KUALA LUMPUR: Flashback. When this writer was in a primary school in Pasir Mas, Kelantan in the early 1970s, English was a language really foreign to him.
The spelling and pronunciation of words in that language appeared and sounded so weird to the extent that he had almost turned away from learning the English language.
But the words of Malaysia’s second prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, also known as the country’s Father of Development, had changed the scenario.
“In order to develop and progress, we need knowledge. A way to get knowledge is by reading…” he was quoted by the media then.
That prompted this writer to spend hours after school in a library fully equipped with English-language books. Despite his zero knowledge of English, he laboured over works penned by renowned authors like Enid Blyton, Somerset Maughan, Robert Louis Stevenson, Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare.
Apart from being armed with a bi-lingual dictionary, this writer found out that an easy way to learn English was by reading novels that have translated works.
Hence reading works like Pending Permata (Red Winds), Buaya Mati Dua Kali (The Crocodile Dies Twice), Harimau Lembah Pahit (Tiger of Lembah Pahit), Gendang Kosong (Empty Drums) and Hikayat Seribu Satu Malam (Arabian Nights) helped a lot.
“If you understand what was being written about, then you would be able to learn the language (English) much faster,” a teacher of this writer had once said.
That was how this writer learnt English, a language he had thought almost impossible to learn.
However he did not miss reading, in fact for countless number of times, great Malay novels like Rentung, Patah Sayap Terbang Jua, Tulang-tulang Berserakan, Hari-hari Terakhir Seorang Seniman, Merantau Ke Deli, Di Bawah Lembayung Kaabah, Tenggelamnya Kapal van Der Wick, Atheis and many others.
Reading has become one of the many loves of this writer.
Back to the present day.
Last week, he had to go to Kompleks PKNS in Shah Alam for an errand.
He was surprised to find a huge crowd at the complex’s foyer.
“What’s up’, he asked a woman by-stander there.
“Didn’t you know that this month (July) is the Reading Month”, the woman who is a parent and who wished to be identified as Evelynn responded to a query by this writer.
“Didn’t you notice the advertisement on the Reading Month campaign? It is on television everynight”, she added, much to the embarrassment of this writer.
Apparently the complex was staging the ‘Pesta Buku Negeri Selangor’ (Selangor Book Carnival). The event was from July 24 until Aug 3, 10am-9pm.
The reading campaign was officially launched in 1995 during the National Reading Month Celebration carrying the slogan “Mari Membaca Bersama” (Let’s Read Together).
The then Education Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, now the Prime Minister, launched the campaign on July 31 the same year.
The campaign was held nationwide throughout the month of August every year until the year 2000. In 2001, at a function officiated by Datin Seri (Tun) Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, the government announced that July replaced August as the National Reading Month
From 2001 onwards, this campaign was held in July and turned into an annual agenda aimed at creating a knowledgeable and informative Malaysian community by adapting reading as a culture.
Retired academician Fatimah Mansur said the government’s move to initiate the Reading Month Campaign, that dated back to 1995 was brilliant.
“Look around us, everywhere you find people reading. Be it books, newspapers, magazines or even reading blogs and other materials on the Internet,” she said.
How very true.
A recent visit by this writer to a book megastore in Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya, found a huge turnout by many children and adults browsing over the books and magazines available there.
A long queue was seen at the counters, paying for the reading materials bought.
Nationwide, various organisations including government agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), public and private libraries as well as schools, colleges and universities held their respective reading campaigns in conjunction with the Reading month.
According to several academic staff of a local university here, the campaign can be considered a success.
“It manages to attract public participation in various programmes to increase reading interest apart from inculcating awareness on the importance of livelong reading.
“The campaign also encourages reading as a culture’, said a lecturer.