Remote or book?

TORTOISE CUTOUTS hanging from the ceiling of the Fortune Katriya Hotel invited guests to "Enter the enchanting world of reading!" The mascot seemed apt, because for the first time reader, stories in books can sometimes be as inaccessible as a tortoise in its shell: sentences have to be painstakingly deciphered and imagined to make them come alive.

Reading for the first time is a sluggish affair that requires determination. We know that "the slow and steady" win the race in Aesop's famous fable, but in the chase for the hearts and minds of today's children, the outcome seems more doubtful: can the plodding book catch up with the effortlessly swift TV? Or is it not a race at all but a mutual relay, where the baton of learning and imagination can be passed back and forth?

The issue is debatable of course, which is just what a panel of experts did at the launch of A Magic Place: new literature-based readers for the classroom. The topic of discussion was: "The Book or the Remote Control: How do Children choose?"

Using fresh layout and attractive illustrations, books have incorporated exciting excerpts from well-known authors to try and tempt children to read more. In his foreword to the series, the editor, Dr. Anil Wilson, warns, "We need to save reading from becoming a lost art."

While naturally welcoming the appearance of such a helpful addition to the classroom, the majority of the panel seemed to hold the view that children do not read less than they used to and that television and books can in fact co-exist quite happily.

Language expert, Dr. M.L. Tickoo, summed up his view calling on parents and teachers to "find ways to make the remote control the handmaiden of good books." Writer Anju Khemani and Dr. Meenakshi Mukherjee, literary critic, agreed, claiming that children were still reading a lot and that it was all about "blending the two" and ensuring that each had its place.

Saptaparni-director Anuradha Reddy even went so far as to suggest that children should be left to make their own choice.

However, Dr. Mukherjee did stress the fact that TV watching is a passive exercise and so the timings need to be pre-planned, whereas "books could be given at random" as a proper reading pattern would eventually emerge all by itself.

Acting as the sole counterweight to such an almost unanimous opinion, Jyotirmaya Sharma, deputy editor, The Hindu was more critical. He said that the mere act of reading is not sacrosanct, and that what you read in a book is at least as important as what you watch on TV.


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