“All was quiet in the guard tower. Anhad pulled his bowstring, testing it, and absently patted the scabbard hung around his waist, to reassure himself of his sword’s presence. He peered out into the moor that stretched out for miles in front of the tower, half-hoping to see the torches of the scouting team that had left before sunset.
The tower was ridiculously easy to defend; the line of sight and the terrain made it such that the archers often shot at rabbits over a mile away for game, and then sent out grumbling footmen to pick them up. In normal circumstances, the absence of light would be a minor hindrance. But to Anhad’s growing unease, an impenetrable fog seemed to be creeping up from the east, where lay the sister tower that was supposed to light its beacon an hour ago. Even as he watched, the fog reached the gates in uncountable tendrils of white-smoke.
His unease had now turned into fear, although he kept it tightly controlled within himself, not letting it affect his calm. He glanced at the brick roof of his post, wishing he could see through it to the topmost bastion where his brother was manning the mortar. Suddenly, an inhuman screech broke the silence, and even as Anhad reached for his bow, the thunderous sound of the mortar firing battered his ears.”
What did you feel about the snippet above? Would you want to read more? Find out what happened to Anhad? If you do, good, because I created this tiny bubble of a story just for you. This is what reading is all about. You get hooked to a plot, and you follow it to the end of the line. These days very few people of our generation are interested in reading and writing. Visual media has completely taken the fore. We have increasingly limited attention spans, and even more limited areas of interest. The common refrain is, “Why read the book if you can watch the movie on it?” One of several reasons that doesn’t work is because books and movies have very different flavours. The task of a book is to make you create entire worlds, characters, expressions and emotions inside your head, and hold all of that together while you try to piece out what’s happening next. It’s like trying to conduct a puppet show while being given the script in real time. A movie, on the other hand, makes you the passive viewer of the same show. The effort required, in my opinion, reduces significantly.
You cannot be a good writer unless you are a prolific reader. If you want words to flow out of your fingertips, you need to have several thousand phrases raring to go and join that lonely predicate. And you will only internalise those phrases if you’ve seen them in toto, at least a few times. If you’re an English language speaker, you are well and truly privileged because you have access to nearly every piece of writing in the world. No other language boasts this. While it is lamentable that regional writing is not being given its proper due, there is no denying that knowledge of English offers abundant access to knowledge in turn.
To help school-going students tap the potential of the English language, at EI we set about exploring how they could be incentivised to read. The solution that we came up with, was to use the same medium that had caused dissociation with reading to usher the habit back in. Hence, we built Mindspark English, a language-learning website for students, which currently aims at engaging students with the pillars of reading, listening, writing, usage of grammar and vocabulary. It does this by giving short interesting passages, following them up with questions on some key ideas and skills, and rewarding students for their accuracy and perseverance.
As we continue to build Mindspark English, the aim remains the same – students should have fun learning a language and not look at a story or poem as a chore to be completed. If we are able to get our future leaders to start reading in earnest, we will not only foster creativity, but also curb ignorance and apathy; because books have the power to change the way you think, feel and act within a few page-turns.
In the meantime here is a small comic I made, which explores where today’s reader stands in the IUCN list.
By Dev Dutta – Educational Specialist