There was a time when books were cheap, as was everything else. The only expensive thing was the living being. But now life is cheap and books are expensive. At first, the paper, Chittagong and the Karnaphuli Paper Mills were all our own. Books were being written, bought and read. There was no custom of distributing books yet. Books were published more than newspapers and were read in every household. If one couldn’t afford to buy books, then they needn’t worry as there were libraries in every street and neighbourhood. People would rent a book and then return for another the very next day.
Children’s literature, detective literature, poetry, novels and even digests were graced with the sweetness of literature. If someone was going to the library in the evening, then he would have catered to requests from the young ones, the elders, from one’s sister and mother. Everyone used to read and writers would only write. Positions, seats and life’s countless luxuries in exchange for writing had not become writers’ aim in life yet.
Then the minority turned themselves into the majority by separating the original majority. We lost much due to the majority’s departure. Most importantly, the loss of Karnaphuli Paper Mills affected our books the most. Our arts, film, music, dance and literature were all left incomplete. When the books became more expensive, the custom of reading and writing began to die out too. That is when our journey backwards began and still continues today.
The elder brother’s younger brother never considered his brother as the elder one. The latter became the elder one himself and took all the advantages that came with it. The one who was actually older wasn’t there anymore. How to tread upon the young ones and keep them there is a skill that the new elder brother knows very well as his feet are always in military boots. The maulvi has always been his childhood buddy anyway, without whom the brother is incomplete. Both friends teamed up to destroy the elder brother.
Our journey backwards began in the 70s and was sped up in the 80s. The Kaaba and Qibla of the country were corrected. The days of teaching and learning ended, while fasting and praying became compulsory. Bars and clubs where eminent personalities of literature, art, music, film and theater used to meet and discuss books and give birth to new ideas, had been shut down.
Slowly, libraries and coffee houses started to decrease in number. Instead, karahi and balti-ghosht shops sprouted up. Madrassas also started to increase. Publication of religious books increased because the funds obtained from Saudi Arabia were specifically for this purpose. Therefore, those books were published and sold for bureaucratic formalities. Then the new uniformed people appeared, wearing the badge of enlightenment, and started to follow in Mard-e-Momin’s footsteps, yielding more darkness. 9/11 made it better since they started to gather money in the name of both, the fight against terror and enlightenment.
The class divisions in our society increased while more money was generated. The poor got poorer, the rich got richer. But the middle one was neither here nor there. He was merely worried about living. The progress made until now is limited to the food industry only. There are all sorts of food outlets opening up everywhere. The rich and poor both frequent these. The middle class is also found at the dinner table. The dinner table conversations are either limited to food or about people not present at the gathering. Alternatively, they lament the country’s situation, which we have been doing our entire lives. New ideology and ideas have become limited to a handful of nutcases. Even they are dividing into separate sections comprising their entire social interactions. However, they are not prepared to think outside their respective boxes.
Books are still being published. Bookshops continue to open up but mainly in large shopping centres. The class division in society has limited the accessibility of literature, art, theater and music to only those who can afford it. The habit of reading is inculcated in English-medium schools. However, it is considered enough to pass exams in government schools. So the inclination to read and write is only found in the children educated in English-medium schools but not their government school-educated peers. To top it all, books has been replaced with Kalashnikovs in accordance to the Quaid’s words.
Books in English are being written, as well as published. Its greatest proof is the Oxford University Press (OUP) and its Managing Director, Ameena Saiyid who took books, reading and learning to great heights. Then there are the ever-increasing bookshops that open up in every new shopping centres. Book lovers are buying books, as well as those who buy books to show themselves off as being educated to others. For example, when an artist is ‘in’, his/her paintings must be hung in the living room of this person at all costs. Similarly, the books by the writer who is ‘in’ these days are also a must-have on the bookshelf for such people.