By Jaskiran Chopra
A rainy day, a sizzling mug of creamy coffee, a snug couch and a favourite book .The scene sounds too good to be true.But many years ago, this was the way most people spent many a rainy day. Television was not an addiction and computers, of course , were not available to the common people.There was no email and no World Wide Web.If one had to lose oneself in another world, different from one’s own, one did not have any social networking sites to open .It could be easily done by immersing oneself in any book one wanted to. Books transported us into the depths of other lives, other places, other worlds.Whether it was Thomas Hardy’s Wessex or the Dorlcote mill in George Eliot’s “The Mill on the Floss” , Scarlett O’Hara’s “Tara” in Margaret Mitchell’s world famous “Gone with the Wind”, or Jane Austen’s “Highbury” in “Emma”.Turning the pages and following the characters we forgot our own mundane existence and became very much a part of the fictional world we entered.All else was wiped off from our minds while we read .Even comic books were quite engrossing and characters like Archie, Richie Rich , Casper, Little Dot and Little Lotta appeared quite substantial to us when we were children in a world that had no cartoons on TV and no computer games. The involvement with fictional characters and places was very intense and they often stayed with for quite a long time after we put the book down.That kind of involvement is sometimes difficult to feel even for the actual things and happenings around us, now.
Jeeves and Bertie Wooster,the fascinating characters created by the inimitable P.G.Wodehouse, were household names and when people visited each other in the evenings, the conversations centered around some book that all present had read or favourite books and authors. Children spoke about the latest Enid Blyton or Nancy Drew books they had read.,and exchanged their books with each other.Tintin comics were the prized possessions of any child and difficult to part with.. Love for the written word and for the characters one read about was very palpable. Reading was one of the regular activities in every home. Bookshelves were lovingly bought and looked after.Avid book lovers even got shelves and cupboards made to order. I remember a carpenter who used to come home and create beautiful bookshelves ,working for long hours , within days . It is not easy to find such people now as those who want them are getting fewer by the day.
Shops that lent books to young and old were found in even in the smallest colony. .In some places, we had circulating libraries that lent you books and comics at nominal rates . Years ago, they were replaced by shops lending video cassettes and then came in VCD and DVD libraries . But the extremely cosy and homely feeling these little neighbourhood libraries could give us could never be replaced by anything provided by digital technology. They made us feel so rich, even though we knew that we would have to part with the book as soon as we finished reading it. I clearly remember the mobile library that came every Saturday to the colony where my “Nanaji” lived. The excitement of going inside the vehicle full of books was a highpoint of our lives. The books had to be returned the next Saturday.A week was more than enough for us to devour the three books which we could get on Nanaji’s card. I have not seen such a book van for years .We really seem to have lost those joys in the labyrinth of technological advancements . Books helped us to get in touch with ourselves , gave us peace of mind and ignited our imagination like no film or TV serial can do today. They moulded our thoughts and even greatly influenced our way of looking at the world. Khalil Gibran’s “Prophet”, Hardy’s “Tess of the D’ubervilles”, Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”, Daphne du Maurier’s “ Rebecca” , Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Cranford” and Margaret Mitchell’s immortal classic “Gone with the wind” are some of the books that have affected me greatly Read in my college years, I revisit them whenever I find some time.All these books are online now.many people do read books online . It is good to know that reading has not yet gone completely out of fashion.But online reading can never be as joyous an experience as being in physical touch with the pages of a book, be they dog-eared or with notes written in the margins in the hand of a loved parent or friend.
Catch ‘em Young!
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The Sahitya Akademi deserves to be complimented for its recent efforts to promote children’s literature. The books one read as a child are bound to have a profound influence in one’s later development. I recall the kind of books that enlivened my own childhood and propelled me on the way I have traveled so far. I do not to claim that I was fortunate enough to read some books that brought about a magical change in me; I’m just saying that the books I read with abiding interest in my childhood were to stay with me as a fresh, green memory, and they later defined the kind of tastes I developed.
One such book was a monograph, in Malayalam, on Tenzing Norgay, who first set foot on the summit of Mount Everest in 1953 along with EdmundHillary. This book was a text for non-detailed study in my Upper Primary days. I still remember vividly this Indian-Nepali Sherpa who as a child would be lost to his surroundings, gazing at Chomolungma (the Tibetan name for Goureesankaram, which was named ‘Everest’ after GeorgeEverest, the great explorer and cartographer), his early years, youth, the days of toil and deprivation and the moment of supreme glory. All these details, and names like ErikShipton, Lambert, Colonel JohnHunt, Evans (famous mountaineers) from those far off UP school days are still fresh in my memory. While living in Sonada, near Darjeeling, for a short period in 1972, I had the exciting opportunity to visit the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, and to see the office of the great man (though I could not meet him in person). Returning from Sonada, climbing our own local ‘Everest,’ MountIllickan, I vicariously experienced Tenzing’s victory! Apart from imbibing the values of perseverance and resilience from reading that book, I realize that my abiding interest in mountains is also derived from the same source. I am always at home on a mountain-side with a view of the far horizon; living in deep-bottom valleys depresses me.
A few years later, I had to study a lesson titled, “Are Tigers Naturally Man-Eaters?” in our Malayalam text book. It was the translation of a chapter from Man-Eaters of Kumaon by Colonel JimCorbett, the legendary hunter/conservationist. This introduction led me to hunt down, over the next few years, all the books he wrote. My enduring interest in wildlife and nature has its foundation in this introduction to the world of JimCorbett. Many of my future journeys, and my stay in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Thekkady, for nearly 17 years, had their seeds sown in a fertile corner of my mind that world had created.
Text book lessons on great kings like MarthandaVarma and ShakthanThampuran, on monuments like the Taj Mahal, on the Freedom Struggle and national leaders like Gandhi and Nehru that I studied in those boyhood days, made me fall deeply in love with history and archaeology, which remain my passions still.
Later-life interests are either seeded in, or accentuated and catalyzed through, the books one grows up with in childhood. Of course the milieu one is born into is the first determining factor. There were mountains and forests in my natural habitat in early childhood. The abovementioned books validated my earliest experiences and opened before me my own private world which was almost tangible. My daughter, born in a city and brought up in other cities, could not take readily to the Corbett books I passed on to her at an early age.
The monograph on Maharaja SwathiThirunal by VaikomChandrasekharan Nair influenced me greatly. The musician king of Travancore, who laid the foundations for a modern state well before mid-19thcentury, fired my imagination. Trying to learn the ragas he used and the keertans, geetams and bhajans he composed and tuned, I held him close to my heart.
Aithihya Maala, a ‘Garland of Legends’ of Kerala, filled my teens with the magical realism that is alive in our ‘native’ psyche. It certainly had a defining role to play in the development of my creative imagination.
It was the ‘retold’ versions of the world’s classics and text-book excerpts from the works of great poets, novelists and story-writers in Malayalam, which are too numerous to mention here, that kindled my interest in literature in my adolescent years. Further, reading the textbook lessons on the lives and works of eminent writers, enhanced this interest.
Planning and bringing out books for children and adolescents is a very important mission. Along with books on natural sciences, humanities etc., there should also be literary works—poetry, fiction, drama, biography and autobiography —written specifically for children, or classical works adapted as children’s versions. I am so happy to see that SahityaAkademi has instituted a Children’s Literature Award from this year onwards, which will certainly draw attention to the need for the production of quality children’s literature comprising literary works, in all our national languages.
Courtesy Indian Literature.
The Guardian Reports : Reading to young children stimulates their development and gives them a head start when they reach school, according to researchers who have reviewed studies on the effects of reading. Apart from helping their reading, sharing a bedtime story with a child promotes their motor skills, through learning to turn the pages, and their memory. It also improves their emotional and social development.
“You can imagine if someone technologically came up with a widget that would stimulate all aspects of a two-year-old’s development, everyone would want to buy it,” said Professor Barry Zuckerman, of the department of paediatrics at Boston University school of medicine, who led the study.
Studies show that children who are read to from an earlier age have better language development and tend to have better language scores later in life. Getting children to grip pages with their thumb and forefinger improves their motor skills.
Most important, though, said Zuckerman, is that reading aloud is a period of shared attention and emotion between parent and child. This reinforces reading as a pleasurable activity.
“Children ultimately learn to love books because they are sharing it with someone they love,” he said. The research is published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.
By Hannah Richardson BBC News education and family reporter
And some are becoming addicted to them or depressed as a result, he warns.
Writing in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, Dr Sigman says a child born today will have spent a full year glued to screens by the time they reach the age of seven.
He adds: “In addition to the main family television, for example, many very young children have their own bedroom TV along with portable hand-held computer game consoles (eg, Nintendo, Playstation, Xbox), smartphone with games, internet and video, a family computer and a laptop and/or a tablet computer (eg iPad).
“Children routinely engage in two or more forms of screen viewing at the same time, such as TV and laptop.”
British teenagers are clocking up six hours of screen time a day, but research suggests the negative impacts start after two hours’ viewing time.
Dr Sigman cites from a string of published studies suggesting links between prolonged screen time and conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
But he suggests the effects go further than those simply associated with being sedentary for long periods.
He says prolonged screen time can lead to reductions in attention span because of its effects on the brain chemical dopamine.
Dopamine is produced in response to “screen novelty”, says Dr Sigman.
It is a key component of the brain’s reward system and implicated in addictive behaviour and the inability to pay attention.
“Screen ‘addiction’ is increasingly being used by physicians to describe the growing number of children engaging in screen activities in a dependent manner,” Dr Sigman says.
‘Reduce screen time’
And there are other psychosocial problems associated with excess screen time. These include “Facebook depression”, reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which develops when young people spend too much time on social media sites and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.
Dr Sigman says: “Perhaps because screen time is not a dangerous substance or a visibly risky activity, it has eluded the scrutiny that other health issues attract.”
He says there are many questions remaining about the precise nature of the association between screen time and adverse outcomes, but adds: “The advice from a growing number of both researchers and medical associations and government departments elsewhere is becoming unequivocal – reduce screen time.”
Developmental psychopathology expert Prof Lynne Murray, of the University of Reading, said: “There is a well-established literature showing the adverse effects of screen experience on the cognitive development of children under three, and the US Paediatric Association for example has recommended no screen time before this age.
“If children do watch, however, adverse effects are mitigated by watching with a supportive partner – usually adult , who can scaffold and support the child’s experience, and by watching more familiar material.
“A lot of screen material is not well designed for a child’s cognitive processes, eg loud, fast changing stimulation – this is attention grabbing, but does not help processing.”