While discussing the book-reading and book-hating cultures, the writer shares the stories of barbaric tradition of burning and destroying the books and archival records, citing the incidents having taken place at different times in Sindh.
Most of the people avoid reading books. We encounter them daily in our families, our friends’ circles, and academic institutes. The people who do not read their body language also show some indifference to books. There may be a lot of other reasons but in such cases the most common reason is their improper schooling or non-existence reading tradition or even respect for books in their families. Apart from it, I have noticed there are also other reasons, and the main reason is our micro-cultures, our immediate environment as well as the distant environment. Have you ever thought that we live in or adore how many micro-cultures at a time?
Could you prepare a list? Okay, I am also contributing to the list from my side. Then we will compare it. This is my list of micro-cultures – ‘individual culture.’ ‘family culture,’ caste or surname culture, ‘village culture’ ‘occupation or profession culture,’ ‘friendships’ culture,’ ‘political association culture,’ ‘book reading culture,’ ‘e-friends/social media culture,’ ‘city’s culture,’ and ‘nation’s culture.’
Now, what does your list says? Is something missed or additional? In either case correct it, please.
Now listen, where is space, or even any value for book reading in these listed micro-cultures? I am saying so because all these bits and pieces must contribute to the reading attitude of a person. If books and reading are not part of our micro-cultures, then society is void and it haunts. In such a society, social media instead of spreading knowledge creates warlocks and wizards. Although, someone could be happy to claim that we have one of the largest membership-based literary associations.
We are the people who discourage the reading, in a way we are book- hating people. You might disagree with me, but even in our homes, better places are reserved for utensils – dinner-sets and teacup sets – which are never frequently used. However, in comparison to these food-serving items, books are left over to roam in the houses. In the end, their binding is loosened, the spinal crease is damaged. Finally, these books are thrown to corner, where ‘dust’, ‘water’ and ‘fog’ welcome them. Gradually, the paper starts decaying. If these books are not sold to Radi Waro then silverfish eat them happily. But clever ones destroy the dead-stuff, and they forget that most instant destroyer of a paper – either printed or empty is the fire.
The book-burning world reminds me how in ancient times or even in present times libraries were burned, books were banned, and authors were punished and executed. The book-burning outrage reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953. It depicts American society, where books were banned. The title of the book ‘Fahrenheit 451’ also pinpoints the temperature, where paper holds the fire and burns.
Books are destroyed when there is fear, and possessors think that these books or material might invite trouble for them. Therefore, books are destroyed in secret. The possessors throw them in wells, and water channels. In Sindh, it happened in the days of Martial Laws – General Ayub Khan, General Zia, and General Musharraf.
The major factor of the burning of books is cultural and political differences or different interpretations. In Sindh, burning of books also occurred several times, in recent past (in Bhutto’s times, the 1970s) Sindhology (an early initiative), which existed at old campus Hyderabad, was burned, and Muhammad Usman Diplai’s Quran Press was also set on fire.
The most shocking scene about the book destruction/burning was described by my friend, who in the 1980s used to teach at Hyderabad National College (Government College, Kari Mori Hyderabad). He told that in a misty and cloudy winter a few peons use the books’ hardcovers to ignite the fire. He added that one day, he enquired from one of the peons. An instant reply was, ‘Saeen, I only burned Kafro’n Ke Kitabeen (books of non-Muslims). In support of his action, he showed him some books, which were sorted out. He was shocked that the queued books’ print line displayed the pre-partition days, and all of them were written in Sanskrit and Gurmukhi. In recent times, Muslims around the world burned ‘The Satanic Verses.’ The first incident happened on 2nd December 1988, where Britain Muslims burned the copies of the book.
In 2007, the murder of Benazir Bhutto charged the people to show their rage. The mob burned the government buildings. The most devastating action was to set ablaze the revenue offices. This act with a single spark burned the revenue records almost in whole Sindh, except few Mukhtiarkari offices. The burnt revenue records were kept and maintained from the British period. But let me salute Mr. Mazhar-ul-Haq Siddiqui, the then vice-chancellor, University of Sindh, Jamshoro. He was the one who resisted the mob, which was advancing to torch Allama I.I. Kazi Library/Central Library, University of Sindh.
In 2017, ISIS initiated book snatching, looting, and burning drive in Mosel, a northern Iraqi city. The book hating move was based on efforts to hold propagation of any ideology that does not align with or support to their interpretation of Islam.
Nowadays, it has become our tradition to burn the records. You might have read news reports about the mysterious fires, which usually occur in the government departments. You have neither read the follow-up news of the fires, nor was there any inquiry report, to know how it happened and what the motives were.
I do not know how long; this barbaric tradition will be continued! However, I know that we may reverse the tradition of book hating/ non-reading culture. The reversing initiative should be started at home. We should teach our children that books are sacred; books are companions of all times. One simple way is to start the home library. The library at home is a sign of peace-loving home, a rational home, and the abode of people who believe in arguments. So, in this way, we could jump to another micro-culture and mold it to respect the books and keep it continue. Finally, all micro-cultures will help us to frame our loving and caring attitude towards books.
Remember that reading culture is not an instant happening; it must be cultivated and taken care for. There are ways, one way is to make it part of all micro-cultures. So, the reading habit and value to the written could be cultivated. According to my limited exposure, I have witnessed that in our subcontinent only in the western Bengal reading-culture exist in all micro-cultures among the individuals.
(Zaffar Junejo is Ph.D. Scholar, Department of History, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur – The areas of interest: Peasants’ Studies, Social History, Cultural History, Colonial and Post-Colonial Periods)
For author’s previous blog click on Sindh Courier