My fascination with print started early. As a young boy living at the edge of a jungle in Nepal, I would sometimes find a candy wrapper with a different language written on it. There weren’t many man-made objects around, so finding a shiny plastic or exotic paper with colors and letters on it was always fascinating to me.
As a boy, I was fortunate enough to attend good schools, where my love for reading was born. I read everything I could find, scanning words, examining the various sizes and colors of books, and fingering the various papers.
Some books were made of crude rice papers with fibers, and my interest would be heightened by corners that were torn, folded, curled, or even burned, which made turning each page a joy.
I possessed no book of my own until I was eight. It happened one day after school, when two oddly dressed women — Franciscan nuns, as it turned out — were handing out Bibles to children. While religious proselytizing was regarded with suspicion by the village, and talking to nuns and such was considered unsafe, I was nonetheless eager to have my own book. I brought the forbidden loot home, hid it, and read it as best l as I could.
Turning fish and loaves into an unlimited food supply didn’t seem so far from the deeds of Krishna to me, so I was unsure what all the worry was about. I continued to read, without understanding much, but it was my Own Book, my very own to read. The book even had pictures! It made me happy just to sit somewhere and read my book.
It wasn’t until I came to the US in 1989 at the age of 13 that I discovered what having real access to books could be like. Though our family was poor, my parents attended classes at a local university, and I spent much of my teen years in the library. There I found solitude and answers to nearly any question I could think of. There seemed to be millions of books — and countless thousands of topics — to browse and read and learn from. Just a short time before, back in Nepal, I had been nearly starving for the written word!
Many years (and thousands of books) later, members of my family had the chance to bring Kindles and other ereaders to a Nepali village school through Rukmini Foundation. (The foundation bears the name of my great grandmother, widowed at the age of twenty, who through courage and foresight managed to provide an education for her only son.)
Once the devices were distributed, problems became obvious. What is in them? What do we do with them when there’s no electricity? How do we get internet access? Such questions pressed — as a pile of books sat torn, old and unused in the corner of one room. That was the school’s library, and it contained only a handful of tattered books that matched neither their needs nor interests.
Currently, around the world, including the U.S., there are hundreds of millions of students who do not have textbooks. Many more millions of students live where neither electricity nor Internet access are options. These students will need books — so they too can feel the joy of turning pages, being surprised, and feeling captivated by words, images and ideas.
Long live print!