International Day of Book, April 23, a symbolic date to promote reading, publishing and copyright across the globe, highlights the importance of books and writers who redecorate these books with their intellect.

It was first celebrated by UNESCO in 1995 to pay worldwide tribute to books and authors. World Book Day is organised in educational institutions and book lover organizations throughout Pakistan. ‘Reading awareness walks’ are organized and lectures in relevance with the importance of reading and writing books are delivered to highlight this much neglected portion of knowledge.

This is a very good omen for our society to engage our nation, especially young generation, in thought-provoking ideas to get hold of maximum benefits from books. Pleasant trend in book reading among Pakistani people can be seen in recently held Book Fair in University of Punjab in April 2015 where an astonishing number of over 167,000 books were sold.  On the other side, it is extremely unfortunate that libraries, being house of knowledge, do not have their due status or even perceptible agenda of our government.

In America, public libraries have Makerspaces which are trending along with other technological ingredients providing evidence that libraries continue to evolve beyond the traditional focus on collections, compared with Pakistan where most of the public libraries still lack internet facilities, availability of e-books and ‘enough’ material to attract the public.

Mothers and teachers play pivotal role inculcating reading habit among children from their very starting age. Teacher’s role is important in making child a habitual reader but teacher-pupil ratio in Pakistan is not satisfactory as report, launched by the ministry of federal education and professional training, shows that the ratio in primary schools of Punjab is 33:1, while it is 29:1 in Sindh, 43:1 in KP, 32:1 in Balochistan and 28:1 in Islamabad. However, in middle and high school, Islamabad has the poorest pupil-teacher ratios with 40:1 and 39:1 respectively.

For a civilized nation, bright future depends on investing on future generation, which of course relies on engaging more and more young children towards the world of books and book reading. This reading culture will decrease depression, unrest and extremism, which unfortunately, prevail in our society.  

As extremism, in different forms, taking its roots, it becomes imperative for the upper echelons of our government to decide whether Pakistan should be a gun-friendly or book-friendly country.

The number of firearms owned by civilians here, both legal and otherwise, is estimated to be at least 18,000,000, which works out 11.6 guns per 100 people, compared with India, where it is 3.36 per 100 people. If this culture of gun, obvious from fact, continues with present pace, then menace of terrorism and extremism will be rooted even further. On the other hand if books and libraries ‘replace’ this culture then we will again produce great minds and fearless heroes who will lead the nation with the original power i.e. Knowledge.

Today’s world is fast paced; we all realize and unfortunately are bound by it. To invest your mind capital in technology and business is not wrong, but to be enslaved by it shouldn’t be the way forward.

This is where book reading comes in as it provides the perfect romance of blending your facts, your imagination and your senses to create a matter which can beautify and enhance your thinking for simple solutions and answers, arising in the deepest corners of your mind.

        —The writer Zaheer Ahmad is vice-president of Pakistan Library Association.