The Financial Express

The neglect books receive after a reader's death

The neglect books receive after a reader's death

Many a person may have passed through the experience. It has bookworms browsing through second-hand books stacked neatly or laid out on a raised wooden platform. Lots of readers visit these old-book corners frequently. They are passionate readers. These readers are found to be always on the lookout of rare books. Online books do not attract them. They are irresistibly in search of the traditional print books. While rummaging through the books on sale, many of their eyes get stuck on a few titles, prompting them to feel stunned. The books are special gifts from a person to another. It could be deciphered from the hand-written words of greetings by an elderly person to a younger one. What surprises the book lover is the title of the books. The publications do not belong to a popular genre --- like pulp fictions.  The books might belong to the research-based but interesting subjects like 'Dhaka's communication in the medieval times' or the Bangla translation of 'Clash of Civilizations' by Samuel Huntington.

Apparently, the books like these do not normally arouse the average readers' interest. The gift-giver, presumably the book-lover of a serious kind, may have overestimated his 'brilliant' student. The student received the book with a humble gesture; and also leafed through a few pages. Finding the books not going with their reading test, they may have pulled out the books years later from the piles of books in their private collections and sold them off at an old books' corner. While changing residences, unnecessary books turn out to be a great nuisance.

The nonplussed reader mentioned above buys such books at throwaway prices. To view the topic from another angle, scores of serious readers and book collectors give little thought to what will be the fate of their treasure bought by spending their hard-earned money. When the dreadful thought overcomes them, it's too late. By that time they have aged so much that there is little strength left with which they can search out people willing to buy their books. They include many invaluable and rare ones. Some of these people are even ready to donate their books to private and community libraries or institutions, which are expected to take care of the books. In nutshell, they aren't prepared to see the books wear away in absence of care. Ironically, this is what happens in our country. Not everyone in an extended family attaches much value to reading, and books. For their reading habit, the book lovers mostly remain outsiders inside the core family. Both close and distant relatives view them with pity. However, there are also scores of others of their kind. They love books and the pursuits of knowledge. Some of them are always in search of varied types of books. They love literature, resulting in their ever increasing craving for certain local and overseas fictions, collections of poetry and essays.

Meanwhile, age doesn't remain still at any point. The process of getting older continues.  One day, the evidently ever-green book lovers or authors also begin feeling tired. Many ambitious writers turn disillusioned at the end of their lives for their failure to reach the height of fame they had expected to attain. Yet they, too, want to see their own books and those authored by others remain fresh in the shelves. On the other hand, many celebrated writers are also seen being haunted by spells of worries about their own books which one day they have to part with.  In this society, where many families consider writing an 'eccentricity' or an 'exercise in futility', it is a pipedream to expect the books by a member or members in the family to receive due care posthumously. Books in many such snobbish families have been dumped into the attic after the death of a creative family member. The dishonour and neglect shown to the work of family members not alive has reached such a level these days that social thinkers began worrying about the nation's ability to remain alive spiritually. This spiritual bankruptcy is feared to have stemmed from the crass consumerism which is clawing at the dwarfish yuppies from all sides. The Thakur Bari at Jorasanko in Kolkata presented to the world 14 siblings and their progeny, who emerged as gems of Bangla literature and the arts. The great Rabindranath Tagore being the youngest genius and his elder sister Swarnakumari Devi the first serious modern novelist in Bangla, the whole family could claim to be placed among the families touching the zenith of enlightenment in the 19th-20th centuries. With all of them being allowed to blossom in their own ways, the Tagore clan set a unique instance of growing in all areas of the grater arts, and also at social level. They had no dearth of patrons.

The worn-out works of Tagore, the dazzling Nazrul or Jibanananda Das scattered on footpath shops do not sadden readers. Because the books have long surpassed their ephemeral state and reached the sphere of timelessness. But the copies of these writers' books lovingly gifted to a person and selling as cheap consumer items do hurt. In another episode, the private treasure of a reader or a lesser known writer, i.e. his or her books preserved throughout their lifetime, is found losing all their values after their death. What a pity! Substandard readers swoop down on the orphaned books. Being without anyone to look after them, the books become everybody's property. Even the close family members do not come forward to save the books from the plunderers. Thus in a mere one decade, all the books vanish into thin air. No traces are left of them. Once kept in shelves in a tidy order, layers of dust removed from them regularly, loose cover-pages kept in place with glue, the books eventually are claimed by everybody. The passionate reader or the writer's successors might also want to see their house cleared of the garbage.

This is how lots of valuable books have joined the process extinction. A similar fate may be awaiting the books belonging to the coming generation of obsessive readers and honest authors. In the process, the master copies of the time's dozens of remarkable authors might become out-of-print, and remain so forever. The Bangladesh people's aversion for books is proverbial. At the annual Ekushey Book Fair in Dhaka, the large crowds moving from stall to stall and browsing through books are termed by many deceptive. According to them, only a tiny segment of the visitors to the fairground are habitual readers. The rest go to the book-centred event to join gossip sessions. It's only after being attacked by boredom due to nonstop blabbering that some of them stroll amid the arrays of bookstalls. If somebody feels interested to have a look at the best-selling books that year, they pick the books at the specific stalls. They then turn a few pages and try to read a few lines before walking to another stall. All this is part of a languid afternoon passed amid books. And watching a section of youths' frenzied rush for popular fictions. A striking feature of the scenario is the spectacles of a section of people, who come to the fairground just after its opening. They have few companions, and are seen briskly walking towards certain stalls. Their programme comprises purchasing the publications they have chosen on a prior visit to the fair. In the midst of sparse crowds, they move about in some select areas in the ground. These spaces are earmarked for stalls publishing good books including reprints of Bangla classics.

Although genuine readers can be groomed through weaning them away from cheap books, many are born readers. Throughout their lives, they keep nurturing their love for books. If these people's collection of books happens to become objects of annoyance and neglect after their death, few can stem the process of an intellectual bankruptcy facing the nation.


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