In my book, nothing compares to reading. I adore being lost in the written word. Many Indians feel the same way. Wherever you wander, you will surely bump into people reading. Often it will be a newspaper in the local script. In the cities, booksellers pile their wares on the side of the road while eager customers contemplate the titles. On trains, the passengers all come equipped with novels and glossy magazines. This shared love for the written word endears India even more to me.
My current involvement is with a huge tome titled, “India After Gandhi,” by Ramachandra Guha. As there is a noticeable absence of books about modern Indian history, I was hoping that this would fill in some of the gaps for me. When I got to the part where India is preparing for its first democratic election after Independence, I was sadly confronted with some hard facts about India’s illiteracy and the challenge this caused for the country then. According to Guha, in 1951, 85% of the eligible electorate could not read or write. These people were awkwardly registered and visual symbols designed for them so that they could cast their vote.
I was very surprised that the statistic was so high. I started digging a little deeper. Today, much to my dismay, India is home to the largest population of illiterate adults in the world at 287 million people out of a population of over 1.2 billion. So much for praising all the readers I see all over India, or is it? They are still there, omnipresent and engaged in their literary pursuits. Their examples have to inspire everyone to hunger for this pleasure. Unfortunately, there is a serious gender disparity in literacy. Women lag far behind men. A literate mom has so much more potential to influence her children’s future than an illiterate woman. Yet with all these distressing statistics, I still choose to praise India’s readers! Their presence still pleases me and gives me hope as they too are lost in the written word, a pleasure like no other.