Save our culture
“You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people
to stop reading”. This comment came to mind on a visit to a shopping
mall during the Wesak weekend. The comment is attributed to Ray
Bradbury, the American writer with over 500 published works.
There was a little girl, seated on the floor near a book rack, lost
in a world of her own, reading a book she had picked from the rack. The
young couple selecting a few household items nearby were probably her
I watched the child, feeling so happy that we still had a future, if
our children were still so fond of reading. All is not lost. I thought.
I wanted to take a picture, but hesitated wondering if photography was
allowed in the mall.
As I was leaving the children's department, I heard a child's voice,
“Amma, can I have this book”. It was the girl who was reading the book.
She had not been able to finish reading. Beautiful words to come out of
a child's mouth. But the next word I heard was not so beautiful. Her
mother said no, and she told her husband, “There are so many books at
home. You don't need this”. That is when Bradbury's warning came to mind
and shattered my dreams of a wonderful future for our country.
The child was not asking for a soft toy, or a Barbie, or a frock,
which were all around her. The place was full of toys, children's
clothes and just one book rack. All she wanted was this book. It would
have been less than the cost of an ice cream carton. Less than the cost
of electricity consumed by their television set at home. It would have
been ten time less than the cost of a Barbie. I looked at her father,
expecting him to give in to the child's plea, as she looked at him with
tears in her eyes. The father looked away.
If they did not want to buy the book “because there were so many
books at home already”, could they not wait for another few minutes, for
the child to finish reading the book. Only a person who has ever read a
book would understand the pain and disappointment of a child who has to
stop reading a book halfway, and would never know how the story would
end. I wanted to buy the book for her. But knew I had no right to
interfere. May be the parents had a reason for refusing to buy her the
book. I tried to think of any such reason. Was she been punished for
disobedience, but she was not asking for a toy or sweets. Was she told
to rest her eyes due to a health issue, but she looked very healthy, and
she was reading the book without any difficulty. Was she studying for
some exam and did not have time for extra reading, but she was too young
even to sit the grade five scholarship exam. Or was it that the parents
could not afford to buy the book, but from the items they had in their
trolley, it did not appear to be so. I was thinking on those lines,
because I did not want to think that the parents had never read a book
in their lives, and so they did not know the value and the pleasure of
If I tried to make a gift of that book, the parents could take it as
an insult, or tell me to mind my own business. I walked away, knowing
that this scene would haunt my mind for the whole day and the night and
that it was something that would be with me for ever. I tried to see the
bright side. Young children do like to read. They enjoy reading. There
are good and interesting children's books in the market. Even in
All we have to do is make things brighter still for our children.
Adults could always present books as gifts for young children,
instead of toys and sweets. On a child's birthday, instead of having a
party, all that money could be spent on buying books for the child and
Schools could develop their libraries. If every parent gifted one
book to the library, that could be enough reading material for the whole
school for several years. School homework could include a task to get
the child to talk about a book, read during the school vacation and
The ‘Kiyawana Gunaya’ mobile library in the little village of Kivula
(Hambatota District), reminds us that the reading habit is not dead,
that the thirst for books is still with all of us, and all we have to do
is quench this thirst.
Groucho Marx is believed to have said, “I find television very
educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go to the other room
and read a book”. that was Groucho Marx, and he belonged to the last
century. Today we may have to change it, because the only way to get
someone to read is by turning off the television. We are so addicted to
it, it is the ‘opium of the people’ today.
It is time to heed Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. “So
please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, And in
its place you can install a bookshelf on the wall, Then fill the shelf
with lots of books.”