The Healing Touch
COVID-19: When Books Become Healing Touch
By Pranab Hazra & Dr Gouri Sankar Nag
The COVID-19 pandemic is posing hitherto the toughest challenge for humanity in the 21st Century. Already more than three million people in 210 countries across the world have been affected by the pervasive conflagration of the contagion with death toll, shooting to as high as 2 lakhs or more. This bench-marking seems to sound like an alarm bell in view of the fact that 56,220 US troops had died in the two-decade-long US war with Vietnam. The news is humongous and debilitating given the figure of death of more than 59,000 Americans in the three-month war with COVID-19 as of April 29, 2020. Moreover anxieties writ large with some US experts estimating that morbidity could go as high as 74,000 in August 2020.
In the absence of any recognised vaccine (albeit two or three already in trial), the only survival strategy for the common people from the clutch of this terrible pandemic out to engulf the society is social isolation. Unfortunately, however, in the lingering phase of nation-wide lockdown and isolation, domestic violence has registered an upward swing under conditions of claustrophobic house arrest. The UN projection shows that it might increase also. Hence, it would be a daunting challenge for us to ensure security of the womenfolk and vulnerable veterans for which traditional community policing practices might not be very effective; rather at this juncture, digital platforms would be advisable for communication for assistance, as well as for registering complaint. However, we would recommend another peaceful resolution of conflict to mitigate domestic troubles and that is through reading books.
No doubt, awareness leading to voluntary compliance on the part of people appears to be the very key for the successful implementation of quarantine measures being enacted by government and it requires trust of people in the efficacy of such programme. Hence, we ought not to consider it to be unduly coercive, but rather the only weapon to deal with COVID-19 is that of strict lockdown to break the chain of the community spread as doubling rate of persons falling victim makes it imperative.
Now while scientists and bio-technologists are desperately trying to find a vaccine, we, the information scientists, are continuing to figure out how to make this confinement less difficult and more healthy, soothing and sustainable because now the world’s most valuable resource is data and, therefore, how we can transform the present deadlock situation into a veritable basket of opportunity with the benevolent use of information and data science.
A pioneering forum of state librarians in the eastern Indian Province of West Bengal, Sammilita Granthagar o Peshajibi Mancha (or Combined Library and Professional Forum), has taken a very commendable initiative. How to make this family prison the Baranasi of old age and the playground of childhood is our aim and quintessential challenge. Now than ever before we need books, journals, magazines and newspapers, not merely for the sake of information, but more in order to stay positive in approach in gloomy times of crisis. Our best friend even during festivities has always been book, which never dash our expectation. To say this, we, the librarians and book-enthusiasts, have conducted seminars all over the state. We have spoken about our commitment to build a book-oriented society. From hill to jungle, our well-equipped tableau has turned day after day with this benign appeal. We have received tremendous support from general people. Yet, we have received extraordinary opposition, too. The enemies of the book want to shut our mouths because we are saying that if a book-oriented society is formed, there will be less and less crime in the space of our empathetic social milieu. Because when a child grows up with books, there is no criminal propensity in her/him. As such, there won’t be mischief in the society. So, it is natural that those – who want to catch fish in troubled water – might put resistance to it.
However, one of the good things about Coronavirus is that it created Global Communism! Mao’s country is being implicated to make it happen with a virus. The pandemic has united the saint and thief, the rich and the poor alike. As if the united search for the vaccine and emancipation from the mental trauma has evoked unprecedented solidarity of purpose. But in the morning and in the afternoon, if the common rendezvous-loving middle class tend to hang out in the tea shop, who can stop them?
This is where books could play its magical role to keep us at home, yet with a pleasing mind to be get refreshed by immersion in the world of literature. We said that we would send this best friend to you. The idea was to create a sharing platform on the social media. We appealed to the public, arrested in their own home, to send their book requisitions to us. And it’s been a wonderful response as people in thousands are spontaneously sending requests for their favourite story books, newspapers and magazines. Some local dailies highlighted this benevolent initiative, and after that we didn’t take a pause. Within 30 days of this initiative, we have been able to send e-contents and PDF links to 15,000 people both within West Bengal and outside. And it was so enthusiastically received. Now in catering to public choice, we are sending 10/12 Bengali, English and Hindi newspapers and three-hour Akashvani Kolkata (radio) local news to 1,000 people from different parts of the province and even beyond, every day.
In addition, various initiatives of the Indian Ministry of Human Resource Development under the National Mission on Education are providing vital back up with e-PG Pathshala, https://epgp.inflibnet.ac.in (where curriculum based on 80 subjects in all disciplines, interactive e-content is available), e-study (where 600 e-books for postgraduate students are available). This service will be available at home. There will be 20,000 texts, 19,000 videos, 3,200 experts and 30,000 quizzes.
Besides, the Government of India has a well-equipped website https://swayam.gov.in for online courses and video tutorials for all subjects. In addition, there are a number of online courses that can be done by the interested persons on their own, apart from webinars and online workshops, which may unfurl a new horizon of knowledge experience and intellectual fruition for the college and university students and faculties to add credit to their career prospect.
College students would be enthused to know that they can access to read the e-books of their syllabus from http://egyankosh.ac.in. Textbooks are also available in the form of Open Educational Resources for different courses ranging from CBSC, West Bengal Board and even for different other courses from primary to higher secondary levels. One of our college librarians has created a website, called http://www.schooloer.blogspot.in, by combining links to resources rich in interactive science laboratories in a stimulating process.
https://rabindra-rachanabali.nltr.org is offering access to the goldmine of Rabindra Sahitya. Oeuvre of Tagore’s novels, poems, plays can be picked up by visiting this website. Some people may be more interested in trying out popular Hindi songs. For them, we pledge to reach out to you, if you just let us know your selective choice. Thus, we perceive that the need of the hour is to diffuse the mental problems at this time with the healing touch of books and links to hundreds of old movies and even for online counselling as per the requirement to heal mental problems as our commitment to social well-being.
We represent a young university in West Bengal. The number of books in the libraries of the new universities is three times less than the number of e-books. However, we are giving it a priority to equip ourselves with PDFs and links, which we have started forwarding to 15,000 book-lovers through our mobile library. So, we are alert of the upcoming era of digital library.
In this way, the current pandemic has become a litmus test for us. With thousands of seminars and hundreds of mobile tableau, we could not convince the people that books were their best friends. Now, Coronavirus did that alone. As a result, it is possible to remain socially connected while maintaining required physical distance. We fervently believe that more than the fear of infection, a far more potent enemy of people could be our depressive state of LONELINESS. Hence, it is to be banished once for all. So, we welcome your participation to fight the pandemic in course of which you can get back much of your coveted childhood reading habits. Let your association with books a bridge to reach out to your dreamland in the post-COVID world.
Boundless Ocean of Politics has received this article from Dr Gouri Sankar Nag, the Professor and Head Department of Political Science, and Pranab Hazra, the Librarian, Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University, Purulia, West Bengal, India.
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