Are books dying ?

[ Pekba Ringu ]
It is the same situation everywhere.”Readers are decreasing day by day,” says Ramesh Kumar of Western Book Depot, Guwahati, and sighs, “nowadays books don’t sell like they used to sell before.”
Yes, who will read when there is a plethora of choices to spend one’s free time on? One can watch movies and chat with friends on the mobile anytime. And then, there is dish TV.
Back home, the situation is pretty much like elsewhere. Majority of the book stalls in the capital complex which once used to sell the latest fiction and non-fiction books have turned into school and college textbook shops. Some of them have even closed shop for good.
Despite the changing scenario, the value of reading, especially for a young person, can’t be overemphasized. In addition to improving one’s vocabulary and language, reading widens a person’s mental horizon and makes him a broadminded human being, shorn of taboos and superstitions. Also, it is the primary way of gaining knowledge and excellence in any field. All the knowledge and beauty, including information and wisdom, of the world are at one’s feet provided one reads.
Besides, reading enriches one’s personality and makes him a truly cultured and civilized human being. It also prevents and protects one’s brain from senile deterioration and keeps it intact. Both Khushwant Singh and KR Narayan kept writing till their nineties, when they passed away.
And then there is the issue of a person’s character development, as explained by Dr Kaling Dai, a senior doctor as well as an avid reader.
He says, “Reading develops a person’s value system as well as his sense of morality and ethics.” He explains: “The constant war between the evil and the good forces depicted in a book, and the ultimate victory of good over the bad, teaches one that in the long run it is the good forces which prevail over the bad. Besides,” he continues, “one consciously or subconsciously tends to emulate the qualities of one’s favourite character in a story, and that way we imbibe positive virtues like courage, fairness, and a sense of justice.”
So, it was a real surprise when Surinder Arora of Cambridge Book Depot asserted confidently and with satisfaction that, “Book business is doing well.”
Now that, coming from a 70-year-old man who has been in the book business for more than six and a half decades, makes you take notice. More so when he predicts confidently without batting an eyelid that, “Books will stay.”
Situated on Mall Road in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, the book stall was established in 1952 by his father Lachman Das Arora. At present, the shop is looked after jointly by Arora and his younger brother, Sunil. The assertion that his book business is doing well is amply proven by the rush in his shop. Though it was off season and quite cold – the 11th of December, 2017, to be precise – there was quite a good crowd inside. And what’s more, people kept moving in and out in the cold.
The shop doesn’t have any Sundays or holidays. Summer or winter, it is open on all days throughout the year. (It was closed only once, for Republic Day.) In the summers, the shop opens at 8 am and stays open till 11 pm to cater to the summer rush. During winters, the timing shifts from 9 am to 10 pm.
The inside of the shop is stacked high on all sides with books of every genre, reflecting the vast readership. In fact, one has to wiggle through the passages if one wants to go from one section to another. “Just my type of book shop,” I say to him. He smiles happily at the compliment.
With the onslaught of the internet and the digital media, it appeared that books would disappear altogether. But on the contrary, Cambridge Book Depot stands firm and steady through thick and thin, doing brisk business over the years. It has withstood the onslaught, proving everybody wrong. Every day, it opens to cater to the ever increasing demands of its readers.
“I’ve just delivered 700 copies of Ruskin Bond books to a school,” says Arora proudly.
Looking at Cambridge Book Depot gives one the impression that books, after all, will never die. They will stay forever.
My hunch proved right when I met Ramesh Kumar again recently. He said, “Readers are coming back slowly now,” but lamented, “I feel sorry for the in-between generation who were only into mobile and chatting and thus missed on the joys of reading. After all,” He chuckles, “what would a person be with nothing inside his head?”
Gyati Ampi, a rising new-generation poet and author as well as a voracious reader says: “When it comes to reading, I prefer books to Kindle.” She explains, “The actual sensation of touching and leafing through a book is simply exhilarating.”
Speaking in the same vein, Arora also says, “There is a young girl who comes to my shop regularly to buy new books. She prefers books simply for the reason that you can inhale their aroma.”
YD Thongchi, distinguished writer-cum-Sahitya Akademi awardee had also predicted a long time back that “Books will exist as long as there is human civilization. They’ll never die.”
By the way, if readers were decreasing, there wouldn’t have been long queues of people to meet their favourite authors. Take for example, Ruskin Bond. People stand in a long line patiently just to catch a glimpse of him and get their books autographed. Every Saturday afternoon he meets his fans at Cambridge Book Depot, where the line sometimes goes up to 150 to 200 strong. Many tourists visit Mussoorie just to meet him.
Surendra Mohan Pathak, the number one Hindi mystery writer, has a massive following. In fact, he has a big fan club. These are just a few examples, but there are many more.
At last, it seems the trend is reversing. Just like the revival of movie halls and radio stations, there is a revival of book business and readers. The demand for new and old writers is increasing day by day.
Whichever way the revival leads, it is really good to see that books are back in circulation again, albeit slowly.