<%-- Page Title--%> This Much I Know <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 116 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

August 01, 2003

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New Books for Old


Time was when a normal-sized family meant six children as in ours with the odd grandparent, or uncle or widowed aunt thrown in. My friend Daliah had no sister, only three brothers, so hers was considered a very small family while one of our neighbours who had eighteen children was considered to be a man with a large household. After producing nine children his first wife died and he got married again so that there would be a woman in the house looking after the nine. But she too produced another nine, gave up early trying to distinguish between her children and the step-children and lived happily in her own room ignoring the lot of them. We in the neighbourhood also could not make out who belonged to the first lot and who the second but all of us were friendly with one or the other of them. There is a lot of choice among eighteen, you could always find someone you liked.
Anyhow, on the subject of books. After the final exams, we would come home with report cards and booklists. My father would cut us down to size if we boasted of our high marks saying that if ten donkeys ran a race, one donkey would be first. All the older brothers and sisters would haul out the books they had outgrown along with their old jumpers and clothes. We would be kitted out with the books that had belonged to the brother or sister just above us by a year, we would cross our their names, write out ours and with old calendar paper put a new cover on the books. If the previous owner was a particularly rowdy type and had occasionally played football with them or if the book had more than its fair share of previous owners, then the book was sent for 'binding' and it came back tightly bound, with a new stiff cover. We would then be given old sweaters outgrown by older siblings or even cousins and our shoes now finally a perfect fit after six months of wearing a half size too big were given new half soles by a cobbler who sat on the ground below the outside veranda and expertly wetted the leather and cut around it to fit the worn out underside of our shoes. We had to show the stumps of our old pencils and that the last pages of our exercise books were also covered with writing before being allowed to buy new.
Whatever happened to those good old days?
Okay, forget the sweaters, the pencils, the exercise books, and the shoes. So everybody now has one or two children and need not economise on the above. But what about books? Why can't the children use perfectly valid old books? Grammar rules don't change every year, the capital of Australia stays the same, the equator is where it always was (in the mind) and two plus two is four. Why are book publishers allowed to put in a few more spelling mistakes, add one and a half paragraph somewhere and take out a sentence somewhere else, change a few of the questions at the end of the chapters and call the book New Edition?
This is particularly true of Bangla Board books every year. One poem more, two pieces of prose changed (usually for even more boring ones), some more sentences added to a certain chapter and it's New Edition. Some of the Science and Mathematics books printed in India are also doing this year in and year out.
This year, at this school I know (to put forward an authentic example), the Science book of Class V did not have New Edition printed beside it on the book list so the children came back with the shopkeepers having sold them whichever edition they wanted to get rid of. The differences in the contents of the two editions are nothing to write home about. More descriptive lines, more questions in one, more pictures, more experiments in the other, enough ammunition for the children to create a huge chaos in the classroom every single science period.
The teacher at first decided to send the students with the New Edition back to the shops to change for the old (not a very scientific decision but why not if the old edition is better). But the shops would not change the books. The children had written their names on them, some of the pages were already torn, and the shops had run out of the New Edition. The teacher thought of changing the old for the New, but anticipating similar problems, she gave up. Now she is keeping both, and bringing out whichever edition suits her whim; she dictates the missing bits and ignores the extra bits or vice versa, depending on her mood that morning.
Some psychologists (those paid by the bookshops and publishers) say, not getting new books in a new class can leave indelible scars in the child's mind. Chances are good that this deprived child will grow up to be a malfunctioning adult and will need to see a therapist. This theory had better not be true. All my friends and I were third or fourth or fifth on the lists of our parents' immediate descendents and we are neither malfunctioning nor seeing therapists. Although some our children may disagree and feel we are solid therapy cases.
The opposite theory is probably more true, those who grow up to be malfunctioning (in some cases nonfunctioning) are the ones who get too many new stuff, without having to produce old every-page-written-on exercise copies and stumps of used-up pencils as evidence of academic requirements.
Leaving aside the tussle between the two theories for the moment, the question is what can one do to stop this annual con game of changing old books for new for no earthly reason except for making bookshops owners and publishers richer and parents of school-going children poorer? Sadly, just as there is no answer to questions such as, when will they stop filling up Gulshan Lake and when will the banks stop lending money to defaulters and when will the politician develop a sense of shame about Bangladesh being top on the Corrupt Countries of the World list -- there is no answer to why can't children re-use perfectly valid old text books.




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