Deciding upon a movie program at the eleventh hour is not such an issue in Mumbai. Because it does not take too long to spot a newspaper vendor. So, it takes a two-rupee coin to buy a daily; get the show timings of every movie playing in the city and then decide accordingly.
But that is talking about just the fun part of it. The bigger and, admittedly, a much refined aspect of that example is the culture of reading in the Mumbaikars. Anyone who has traveled in a local train would tell you that at any particular hour, a single compartment would have people reading newspapers (or magazines) in at least five languages – Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi, English and any of the south Indian languages.
Some would argue that one has to do something to kill time while traveling in local trains everyday; but if that were the only reason, why don’t thousands of young people across Ahmedabad read newspapers while whiling away their time at and around the various tea shops?
The truth of the matter is that Ahmedabad does not have the ‘culture’ of reading. “Every generalisation is false; including this one”, goes one of the very famous quotes. I agree. And yet, I would insist that we don’t have the culture of reading that cities like Kolkata, Pune and Trivandrum has. Just as they don’t have the culture of traveling across the globe in every summer vacation. Yes, it’s true. It’s true that not every society can have the traits of a throbbing civilization. But is that reason enough to refrain from trying for a change?
The issue here is of providing the citizens of Ahmedabad an alternate activity. And a very constructive one at that.
Imagine a scenario when a young man, going back home from yet another failed interview for job, stops at one of the reading kiosks and ends up reading an advertisement for a walk-in interview, in a newspaper that he generally does not read and of a language that he does not generally talk at home. He then goes for the interview and then gets the job. How thankful would he be of the kiosk?
Imagine a scenario when two, very old regulars of such reading kiosks become friends and find another reason in life.
Imagine a scenario where the common, vulnerable and very volatile ‘politics-affected’ person gets to read more than one perspective (through the various newspapers and magazines at the kiosk) on the issues that affect his daily life and reaction to life, day after day. How fruitful is his evolution as a thinker going to be for the society?
The idea is simple. Public-private partnership, with due support from the government, should encourage the evolution of the culture of reading in Ahmedabad. Unless that happens, Ahmedabad can – at best – become a Shanghai, but never a Seattle.
Let’s choose mind over matter. For, in the long run, nothing much except the mind matters anyway.
Time to think. Time to act.