Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bookworm Kedar Bhakta Mathema

KEDAR BHAKTA MATHEMA, an acclaimed educationist, is an ex-vice chancellor of Tribhuvan University. Mathema also served as the Nepalese ambassador to Japan for six years. An avid reader of literature, Mathema spoke to Ujjwal Prasai about how he developed the habit of reading.
What was the last book that you read?
I recently re-read a novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. It’s a great novel and has left an indelible impression on my mind. I cannot forget interesting lines like: “Droll thing that life is—that mysterious arrangement of a merciless logic for a futile purpose.” Before that, I was reading The Country is Yours by Manjushree Thapa. It is a collection of selected Nepali writings translated into English by Thapa; she has done a great job. Now, I am reading an autobiography of Malcolm X; he was a leader of the black movement in the US, who, unlike Martin Luther King, did not believe that non-violence can emancipate blacks from the tyranny of white Americans.
What is your favourite genre?
I mostly read fiction because the things I learn from reading fiction remain in my mind for a relatively longer time than things I get to know from reading non-fiction. But I equally like reading non-fiction; books on education, sociology and politics. I also like reading books like Culture Matters (Eds. Lawrence Harrison and Samuel P Huntington) and Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Max Weber). Poetry also interests me much.   
What is the current state of the culture of reading in the Nepali academia?
When I think of the culture of reading, I remember what Gandhi has said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow; Learn as if you were to live forever.” We lack that spirit of learning here. But of late, people have started realising the importance of reading and are installing libraries in educational institutions. We researched on the reading habits of Nepali students and interestingly found that the number of books available at a pupil’s home has positive associations with the student’s performance at school. Reading materials should thus not be limited to educational institutions but should be available at home as well. We acutely lack good public libraries here. Having visited public libraries abroad, I have realised the important role they play in enhancing the culture of reading among people.
How did you inculcate the habit of reading?
I did not read much when I was in school because the reading materials available were insufficient. I started reading books after joining college. I started with thrillers and romantic novels, and steadily moved to serious books by Shakespeare, Sartre, Camus. I am not very fond of social engagements and this somewhat reclusive nature aided the development of my reading habit. I still remember the days when I was pursuing my B.A. at Tri-Chandra College. During that period I used to close myself in a room and read novels for hours. Interestingly, because I was so engrossed in the fictitious world, many a times I mistook fictitious characters for real ones.   
The first book that you bought? And the most expensive book that you have bought?
I remember buying Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield at Bhotahity. That was the first book I bought; it is an interesting story of a school teacher. The most expensive book that I have bought is a coffee table book; a book of Salvador Dali’s paintings titled Dali which cost US $ 40. I bought that book in 1970. It was a huge sum for me but I spent it easily because I really liked Dali’s paintings. His paintings are awesome and I never forget what Dali has famously said, “The only difference between me and the mad man is that I am not mad.” 
Books that you want to recommend to others?
One must read Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I have grown with values of the middle class but after I read this book, I could sense my thoughts starting to incline towards the left. Another book I would like to recommend is The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro; a fascinating post-war British novel that one should not miss reading. Likewise, The Famished Road by Ben Okri is really powerful. I also recommend a moving book The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian by Nirad C Chaudhuri. This book shows that even an autobiography of a common man can be an interesting read.
Any overrated and underrated books?
The White Tiger by Arvind Adiga and The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai are overrated. And there are many such books. John Dewy’s book How We Think is an underrated book. This old book is a very useful and interesting one but not many people, in our part of the world, know about it. Books of this kind enhance critical thinking and I believe we should incorporate Dewy’s ideas into our education system.
Posted on: 2011-03-01 07:32 (The Kathmandu Post)


Post a Comment