Have you ever noticed the structure of the word ‘reading’? I am not talking about the meaning of it; I am talking about its pure grammatical structure.
Consider this sentence: I love reading.
In this sentence, ‘reading’ functions as a noun – I love what? I love reading! But it is a strange noun ending with -ing, isn’t it? The -ing forms are usually occur in verbs to indicate a progressive or continuous activity.
Such nouns that end with -ing are called gerunds. But, technicalities aside, why is the action ‘to read’ accorded with an -ing noun form? (Think about it; there is no other noun form of this verb!)
Is it because the grammarians of old, or those people who made up the English language, wanted to give us the subtle message that ‘reading’ is something that has to be progressive and continuous, a never-ending activity?
I’d surely like to think so. Reading is something that cannot be done away with. It needs to always be an ongoing activity.
I stumbled across a clip of a famous movie recently in which a student asks a teacher, “Sir, why do you read?” And the teacher looks at the student with longing fondness and replies, “My son, I read because I am human.”
We talk a lot about ‘being human’ nowadays. But I don’t think wearing T-shirts with ‘Being Human’ printed on them is really being human. Instead, I strongly feel that one of the most essential elements of ‘being human’ is ‘reading’, regardless of what you wear. Or don’t.
Reading exposes us to the larger world that’s outside us. It tells us what kind of differences exist among cultures, civilizations, communities, countries, cities, and makes us more accepting. As a teacher, I often come across situations in my classroom when there is a mention of a foreign name or a tradition, and that usually elicits sniggers or derision from the adolescents, but seldom appreciation, let alone acknowledgment.
It usually goes like this: Chuwamba – what kind of a name is that? She leaves her parents to fulfill her ambitions – how selfish can she be? The man eats beef – he’s the worst sinner; kill him. The French eat cheese with worms and the Chinese eat fried insects – blech! That is what I get to hear whenever there is any mention of any foreign culture, and it does get woeful after a time.
But at least there is hope for these students. We are reading out to them. Maybe they will pick up the reading habit on their own after a while and come out of this frog-in-the-well and my-nation-is-the-best-and-rest-all-suck attitude. Maybe we teachers will be able to prevent another generation of illiterate and uninformed religious and nationalist jingoists from being created. Maybe reading is the solution that all of us are looking for.
We talk of tolerance? Tolerance comes through reading. A person who does not read becomes intolerant because, for them, only what they know is right. And because they haven’t read much, they do not know much. Everything outside their myopic line of vision is alien and therefore unacceptable and – most often – even a threat. Which is what makes them retaliate, often in brutal savage forms, leading to riots and aggressive protests that should hold no place in a civilized society.
Note also that there is no unique past tense form of ‘read’ as well, at least as far as the spelling is concerned. ‘Read’ is the past tense of ‘read’. Another subliminal message there, methinks – reading never gets into the past. It is always present, it is always continuous. What you read stays with you for a lifetime, shaping you, molding you, improving you bit by bit.
Just the right material for human progress.
So don’t keep that book away. Don’t skip that chance to enter the bookstore. Get reading. Be a part of human progress. Be human in the true sense.