I was recently on a vacation to my village, a short one. I decided to travel by train because it is only about 120 KM from the place I live. The journey that was supposed to be boring, dry and quiet became something that I would never forget in my life. I was sharing the local bogie with more than 40 co-passengers. In the compartment where I decided to take the window seat, as usual, there were 8 people (surprisingly because the train was not fully occupied). 3 were over 50 and 5 others were in their 20s and 30s. Many were occupied with mobile phones. This is the picture that has become common today. Two of those over 50 were busy in the newspaper and one was reading a book by Premchand (collection of short stories). Candidly, after a few minutes of hesitation, I asked the reader about his interest in books and especially Premchand. And then, the real journey began.
The one with Premchand’s book is a regularly visiting member of 3 libraries in his locality (the capital of Bihar). He is a school teacher and has been a fan of Hindi literature for over three decades now. Ironically or just logically, he has done BA and MA in English literature and teaches English in a high school. Gradually, the two other men busy in the newspaper joined our conversation. One of them was a shopkeeper (owner as well) and sold stationary (not books) and another was a post office employee. The maturity and simplicity with which these three men talked – an amazing experience for me. I wanted to draw the attention of those young men into our conversation as well. However, it was only possible after 2-3 attempts. They put their mobile phones back into their pockets and bags and joined us.
Discussing the reading habits of our generation, the young ones and those of people over 40-50, the generation just above us, we entered into various nuances, from the quality of literature being produced to the availability of various other mediums of entertainment and leisure. One of those youths was pursuing PhD in history and he had a few insightful inputs about the scenario. He brought the theory of survival and put forth an argument that was hard to refute at that time. What would an author do (other than writing sensual literature) if he has to compete with a mobile phone that can do anything you wish, instantly?
Discussing those railway journeys with novels in Hindi and English, spiritual and religious books, anything that you could purchase from the bookstore on the railway stations… The old man, the teacher, was almost emotional and told those interesting stories when he used to slip 1-2 books at times when the shopkeeper was busy dealing with other readers. That was hilarious but now, not surprisingly, the old man regretted it and wished he could find those shopkeepers and pay them back!
Beyond the journey, it is true that our habits have changed. We are into many other things now and we have many other sources of entertainment and information. I still remember buying the yearbook every year and getting myself updated with facts. However, we have Google and GK apps for that today. Comics and magazines are over because we have YouTube today. Books with jokes are over because we have memes today! And so on and so forth… Where will the world stop? How many things are yet to be sacrificed on the altar of the tech revolution? Waiting and watching…
By Anand for Literature News