When people complain of their busy schedule as an excuse for not reading, Ghazi Salahuddin gives them President Obama’s example.
“During his election campaign when he got off a plane, he had in his hand a book and a finger inserted in the middle to serve as a bookmark. One cannot be busier than the president of the United States, and he still has time to read,” he smiles.
Salahuddin was given the bibliophile of the year award by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani at a ceremony hosted by the information minister, Qamar Zaman Kaira in Islamabad on April 23. The selection was made by a committee headed by Intezar Husain and included Asghar Nadeem Syed and Aqeel Rubi during the celebration of National Book Day by the National Book Foundation.
Nestled in a room, piled with books from top to bottom, he gives a modest reply, “I do not think I deserved the title. I know several book lovers who deserve the title even more. I think my show Geo Kitab played a role.”
Geo Kitab was aired by the Geo Television Network in 2009. It was an attempt to bring together authors and book lovers.“Our country does not suffer from a political and economic crisis; it suffers from an intellectual and moral crisis,” says Salauddin.
The bibliophile is distressed by the reading habits of society. He blames it on the stratified system of education in the country, and the way religion has entered every sphere of society.“Due to the different mediums of education, good education is only in the hands of the rich. The language of empowerment is English, and this particular factor deprives the native genius of the country – the person who reads in the local language.”
Education, he believes, can serve as an “equalizer” in society, which the poor man can use for upward mobility.“Religion is very important at a personal level, but when it is imposed as an ideology the problem begins. Because faith does not encourage questions, and rational debate can only be held when questions are encouraged.”He does not think the excuse that books are expensive is good enough. “So is lawn, jewellry and eat-outs.”
“I pass through big houses in posh areas of the city, with fancy cars parked outside. Sometimes I feel like knocking at their doors, and asking them for a Dewan-e-Ghalib, or Jane Austen. I am sure they do not have them. This is how literature-deprived our society is.”
The intellectual in him fails to comprehend how a person can live without reading. To him, it is as important as eating.“I tell young people if they do not read poetry how would they know what love is, how will they know what they are feeling when they do fall in love.”
The general perception is that Internet and television have resulted in the decline of the reading habit. “Are the two mediums not present in other countries? The presence of Internet has merely increased the access to books there. E-books come at your desktops, straight to your e-book readers. The form has changed, reading has not.”
Salahuddin is a man who has never been to university, yet he is a known intellectual of the city, the first editor of The News and pleasant company for anyone who fosters the curiosity within, and all this he attributes to the one thing he loves the most in life — his books.