Quake survivors burnt books

2005-12-11 21:15
Muzaffarabad - When night fell after the October 8 quake and heavy rain stopped, many survivors collected broken furniture from the rubble of homes and government buildings to burn to stay warm.

Some, however, spotted books strewn on the floor of the shattered state-run Khursheed National Library.

Minutes later, dozens stormed the building, pulled out books and newspapers and made bonfires.

In that one night alone, an estimated 10 000 books and thousands of newspapers went up in smoke, and the looting and burning of literary treasures continued for the next three days until the army moved in and stopped the practice.

By then, half of the library's books had been turned into ashes.

"For some moments I did not believe it," Mohammed Hanif, a clerk at the library for 14 years, said of the night after the quake, when his brother came to Hanif's damaged home to relate what was happening at the library.

"But when I rushed there I saw several people taking books to a nearby park where they were staying with their families after their homes were destroyed.

"The books are like my children. I wept when they were throwing the books into the fire," he said on Sunday as he salvaged copies of an American encyclopaedia, the Qur'an and The World's Most Famous Disasters from the rubble.

"I tried to stop them, but they started beating me. I had no choice but to come back."

After the army stopped the looting, Hanif started retrieving what was left intact.

The remaining 25 000 books are being kept in two nearby garages that Hanif guards.

They will be sent to a library in Mirpur, another city in Pakistan's share of Kashmir, and returned when the Muzaffarabad library is rebuilt.

The library had 1 500 members, and its shelves included rare books on Kashmir, handwritten manuscripts hundreds of years old, government records and the works of poets from the area.

Some members of the library, who had borrowed books before the earthquake, are now returning them while others are asking to borrow reading materials, Hanif said.

"But we don't have either the staff or records to issue books," he said.

Nazir Durrani, a government official who frequently visited the library and loved to read books on literature, said people did not realize that copies of the Qur'an were going into the fire.

"The burning of these books was a tragedy. When I think of those who did it, they would never be forgotten by God," he said.

When Hanif goes home in the evening, nobody is left to keep watch over what is left of Muzaffarabad's ravaged stock of knowledge.

"I go home leaving the books in the care of God," he said.

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