Are we free? Can we be free? Who control our lives? Can’t say for sure. An uncritical and passive approach to trenchant social and cultural practices, prevalent ideas, belief systems and the process of enquiry itself nothing but intellectual slavery, which is very much in existence today and raises not much objection. Let’s say it’s OK. And we are smug that traditional slavery had been abolished in the 19th century. But what about “modern” slavery?
It’s a shame that an estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery.
In this context, it’s heartening that Oman’s Jokha al Harthi, the first Arab author to win the Man Booker International Prize, chose slavery as one of the dominant themes in her award winning novel Celestial Bodies. The jury appreciated her work, which tells the captivating story of three sisters in an Omani village, for “subtly resisting cliches of race, slavery and gender.” As Al Harthi herself commented, slavery is a highly sensitive and taboo-like issue, and the most apt platform to deal with it is literature.
Even children are not spared, with nearly 10 million children forced to work.
How to fight and get rid of modern slavery in all its forms including emotional and intellectual slavery? The answer lies in the enlightenment of the human race. And what better way to enlighten our minds than developing reading habit from a very young age and sustaining the same all throughout life? It is obviously a worthwhile endeavour like no other.
But what about the reading choices available for children in the Sultanate? It seems they can look forward to exciting times.
The Ministry of Information’s move to enrich the Children’s Public Library at Qurum by adding a great number of new children’s books that were on display at the Muscat International Book Fair to the library’s collection is remarkable.
The ministry is also working on a project that is aimed at honing children’s media skills, joining hands with the Children’s Public Library and Unicef. Considering the media’s power to shed light on social issues and regressive practices that hinder the progress of the nation and its people, and thus create the required public awareness to bring in positive social changes, the initiative is commendable indeed. A new generation of young minds that appreciates books and reading can alone strengthen national development.
And, everyone — people and institutions — can be a part of the reading project. Innovation is the key. Take for instance the unique effort by one of Oman’s finest resorts towards rekindling the fading tradition of bed-time storytelling. Alila recently launched its first children’s book titled ‘Tales from Jabal Akhdar: The Mountain That Touches The Stars’. This could be a great beginning.
Penned by Azhaar Ahmed and illustrated superbly by Ibtihaj al Harthi, an artist and founder of Dahareez Art, the kids’ storybook contains five stories and portrays the challenging yet fulfilling expeditions of a young boy named Mark, along with an Omani boy and girl. They explore the Sultanate’s splendid and diverse nature marked by awe-inspiring trees, majestic mountains, mysterious caves and more. The book is inspired by traditional stories cherished across generations of people who inhabited Jabal Akhdhar.
The book aims to encourage parents to create among kids a love for reading, and also to promote the Sultanate’s tourism potential and unique culture and valued heritage among the hotel’s guests.
Thus we can see a renewed interest in books and reading in the Sultanate. And every one can be a part of this literary mission. We have the freedom to read, write, create or support projects and institutions that encourage reading, or do all of them. After all, books are about freedom.