What kind of a reader are you? Does your reading help you provide information or do you depend on assumptions? How long do you study every day? Is it academic reading or just going through the newspaper once?
You have to answer these questions seriously if you want to join the regular ‘knowledge culture’ session of the Reading Trust Club. Reading enthusiasts of the club gather at Nilkhet, near Dhaka University every day. Over a cup of tea, they are found busy debating or talking on diverse issues.
This is a club setting an example. They are trying to change the reading habits of people. To them, reading is a ‘lifestyle’. This includes looking back in history to trace the reading habits of the famous persons as well as the method and the purpose of their reading. They tried to determine a method to detect the gain and losses from reading, and to master the techniques to read fast effectively.
Why so serious over this? In answer to this the founder, Arif Khan who is an advocate at the Supreme Court, said, "When I was a Dhaka University student I knew I had to complete my syllabus in four or five years. A student is supposed to become an expert on a specific subject at the university. But there are no directions regarding how to read those books.”
“I, along with my friends, used to study in the university central library and then discussed in front of the library every afternoon over what we had read,” he said. “We used to do this regularly.”
This was around 2004. There were many who would join the gathering including 10-12 regular students. They discussed various issues. Later, Arif Khan, a former law student at Dhaka University, founded the club formally in 2011.
He felt the “the intellectual burden” must be taken over by the students there. But anyone of any age can join the club.
“Actually as a modern age university it was the responsibility of Dhaka University to create scopes for interaction among thinkers and researchers,” he said, "But there were hardly any and this is why we tried to hold the weekly lectures. We aimed at building original outlook of the students."
There is a 22,000-word syllabus of the club. One has to complete reading this if intending to join in the club. Reading at least 200 pages or for at least three hours a day is regarded crucial. An average of 1,200 participants regularly joins the programme held by the club. There are 80 enlisted associates who carry out the organisational tasks. No fee is required.
They hold weekly and monthly public lectures. Economist Rehman Sobhan, human rights worker Hameeda Hossain, photographer Nasir Ali Mamun, member of the parliament Simeen Hussain Rimi, archaeologist Sufi Mostafizur Rahman, economist Hossain Zillur Rahman, architecture Farida Nilufar, author of the constitution Kamal Hossain, researcher Ghulam Murshid were among the monthly speakers. Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus was the speaker on the 100th public lecture.
“Our weekly lectures are held at Institute of Modern Languages (IML), Dhaka University,” said Iftekarul Islam, one among the trustees. “We generally invite researchers or authors under the age of 30 who speak for 40 minutes. The audience then asks them questions.” A monthly public speaking training programme is also held over the techniques of speech delivery.
The issues covered through such lectures include introduction to Bengal architecture, Wari-Bateshwar, urbanisation in Dhaka, investment in universities, partition, what and we read, what and how we write, film as a media of education, the emergence of middle class Muslim in Bengal, how big is the universe: the grammar of Stephen Hawking’s thought, untold stories of the World Cup, the reassessment of modern sexuality, economics of festival, effective reading habit and so on.
Study tours or picnics are common at the universities while the Reading Trust Club holds a ‘knowledge-walk'. "An expert briefs the participants on the significance and history of the venue," said founder Arif Khan. They held the programme at Panam Nagar and Sonargaon folk art museum and the National Martyrs’ Memorial, Jahangirnagar University.
Professor Abdur Razzak, Ahmed Sofa, Begum Rokeya are among the club’s declared intellectual ideals. Each year they award a researcher the MAC reading award. It is named after the former DU professor Muzaffar Ahmed Chowdhury (MAC) who used to study for 16 to 17 hours.
What about the funds? "No fee is required to be involved with the club. For workshops, the reading associates who hold a full-time job provide funds," said Arif Khan.
What is their future plan? The pamphlet says, "Reading Club has a number of aims," and goes on “A smart citizen is one who knows his/her constitution…. The political, economic, social justice as stated in the constitution is not yet achieved. But we have gained independence about a half century ago. Creating a knowledge-based society could solve this."
In 2013, Reading Trust Club held a workshop at DU. Easy tricks to master the constitution was taught to 70 participants. The club has been holding the workshops annually. They want to hold such programmes at schools and colleges across the country.
A conference is held annually commemorating Professor Abdur Razzak since 2011.
"The Reading Club has been setting up a paradigm of good initiative," Nur-e-Ferdous, a forty-year-old participant at the lecture held at the Institute of Modern Languages at DU on 21 April. "We need such examples to change our country," she added.