by Shruti Badole and Bhargavi Suryanarayanan
“In tenth standard I used to wake up at 4:00 a.m. every day, hide a novel within my textbook and pretend to study. Once my mother found out, I was beaten up,” said a student on condition of anonymity. “She asked my school Principal to never let me into the library again.”
Reading is an act all of us do every day without paying attention to it. For those who surrender wholly to the charms of reading, it is a life in itself. It gives an insight into a world you wouldn’t otherwise venture into. While some say they aren’t ‘a reading person’, for others it’s a great diversion on a weekend. As people differ, so do opinions and habits with regard to reading. T5E spoke to students on campus to find out their take on reading beyond the academic curriculum.
For Varsha, a second year Electrical Engineering student, reading is a break from a rigorous academic schedule. However, for many people, reading takes a back seat in IIT due to academic pressures and the multitude of activities happening around campus. “It is difficult to find the peace that is needed for reading on campus. There are so many distractions all the time,” said Poorna, a third year Electrical Engineering student.
According to Sneha Raj, Assistant Warden of Sharavati Hostel, reading is a quintessential part of life and should be inculcated from an early age. Poorna feels that people who read, including introverts and the not-so-sociable, have a better understanding about society than those who don’t.
“You get to know how the human mind works over a large spectrum – the sheer variety in thought-processes is fascinating,” commented Suraj, a third year Mechanical Engineering student, on why he loves reading. He reads over the holidays, but not much during the semester due to time constraints and his “growing laziness”.
The internet both distracts from and helps reading. Jithin, a fourth year Biotechnology student, says his reading has reduced dramatically after coming to IIT – “Most of the reading I do now is online via articles friends’ post on Facebook.” For Albin Jose, a third year Metallurgy and Material Sciences student, LAN is a major reason for the decline in his reading. “The unavailability of enough non-technical literature anywhere in insti is the other reason,” he adds.
Many people feel that they lack the initiative to pick up a book and the patience to read it. “How do people read so much? I get intimidated by books more than a hundred pages long!” said a student jokingly.
Professor Anil Prabhakar, an active member of the library at the IIT Alumni Club, Mylapore quipped that he would hardly call himself ‘active’. “I spend most of my time there reading comics and westerns,” he grinned. Reminiscing about his student days in IIT, he said, “I had Tess of the d’Urbervilles for an English literature course. I read it for the first time the night before my exam. I started at 10 pm and couldn’t put it down till I finished it at 3 am. I aced the exam, because I was the only one in my class who even read the book!”
Do English literature courses in IIT help? Professor Prabhakar feels they do. “I found it very useful. I don’t think I would have read Tess or developed a liking for Thomas Hardy otherwise.” Manasa, a fourth year Chemical Engineering student, feels that literature courses help only those who are already voracious readers. For others, it’s just another course. Sohini, a fourth year Electrical Engineering student, opines that few people end up picking reading as a hobby due to their literature courses.
Professor Swarnalatha, who teaches English at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, takes courses for both Engineering as well as Humanities students. “I won’t categorically say that Engineering students don’t read – there is a section of ‘blue-blooded’ IITians who read a lot and are well-informed.” Generally, though, she finds that people – faculty members and students alike – are in too much of a rush to find time to savour a book. “A book ought to be discussed and argued with a friend over a cup of coffee. It ought to be read for the pleasure of it, not while thinking, as many of us usually do ‘What will I get out of it?’”
How does she think reading can be encouraged on campus? “When I was in BITS-Pilani, we had a literary club which organized lectures by authors and book review sessions. I don’t think that culture is in IIT, is it?” she asked. “It would be great if a formal literary society was organised in IIT. I’m sure at least fifty people would turn up for the sessions! It would take more than good intentions, though. If a group of volunteers took up the initiative and put in some hard work, it could be sustained.”
What books do IITians read? According to Kaber, librarian at the ‘Iloveread’ library at the Department of Management Studies, books based on science are popular. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman is the favourite among IIT-M members, followed by The English Patient, Calvin and Hobbes, A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and English August. Outside IIT, Chetan Bhagat, the ‘Shiva’ trilogy by Amish Tripathy, Calvin and Hobbes and Tintin are hugely popular among members. “You wouldn’t believe how much money we make from ‘chick-lit’,” exclaimed Kaber.
Amrutash Misra (DD/ME/2008), the co-founder of Iloveread.in added, “ In the pre-MA days, I think I was one of the only people who knew that the Central Library had a fiction collection, albeit small. I remember reading Fitzgerald from the Central Library. In fact, I think I still have a few fiction books from the Library. It shows how much IIT cares for fiction since I got no dues in spite of having library (fiction) books with me. I did return all the Fitzgeralds though.”
Lack of easy access to non-academic books was quoted by many people as a reason for not reading. There are many places on campus, though, which stock a good collection of such books. The Tata Book House is an ever-popular source of both textbooks, and fiction and non-fiction bestsellers. The Iloveread library charges a nominal membership fee for the wide range of books it offers. Flipkart is a popular site for books among IITians. Homeshop18.com is emerging as an alternative to Flipkart.
For those who do not want to shell out money, the Central Library’s Children’s Corner features books for older people as well. The Reading Room on the second floor of the Library contains a few popular fiction novels – including illustrated copies of David Copperfield and Dracula, and a battered copy of Harry Potter.
With the advent of the Internet, access to books might be easier, but a question remains: Why should we read – particularly when there are so many other things to do? Avid readers could come up with hundreds of reasons why reading is both useful and fun. It allows an almost unparalleled access to the wisdom of the ages, to great thoughts and ideas. As Dr.Seuss put it succinctly : “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”