Written by Sarah Berry for our “300m Challenge”
I once read this quote somewhere, “A reader lives a thousand lives …” Over the years, with the pressure of time and responsibilities, the reading was buried, until one day, a chance dusting led me to a ‘pandora box of sorts’: “Polar Bear”, a book by Norbert Rosing, published by Katha India, stirred up a hornet’s nest in me.
I wondered why I had abandoned my best friend, my books, for so many years. It’s not that we don’t have the time, or can’t find it, sometimes it has to be snatched for those we love the most, and for those who are most loving and loyal to us. Books love us unconditionally. Period.
So, when I read that approximately 150 million children in my country cannot read at grade level, I was plagued with a bout of sadness. Why? What can I, as a citizen do?
I recall a conversation I once had with a well-to-do parent. “I always loved to read. My child doesn’t. Not at all. I have tried everything.” It brought to my mind how I learnt to read, so long ago, vivid in my mind … I learnt to read with the help of picture books, relishing the photographs, my index finger moving over each word, pronouncing it, understanding its meaning, its relevance, and interpretation in context, questioning, finding answers … it was a process, an experience, and a delight.
Having too many resources available on our fingerprints diluted this journey, perhaps. I recall yet another conversation with a father who never had the privilege to gain literacy. He had toiled hard and his forefathers had toiled hard too. Speaking from his soul, he had said to me, “My eyes filled with joy; the tears fell; tears of joy, when I heard my daughter read for the first time, joining words together to read out sentences.” I remember how touched I was, almost understanding his joy.
Or yet another conversation with a mother, who herself an animal lover, couldn’t understand her son’s apathy for animals. Of course, every individual is different. It was by chance that the child’s mother introduced him to Tigers Forever by Ruskin Bond.
“He associated with the character of the animal to a large extent … strange, but true … it led to a series of questions — about the animal … about the food chain … about the environment … about the conservation of the same … about humans and what they should/could do … it was an eye-opener for both of us,” said the mother.
A journey with a book is a re-discovery of the self, each time. Reading is, perhaps, one of the most treasured experiences. So, when people say that approximately 150 million of our children can’t read at grade level, it is shocking, and painful to say the least.
Where did we fall behind? And why? Can we, perhaps, save the situation? Perhaps, we can. Perhaps, we need to rethink the essence of reading – not just for learning, but for fun and meaning.
I recall, vividly, an incident from my childhood, where my mother ‘discovered’ a ‘shop’ on the pavement, in the middle of a bazaar, near my grandmother’s home. This gentleman sold second-hand books all the way from Russia.
And, I remember that this was my first introduction to the country and its culture – an important lesson in multiculturalism that served me well not only in my career, but was vital for me as a person too. And, this is just one of the many important benefits of learning – stimulation for the senses, holistic development, a source of exploration/inspiration/introspection/meditation…and the list goes on.
The journey with a book is not just a bunch of words, but a journey into a world of its own – a world that the reader and the book weave together. Don’t you think? Write to me, if you do, and if you wish to work with me to give reading its much-deserved place under the sun.
About the author: Sarah Berry heads External Affairs at Katha and hails from a multicultural background — her father being Indian and mother being German. She brings with her 24 years of diverse professional experiences covering public diplomacy/advocacy, training, outreach, content generation/management and communications, amongst others.
300m Challenge is a mission embarked upon by Katha to change things for our children through the power of reading! We partner with like-minded organizations and bring the joy of well-illustrated books to children and bridge the gap in literacy and reading in India. If you wish to be part of this mission, please feel free to write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas.