Imagine a train journey without a couple of books and magazines purchased from those rickety bookstalls on the platform. Now ask yourself again if the Internet can replace the written word. Isn’t the answer obvious?
Call me a fool. But I have some silly fetishes. Like the smell of newsprint and the sound of paper rustling between my hands first thing in the morning. The joy of putting my feet up in my favorite chair and curling up with a book.
Getting away from domestic squabbles by immersing myself in my latest read. Lying in bed at night propped up by pillows, snuggled into my covers reading and fantasizing about unattainable men and unapproachable women, heroes and dastardly no-goods, slowly easing myself into a cocoon of restful slumber. Simple pleasures these.
The written word is just that: simple, easily accessible, affordable and my oldest comfort. My earliest memory of the written word was the newspapers delivered home every morning for which there would be a wild scramble. My grandfather would usually win and allow me to perch up on his lap while he turned the pages. Black and white, black and white, swimming before my eyes; a jumble of shapes with a photograph thrown in here and there.
As I grew older the shapes became words which grew to take on meaning. Also, picture books came into my life, to be replaced by fairy tales, which were soon supplanted by tales of young adventurers and mischievous girls at boarding school. And then, when I turned ten came “THE LIST”.
If that phrase sounds dramatic to you, believe you me, it should. “The list” was a much anticipated and feared rite of passage in our family.
Upon a child of the house turning ten, she/he would be given a list of books by my grandfather, about eighty in number, that had to be read by one’s thirteenth birthday. No abridged versions among them, I might add. My father, uncles and aunts before me had had to grapple with the list; I was to be no exception.
Let me say right off the bat that this was not as fascist as it sounds. Really! To begin with, the list was a delightfully eclectic mix (I can say that now!) of fine literature, adventure, comedy and romance. There was Narayan and Naipaul, and Dickens and Dumas with Walter Scott and Kipling thrown in. And the list was updated and modified every year keeping in mind current literary trends.
Initially it was a daunting task. Then it dawned on me that these books were good. And reading them was challenging, but also a lot of fun. From being the heaviest book in the house and a rather boring looking one at that, the dictionary suddenly became an ally. A map, so to speak, to navigate the roads of fine writing. Before I knew it the list was all ticked off and I was all grown up. And books had become my best friends.
I became close to my husband through our common interest in books; our first dates were leisurely browses in bookstores. The written word also beckoned me career wise. I started to write in college and have been doing so ever since. My horizon broadened to include magazines and newspapers of different hues; not just to update me on the news but to provide an insight into how minds are made, how a cross-section of public opinion is molded.
Books saw me through every phase in my life; from adjusting to college life in a new country to the minor heartbreaks of youth, health problems, to love, the adjustments of marriage, the trepidation of pregnancy and the joys of motherhood.
Rushdie with his magic imagery, Kureishi’s sense of street life amid alienation; Stephen Fry with his sidesplitting wit; Styron’s haunting romance and Irma Bombeck‘s delightful look at raising families; all these and more have not only helped me while away the hours but have truly enhanced the quality of my life.
I could go on about this interminably but I think I should shake myself out of this reverie and get back to the question at hand: can the Internet really replace the written word? It is a real issue to reckon with, now that we are raising an cyber-oriented generation of children.
My daughter, about to turn two, already knows how to click a mouse and claps loudly each time our computer starts up, screaming “computat”. And we, as cyber savvy parents, have already started investing in educational CD-ROMs. Although she loves her picture books and demands to be read to most of the day, she recognizes the allure of the computer even at this early stage.
For us, the Internet is definitely a new window on life and the world; representing access to knowledge and information on an unprecedented global scale. I love to browse the net; finding more about issues, events and people that interest me. It makes research for articles quite ridiculously simple. Authors have now started to market their books exclusively through the net.
Stephen King‘s latest book caused a stampede with so many downloads requested that it choked the net! And with e-books becoming the next big thing, technology is more portable and convenient than ever.
But can it replace the written word? Ask yourself if you can replace the thrill of searching for that cherished old volume through piles of books stacked on street corners, and then curling up with it in a cozy corner. The delight of thumbing through it anytime you want and sharing a special marked passage with your friend.
Imagine a train journey without a couple of books and magazines purchased from those rickety bookstalls on the platform. Now ask yourself again if the Internet can replace the written word. Isn’t the answer obvious? Now me, I’m off to do something important: make a ‘list’ for my daughter!
This opinion was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002).
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