Bala was curious to know what we were doing on our land and how we were going about it. He came over unannounced and started chit chatting in the typical local fashion. He had a degree in Science. I thought Bill Mollison’s “Permaculture Design Manual” would help in the conversation and might appeal to him. I brought out the book and handed it to him.
I love this book, not just for its content, but also for the presentation -- hand-drawn pictures and designs. I thought Bala might like it too. But he fell silent after he got the book in his hands. He looked at how thick and fat this book was and how many pages there were. After the initial apprehensions he started reading the first page in a serious, non-flippant manner. I could see that the book was weighing him down. He couldn’t get past the first page. After a few minutes he gently closed the book. He said that he had to try reading it another time when he had the whole day reserved for reading! "Is there such a day?" I wondered.
Basically it was a big flop show. I have seen this repeat many times -- different people and different books, of course. People got bogged down by the mere thought of having to read a book. As I was pondering over this recent incident, it stirred up some really old memories where I have had the same exact feeling.
Till high school I was a top ranking student. In the Indian context, this meant that I could faithfully reproduce what was in our course books on to the exam papers. Our education involved very little creativity or fun or real learning. I had a photographic memory, which was just the thing needed in this context.
For the first time in my life, when I went to college I got introduced to a fiction. As a part of the English course, we had to read a book by Jeffrey Archer. I dreaded this book for the sheer number of pages it had! I was 17 then and I had never read anything for the pleasure of reading. All I had read was school textbooks. I remember the drudgery involved in the reading of this fiction. It took me six long months to get to the last page and understand the story just enough to take the English exam.
This aversion to books was in spite of the fact that I was a good student. Or, should I say that it was because I was a good student?? Students who didn’t fare well obviously hated books. Some burned their textbooks after the final exams. Some ripped their old books. It was as if they wanted to get rid of these seemingly innocuous things that were controlling their lives. Even while engaging in such “nefarious” acts they were worried -- “what if we failed in these exams? what if we have to repeat these exams? what if the Gods punish us for being disrespectful towards books?” After all, books are considered sacred in India.
Strangely enough those books that ought to be the source of knowledge became the very source of bad associations with learning.