Wordsmith Observation : Disinterested Reading

Writers and Readers

This post has some logical and topical connection with the concept of Dis-interested Reading. It is highly likely that unless one has the habit of disinterested reading, this blog will not not read by anyone.

As a publisher of a monthly journal for freelancers called  Freespace, I am well aware how attention span of most of the people are on the decline, how some commentators want all of us to be video junkies, instead of readers. But from my experience, I think writers and readers will remain – their relationship will change in the cosmetic level but fundamentally, there is no reason to be alarmed.

What is Disinterested Reading ?

In Hindu philosophy, many concepts are explained through negatives, i.e. neti, neti and I shall follow this method to define disinterested reading. It is not the reading of text-books by students or by a lawyer of his brief, or a commercial manager of RFP or a facebook junkie scanning the conveyor belt of posts, or someone reading newspaper by sheer habit of brushing teeth in the morning, researchers reading research journals and PR firms reading to give a better spin or an investment banker reading a 50 page presentation with the objective of bamboozling clients and his pockets, if this has any sense.

Field Test and Behavioral Experiment

Life has taught me this : for anything, try to do a field test, i.e. an experiment and that will not only provide direct evidence but will also bring great freshness in your life and living.

A regional head of a global multinational networking firm, based in Calcutta, while approached for an article for Freespace, first lectured us on his reading habits and his grasp of technology (on screen and various gizmos thereof – none, to the last machine has any seminal contribution from the whole of Asia) and the utter futility of publishing a journal with 1000 words articles with an objective of making the read pleasurable as well as useful. He did not contribute and gave us a free advice to refrain from such projects. He did not contribute and perhaps as a reverse of quid pro quo, we did not heed his advice.

I then devised a wicked method. I remembered my classmate and friend, Mr. Joshi who runs a multi-million dollar IT business since 1998 with a subsidiary in Pune. I had requested him to send a business inquiry with 300-pages of background documentation to the regional head with the plan to set up another subsidiary in Calcutta. I was notified that job done. In 3 days, the same Regional IT Head had this read by one of his hapless minions and a proposal sent back. The Bcc of email was keeping me updated in real time of the goings on. Thanks to Mr. Joshi for assisting in this crucial experiment which will be remembered as Wordsmith Readability Test.

This was not disinterested reading. This is reading – diligent or otherwise with an intense interest – urgent and immediate, of a specific and tangible purpose.

The tragedy of our times is that many people confuse this kind of reading with dis-interested reading.

Concluding Words

1. Disinterested Reading is one of the marks of a civilized man where one is driven by one’s innate curiosity and the urge to know without any immediate purpose or usefulness or what is being read. In another way, it is a way, very broadly speaking, to improve one’s mental faculties.

2. Once upon a time, literate Bengalis were one of the greatest champions of disinterested reading but like many great family heirlooms, contemporary Bengalis have lost this one too, in pursuit of, in a loose but true way of speaking, first for Marx, and then for Marks and Spencer.

3. As soon as a community loses the virtue of disinterested reading, literature will decline. As more and more people read with a clearly defined purpose, we shall have a community of hustlers who will hustle each other and finally, communication will tend to be so dull and brutal, it will end in sex. Thus, all through history, decline of civility and literature will see a surge of pornographic material in parallel. I now conclude : As literature declines, sex becomes the only anchor of communication.

4. One of the architects of modern Bengali language, especially of its prose form, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s first romantic novels took Bengalis off their feet. Bengali women were his first readers. I happened to read some of the private letters (many are in Alipore National Library and some are in Oxford Bodliean library) of some women of that time who were literate and read him and urged their English educated husbands to read. Every woman reader notes the holiness and the sanctity of romantic relationship Bankim presented which was unavailable in Bengal unless one goes to the 8th century to Kaildas – the classical Hindu past.  His readers – rather first readers of modern Bengali literature – women of Bengal, anticipated the writer, rather of the core of how literature shapes character and then destiny, when Bankim talked of the works of another seminal writer of Bengal – হুতোম পেঁচা – Babu Kaliprasanna Singha aka Hutum Pecha (“মহাভারতের বাংলা অনুবাদ করে যিনি প্রাত:স্মরণীয় হয়ে আছেন”) and after paying tribute, he mentioned – “হুতোমের ভাষা পবিত্রতাশূণ্য” – Hutum’s language lacks holiness and it is immaterial to say what was tried to convey in the word “holiness” here.




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