Wrapped in the wintry chill of January, the view from the vantage point atop Chandmari flyover is both spectacular and inspiring. Spectacular because of the frenzied energy thrown up by the sea of humanity that had gathered at the Assam Engineering College field, and inspiring because in a world where consumerism thrives, people are here for books.
Galileo considered reading our sole means of having superhuman powers. For Kafka, a book was "the axe for the frozen sea inside us"; for Anaïs Nin, the alarm to awaken us from the slumber of almost-living; for Gwendolyn Brooks, "meat and medicine and flame and flight and flower." Since the invention of the printing press, books have fed the human irrepressible hunger for truth and meaning,
The rational, illuminating and imaginative mind that humans possess, finds testimony in the books that have been handed down the generations. They not only talk about the past but also provide a roadmap to the future. Books are the bridge that represent the crucial connect in the continuity of human thought process. Their collective wisdom is the fuel that ignites the invigorating intellectual experience that gives meaning to human existence.
What our ancestors thought or felt and the way they perceived the world around them is crucial to understand our present physical as well as psychological world. Our existence is not a random occurrence rather a connected process. A process where every generation finds new answers and confronts newer questions. In this generational exchange books play a pivotal role not only as the carrier of ideas but also as the harbinger of changing emotions
From the individual to the community, books work their way to touch upon the collective consciousness and thereby keep alive the emotional undercurrent that makes human what he or she is. Reading works to broaden the horizon of the reader by bombarding the furnace of his psyche with myriad ideas and beliefs. This nurtures growth of opinion that is not only atypical but also unique. Without books, humans turn into diminutive impersonators mimicking and amplifying populist ideals.
The times that we are living have been christened the information age. This is an era unlike any other. There is an overload of information in every sphere. The proliferation of digitization has made creation and the spread of information an easy endeavor. To find the way through this maze is an arduous task. The prerequisite being a sound basis of knowledge, to create a moral sieve capable of separating the relative truth from the untruth.
Reading is the only way to navigate through this treacherous landscape. But this exercise, in recent years, has been sadly relegated into the background. Reading in today's times mostly means a cursory glance of a social media post or scrolling the notification in the mobile phone. The overuse of visual representation has left little to imagination. People nowadays don't think, but just see.
This brings us to the basic question, as to why people read? The obvious answer is pleasure. But pleasure, can be derived from a multitude of means. There is social media, the endless stream of reels, variety of clothing options, food and many more. Why should anyone go through the trouble of reading? A YouTube video can be am effortless way of gaining knowledge. But holding a book, leafing through its pages, and squeezing each word and each sentence is an act of love loaded with immense possibility. It is an experience that frees us from our structured life of repetitive sequential habits and takes us to an exotic elsewhere.
Each moment of our lives, we are swamped by popular culture, by fashion, television and trends, to read is to build our imagination and make ourselves immune from commercial forces. We recognized what is true of human nature as our values and assumptions stand challenged. We look at the world from an alien viewpoint, and learn to empathise with it.
In a world where Post Truth has been normalised, books are the only available antidote. Post Truth is described to denote a circumstance in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotions and personal belief. It is a precarious situation which if not restrained will take dangerous proportions. The discourse of Post Truth is not just about untruth taking primacy, rather it is an attempt to change and modify the very definition of Truth.
In such an precarious circumstances, having an unbiased and pure opinion becomes a momentous task. It is only through the medium of books that one can arrive at an informed opinion. This is crucial not only for our intellectual survival but also to safeguard the institutions on which our rule based societies are based. The enthusiastic support that Guwahati Book Fair receives is a heartening comment on our community. This marks a major shift from the earlier textbook centric approach to reading. The challenge however is to keep this momentum going.
For a true reader, reading is an ongoing process, it's a book fair all the year round. There isn't a season for books, or an opportune time to take the plunge into this vivid imaginary world. Reading connects us to the greater reality of what has happen or is happening or may happen beyond our direct experience.
It is a common phenomenon that most of our homes, have a corner or a room, or even a shelf where idols of Gods and Goddess are kept. One may or may not pay obeisance to it daily but it's a rule to have a space dedicated to gods. In the same sentiment, one may or may not be interested in reading but it is of existential importance to have books in our homes. We shouldn't forget that one of the strongest symbols of devotion in our society is a book(Bhagavat Gita, Kirtan, etc.), wrapped in a piece of cloth and kept on an altar. The desire to know is the most basic of human instincts, and books are the aid and expression of this instinct.
By: Emon NC