By Iymon Ganaie
With Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night, Kashmir’s English writing broke the shell and registered its place on the world literary map. Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator and the Anthology edited by Sanjay Kak, Until my freedom has come: the new intifada in Kashmir followed. Many young writers began to speak their hearts out through their writing. Reading equally gained momentum. In Srinagar, enthusiastic readers thronged bookshops.
The Kashmir Walla decided to find out if the same enthusiasm is found in north Kashmir. A survey was conducted in the students from this area, which dealt with their reading habits. The results were to an extent shock. Out of total 1000 students who took part in this survey, 71 percent said blatantly they have never read any book apart from what their syllabus prescribes.
It means as per this survey the average percentage of students who read is below 30 percent. The story does not end here. Most of these, ‘never read’ students were clueless when they were asked about literature books.
Shafat Ahmad, a final year student, used a peculiar sarcastic Kashmiri sentence, “te kya gov, (what does that mean?)” when he was asked if he has ever read any novel.
The authors like William Faulkner, John Steinback, Ernest Hemingway are aliens for these students. Salman Rushdie is familiar but for some other reasons, “for being an apostate”. Not only these students are lacking reading habit, they don’t know about authors except for William Shakespeare, as many of his poems and stories come in academic syllabus.
Society can be blamed for not inculcating the taste of reading among younger generation. However, the availability of books plays a key role in developing the taste but rural areas suffer from unavailability ‘epidemic.’
Movie adaptations also add to the dip in literary tastes. Watching a movie adaptation is a preferred choice. Eighty seven percent vote for it. The Lord of The Rings had a massive viewership across the globe. Most of the students surveyed have watched this movie. When asked about J R R Tolkein’s masterpiece they were lost whether the book form really existed. As for the movies, they are available even from roadside vendors.
Though the majority of the students had bleak literary taste, but as it happens, there was a hope. Twenty nine percent students responded positively that they read. What was more interesting was that 17% students turned out to be from English literature background. Chetan Bhagat was their favorite with the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho also gaining a good fan following among the rural Kashmiri youth.
It is not only English Language that has received the cold shoulder from students but the picture of official language is equally worse. Urdu is seldom read except poetry, which is holding its own place at top. Among all the 1000 students, only one had read Urdu literature. Tawseef Ahmad reads Islamic Historic novels by Pakistani Writer Anaytullah Illatamish.
Noted columnist of the valley Hassan Zainagiree answers about the fading reading culture among students. He says that Media has outsmarted literature. “People nowadays like to visualize things. Electronic Media helps them. And if somebody wants to read, he takes a newspaper which is short form of literature.”
Islamic Scholar Abul Ala’ Madaudi once wrote, “Literature shows the way, public opinion follows the lead.” However, when there is no taste for any kind of literature, there arises a question.
Who will now define the public opinion?
Perhaps in the globalized world there is no isolation, some ardent readers still find it to keep themselves with their love: books. We profiled five students from rural areas who take books as part and parcel of their lives.
Information technology student at Baramulla Degree College
Basharat loves to read fiction, though he has also read some Non-fiction. He says he reads fiction because it gives him writing liberty and latitude to write whatever strikes his mind. Basharat loves Salman Rushdie’s magical realism. Power by Bertrand Russell has helped him to keep his political aspirations. He also loves romantic fiction but conflict entices him. When asked why he reads conflict, he answers, “I live in a conflict zone, perhaps this is the only reason I read conflict.’
Basharat believes that Novels should be adapted. As far as inaccuracy is concerned in the adapted versions, he says that scriptwriters should be given some relaxation and those who don’t read also get a glimpse of literature. His favourites include Snow by Orhan Pamuk, Night by Elie Wiesel, Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho.
Engineering student at University of Kashmir
Though he believes, The God of Small Things is absurd; Rabi loves Non-fiction by Arundhati Roy. Rabi grew up in a family where literature was always preferred. His father, Rabi says encouraged him to read. He grew up reading the omnibus edition of Khalil Gibran, then Nicholas Sparks and others. Lately he has changed his literary taste. Booker prizewinner ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ by Kiran Desai is his latest read.
Rabi has read some of the prolific writers like Salman Rushdie and George Orwell. Rabi believes adaptations ruin the taste of books. He cites example of Harry potter and the series. He also likes to read plays. One thing that Rabi regrets is that he hasn’t read Kashmiri Writers. “I want to read Curfewed Night but somehow I always plan but never execute it.”
Student at Government Dental College, Srinagar
Irfan says that his earliest memory of reading is Robinson Crusoe by English author Daniel Dafoe in school. He feels that his school played an important role in making him a literature addict. From Hindu mythologies to the tales of Kashmiri saints, he feels satisfied. One thing, which Irfan says differentiates him from other readers, is his approach towards Urdu. Irfan is also worried as he says that “in Kashmir good Urdu literature is not available in bookstores”.
Irfan strongly challenges the adaptation of books and movies. “Neither these adaptions have the taste of books nor do they have such vivid description.” Irfan is cynical about the reading culture among students saying that students are more interested in securing their future. About the Kashmiri writing, he says that Curfewed night was path breaking and with The Collaborator, Kashmiri writing is blooming. Khaled Husseini’s The Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner are his favorite books.
Preparing for civil services in Delhi
What he reads will not be liked by most in orthodox Kashmir. He calls it ‘radical leftist literature.’ Karl Marx, Noam Chomsky, Jean Paul-Satre and Erich Fromm are among his favorite. The latest book, which he read, was ‘The Absent State’ by Neelesh Mishra and Rahul Pandita.
Tafazul says that he is new to reading starting only two years back. “I had just read children’s books.” Now he reads Non-fiction. Why Non-fiction? To which he answers that non-fiction gives a better perspective of what is happening in the world.
Tafazul says he likes foreign authors though he reads Indian authors as well particularly Arundhati Roy. About the reading culture among students, he says that Kashmiri students have a long way to travel to move beyond the conventional methods of education. “Parents should release their children from the chains of academic studying and should let them to explore world.”
Management student at Degree College, Sopore
Behzaad believes that everything has a cause and consequence, and that is what he tries to find in non-fiction. He particularly likes spiritual and historical books. “While reading history I think myself on time machine where I can move the gears and try to find out what had happened,” he says. Of the spiritual books, he says he reads them to find reality.
Behzaad finds biographies and autobiographies interesting. The Sealed Nector, biography of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, and Narain Singh’s Guru Nanak Dev’s View of Life Amplified are his latest reads. “After Guru Nanak’s, I have a plan either to read Musharaf’s ‘In the line of Fire’ or L K Advani’s ‘Mera Watan’,” he says.
He feels that there is no reading culture among students and the reason is parents. “What readers prefer and what parents encourage is a typical academic type. Parents want their children to crack competitive exams making children academic bookworms. It is not literacy, I call it bullshit. It is rape of education.”
And why he doesn’t read fiction, he says, “I have read some fiction but I feel fiction is sexually offensive.” He says that the books he wants to read are not available in the market. “Only 20 percent of them are available.”