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In the June episode of Mann ki Baat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted listeners, especially students, to read books, talk about them, share and discuss them. I hope many were inspired by his message.

According to Francis Bacon, a famous 17th century essayist, “Reading maketh a full man”. He meant that reading gives us a complete personality. As we gather ideas from various books, debate them, form independent judgements, we acquire a unique intellectuality and mental rigour.

Reading has many benefits. It introduces us to new words, shows us how language can be bent and moulded to put our thoughts across with power and imagination. Reading gives us knowledge; it makes us specialists. Those who read vastly express themselves in unique ways. Their essays are crafted beautifully and their speeches are memorable. Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech, “Tryst with destiny”, and Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” make a deep impression whether read or heard.

Reading poetry gives us pleasure because words have rhythm, cadence, musicality that sways us. Everyone who has read Wordsworth’s Daffodils knows what I am talking about.

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high oe’r vales and hills,

There is a shift in the mood as the imagery in the poem activates our inner mind with a joy-filled discovery in the next two lines:

When all at once, I saw a crowd,

A host of, golden daffodils;

And adds to it with these lines:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in a sprightly dance.

Each word is no longer a word but a painting.


Books inspire us. Autobiographies of great people — Michelle Obama’s Becoming, Nehru’s Discovery of India, Gandhi’s The Story of My Experiments with Truth motivate us to make a mark in life. History books like JR Brownoski’s Ascent of Man capture the entire history of science and technology from the beginning to the end of the 20th century, while Arthur Toynbee’s argument in A History of the World about winning civilisations being those which rise to challenges, provokes introspection.

Essays of Nobel Prize winner, philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell, and fictional masterpieces from different countries expand our horizons. Tolstoy’s War and Peace, George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World cause wonderment.

Great writers have a way of opening up our minds to winds from all corners of the world. We are not left bickering over meaningless divisions such as religion, caste, race, colour, or nation.

It is unfortunate that students today are over-dependent on the Internet for their studies and research. Very few students/teachers today read books such as Karl Marx and Frederich Engel’s The Communist Manifesto or Nobel Laureate Paul Samuelson’s Economics. Management guru Sharu Rangnekar, compares dependence on the Internet for knowledge to drinking water out of a hose pipe.

The writer is a former professor of English at IIT Bombay.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 7:19:34 PM |

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