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Burning books

June 20, 2011

I always feel safe in a library.Whispering pages laid out in rows, promising solace, adventure and explanations.The cool damp stacks at Oxford, the cheery jumble of the municipal library, and the bright colours of the children’s corner all promise life and hope and happiness.

Jaffna used to have a library. It was one of the best in South Asia. To hear the grown ups talk about it, it rivalled the archives of Alexandria in its size and diversity. Tamils believe in books. They never touch a book with their feet – if they knock one accidentally with their toes, they immediately seek divine forgiveness.

If you ask anyone a few years older than me how they felt when they saw the library in flames, you will see them cry. It was torched in 1981 by a gang, intent on cultural vandalism. The act struck Jaffna Tamils in their solar plexus, leaving them wounded, angry, and suddenly dangerous.

I’m grateful I was too young to understand.

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