Top News
Check latest news Read →

Expiry of time, the end of reading

What I’m saying has more to do with time and its increasing paucity and quicker ways to absorb information. It’s perfectly true: there’s so much to write and such little time – and space. However, this fits in neatly with readers whose time is also shrinking. The younger lot doesn’t buy newspapers any more. They read what they want to on the Internet. Software in their computers selects stories of their interest worldwide and has them ready every morning. Thus there’s no guarantee that one’s column will necessarily be on their menus every week.

The ‘time’ I’m talking about is what one used to call spare time, time left over after doing what I had to in order to live. It’s difficult to believe, but survival is once again a full-time occupation, as it was at the advent of Man when we were hunter-gatherers. Which underlines the fact that our societal development has been negligible compared to our scientific development, our primitiveness camouflaged in a thin layer that goes variously by the name of ‘civilization’, ‘modernity’ and ‘emancipation’. We’ve seen how fast this camouflage started peeling off with the onset of the recent global economic crisis.

Early man had little or no time to write poetry, or paint except on cave walls, which probably was a necessity, not a historical account for future generations. People who have to do battle every day, as they suddenly do now, to earn a living have little time to read. They can only skim. In college we were taught to make not more than three points in a speech, for the human mind cannot properly absorb more in one session. The very sophisticated, educated and disciplined mind may absorb five, but that’s about it. Come to think of it, that’s about as many points made in good articles; the extra length comes from painting pictures in words, delving into history etc.

What we are seeing is the death of time as we knew it – relaxed time – and along with it the death of things that take time, like newspaper reading and, sadly, even book reading, certainly to the extent that we used to. Now you can buy a gizmo called ‘Kindle’ and read any book on it. No more need for libraries. Imagine: children can carry the complete English language library in their school bags! This could be a revolution as big as the invention of the printing press that gave such a quantum leap to the dissemination, and later acquisition of knowledge. And it will also be a quantum leap for the English language, for having very good English to get ahead in life will become more a fundamental right than just a necessary tool.
What bothers me is that Nescafe dissemination of information might leave people little time to think, to question, to understand, to analyze, to come to their own conclusions and to take knowledge further, most importantly about how to accelerate societal advancement to the same speed as we have advanced in the scientific and technological. I have said many a time that while the human species has advanced amazingly in the acquisition of scientific knowledge, it has hardly evolved as societal beings except for the deceptive sugarcoating of ‘civilization’, which includes all sorts of political, economic, legal and other social systems. Which explains why scientific knowledge has been so misused, like in making weapons of mass destruction. The animal lurks just below the surface, which is why women are still ‘inferior’ to men for all intents and purposes the world over, why horrific practices like honour killings still persist. Or why the locking up of women physically and mentally behind bolts of cloth and huge doors in societies which are rightly regarded as ‘primitive’ by the more ‘advanced’ while the parading of naked and near-naked women and the exploitation of their bodies only to sell products, make money at beauty pageants and the like under the dark cloak of ‘emancipation’ is regarded by the same people as ‘advanced’.

As man has made strides in scientific knowledge, so have his barbarous practices. Actually, the Barbarians couldn’t hold a candle to today’s ‘Advanced Man’. One spear of the Barbarian could kill only one man; one bomb of Advanced Man can vaporize hundreds of thousands in an instant. Some social advancement!

No wonder, then, that the vast majority of comments a writer receives are from people who haven’t read the article properly or not understood what is being said. Nor have they bothered to pay attention to the context. Which is frustrating. The fault, though, lies squarely with the writer, for it is his duty to communicate properly with his readers. But it also makes me understand why and how one gets perennially accused of being “congenitally” anti-American, anti-British, anti-Indian, anti-Israeli and anti-God knows who else. If one opposes US foreign policy only one immediately gets branded as anti-America and anti-American – understand the difference – despite having written many times that America is an amazing country and its people are amongst the nicest and friendliest in the world but sadly their governments do them little credit. Say that the British have created most of today’s problems that threaten to take the world apart – which is perfectly true – and one automatically becomes anti-British. Point to the injustices done to the Palestinians and up goes the cry of anti-Israel, even anti-Semitic. Mention that despite an uninterrupted electoral process and economic statistics to wallow in, distributive justice in India is very poor and the vast majority of its citizens remain firmly mired in shameless poverty, and one not only gets accused of being congenitally anti-Indian but all the faults, follies and foibles of Pakistan are trotted forth as irrelevant defense, despite one not having said at all that Pakistan doesn’t suffer from all of them and more. And written many times that at the end of the day the fault lies with us and it is puerile blaming others. But here we are talking of India, not Pakistan.

Be that as it may, it is people’s right not to read properly or to read whatever they want into anything. The dissemination of information and opinion today has become so frenetic, that depth has been lost and the superficial – and often supercilious – has taken over. One just has to watch western television or read their ‘quality’ newspapers to come to this conclusion.

So I was going to suggest a new principle to Arif Nizami, the only editor I have respect for – “Keep It Short and Simple, Stupid” or KISSS – when down came the ‘Voice of the Times’ from Mount near Lahore’s fabled Charing Cross: “Thou shalt not write more than 1,200 words.” Wow! The gods are always a step ahead of us mortals. Problem solved. This one is 1,167 words.

But come what may, my motto will remain unchanged: “Mujhay hai hukm-e-azan, La Illaha Ilallah” – “I have been Commanded to proclaim: there is no God but Allah.” Always tell the truth as you see it.

Leave A Reply