping up with the Joneses, our authorities have also jumped into the fray of celebrating the ‘World Book Day’. The usual self-laudatory noises are made over the state-run electronic media which gives more than adequate coverage to these exercises. Special activities are organized chiefly in the form of a few desultory processions being taken out and the ubiquitous seminars etc.

The reality however stands out in stark contrast to the projection in the form of the flagship of our libraries department – the SPS Library. Housed in an old decrepit albeit heritage (decrepitude and heritage often being synonymous in our context!), it presents a dismal picture and could very well serve as the symbol of the decline of the reading habit. The once beautiful and lofty papier mache false ceiling instead of being renovated has been hidden away beneath ugly plywood sheets. The library thus fails on both the fronts – it has failed to live up to its ‘heritage’ status and miserably fails at being ‘up-to-date’ as well. The library houses a crowded array of books the very appearance of which brings out the fact of their being a vintage collection, a good thing but for the fact that most of the books on science and other topics also tend to be ‘vintage’ rather than contemporary. This library, the legacy of an autocratic Maharajah has ironically been consistently ignored by the subsequent democratic set-ups. Indeed this library could and should have been on par with other heritage libraries like say the Khuda Baksh library of Patna or the Rampur Reza library. Instead it has been reduced to a state of decadence and stands today as a grim reminder of official apathy.

Coming back to our version of the World Book Day brouhaha one would think that an exercise aimed at promoting the reading habit would target the young but as usual the children seem to be a low priority sector in this part of the world. This is also illustrated by the fact that at one point of time this ‘flaghip’ SPS library used to have an attached children’s library which seems to have disappeared without a trace or perhaps it has grown up and joined the adult’s wing of the library!

Our libraries tend to be calm oases in these turbulent times, the calm rarely ever disturbed considering the fact that reading seems to have become a prehistoric pastime. What goes further to maintain this somnolent calm in our libraries is the fact that like any other government department these stay open during the official hours of 10 to 4. This effectively saves them a visit from most of the children who are busy in pursuing ‘mainstream’ education in their schools and colleges during this time as also the official class who tend to remain in their offices or the immediate vicinity during these hours. Sundays remain the off-day of course. It may be mentioned in the passing that in the past the library used to remain open for half-day on Sundays as well.

So much so for promoting the reading habit!

No comments: