Being Women

The Pleasure Reading Tribe: A Meeting With The Chief Librarian, KIIT International School.

What is pleasure reading? How can it be achieved? Dr Aparna throws light on it.

I’m on the land of Biju Patnaik, the green and clean Odisha. Son’s chess tournament brings me to this part of the country, which, as a globetrotter, I wouldn’t have considered on my travel map. Why? The terrible Indianess in me wants to visit Greece, sail to the Bahamas, savour a La French wine, and behave while tanning on the beaches of Australia. But I don’t care a damn about local tourism, despite the many requests the Prime Minister makes with folded hands to boost local tourism. That’s his job! And me, doing mine and not following his. Now that I’m here, the explorer bug bites me, and I set out in search of some luxurious time-spending options without spending a penny. I forgot I’m an Indian after all!

I have a noteworthy sense of smell. I can smell a library from a distance. Here, where I’m logged at the KIIT campus, I relish the aroma of books wafting in the air. I immediately go about sniffing and land straight at the school library.

Voila! The place is so welcoming and incredibly inviting. Large glass doors give a glimpse of the aesthetic interiors. Shelves full of books, long tables with stout chairs, a big, black sofa at the other end, and huge glass planes overlooking the duly pruned garden and a road that runs parallel to it. I just can’t resist the temptation of indulging in this space. I have carried my books, as I do whenever I travel. I have a huge FOMO for the latest books and another gargantuan phobia that I will be depleted of my stock. So I carry more than I can consume. No solitary moment must be spent without the company of books.

Sorry for bragging about this FOMO. It comes to me like a sudden spell of rain, unexpected and unwanted, leaving me embarrassed. So, as I barge into this solemnly sacred space, a gentleman in his forties (he could be in his thirties as well; I am deprived of my glasses) looks up from his table and nods with a gesture speculative of permitting my entry. Later, I find out that he is the Chief Librarian of the KIIT International School. With a warm smile, he welcomes me into his kingdom of books. Like a ruler, he sits on his throne among subjects of economics, geography, science, and literature.

Mr Santosh Kumar Akki and his wife, a friendly couple to whom I take an instant liking, offer me more than just books. They share insights on the working of the library, the advantages of crafting a well-thought-out reading list for children among an array of available options, and foremost, working with avenues to involve the children in the area of ‘Pleasure Reading’. It is here that I get the pulse of this couple. (Now don’t you think that being a doctor, I grabbed him by the carotid?)

Pleasure Reading is a crucial component that is missing heavily in our youngsters. We read for scores, grades, mark sheets, and entrance exams. We read to escape the trashing of teachers or the pestering of parents. We never read to keep boredom at bay or ignorance far away. We read because we have to, not because we want to.

When I speak to Mr. Santosh Sir, I hear his lament about students these days not having sufficient time to read.

“What will the teachers do, Madam? They, too, have to complete the prescribed portion in the given time.”

Mr. Santosh’s words are well aligned with his sensitive thoughts. He seems to have researched the syllabus, spoken to academic officials, and then come to the conclusion that academic pressure leaves little or no time for reading endeavours. Yet he strives to be the fulcrum and balance the load of academics with the pleasure of reading. His efforts are reflected in the thoughtfully curated library.

There are books covering academics—geography, history, science, literature, and the like—that sit cosily on the lower shelves. Hard-bound, thick encyclopaedias with a belly full of knowledge stand tall on the top shelves. Storybooks, right from Hardy Boys to Nancy Drew to Oliver Twist, call out to you. But what commands your attention are books written by the ex-ATS chief Rakesh Maria, Nelson Mandela, and other national and international personalities.

What I find happily shocking is the inclusion of memoirs of successful yet controversial figures like Neena Gupta, Kabir Bedi, Rekha, and Anupam Kher. (Pardon me for calling them controversial, but they take pride in saying so.)

Here, I quote Mr. Santosh’s views on the inclusion of these titles:

“Who are we to judge these personalities as good or bad? We need to expose our children to decent content and let them decide what’s best for them.”

“Books can only do good, not harm”

I resonate with these liberal thoughts. Social media and the internet are full of filth that we can’t prevent from fouling our children’s minds. Books can only do good, not harm. Mr Santosh’s liberal thinking extends beyond his attitude towards books and ensures that his wife carried on his learning by becoming a librarian. The two, along with their fifth grader, travel to different cities to build up efficient libraries, thus providing food for thought for future leaders and visionaries.

How many times have we, as parents, considered looking at the state of the library before selecting the best school for our child? We minutely examine the infrastructure, the teaching methods, the faculty, and the fee structure. But have you ever given a lame thought to the library? What is the psychology behind its development? How much does the librarian believe in his role in creating global leaders? How important is his role in making a child happy through books? His quantum share in pleasure reading?

My three days at this wonderful library at KIIT International School make me delve into the abysses of ignorance I carry with me. It is an eye-opener for a parent who thinks of grades and scores. What is in store for our children if we continue this educated ignorance? Degrees with a degraded mindset.

I wholeheartedly bless Mr. Santosh and his tribe for building a safe, peaceful space for children who are victims of the mayhem created by ambitious parents and over-ambitious systems. May goodwill prevail? Amen! And Odisha, I’m sure to visit you again, for on your land the pleasure reading tribe grows.

Mr Santosh Kumar Akki and his wife at the KIIT International School, Bhubaneshwar 

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