The plaza bears a festive look and the fluttering buntings add a cheerful aspect to the bustling square. The high level of hurried activity is a sure sign that something important is scheduled in a few hours time. The adjoining green spaces are already being staked by smartly dressed women, and smiling neat turned out mothers with their equally well dressed children in tow, curiosity making them pliant enough. A few old men, buoyed by the infectious energy on display, sit up in their benches, for once alert and aware instead of being lost deep inside the newspaper pages.
Young students, full of a fervor that puts a sparkle in their eyes and a spring in their steps, are depositing heapful of books in the center of the now squeaky clean piazza. Rather they are dumping the books, irreverent and unconcerned, almost with a manic glee which is difficult to associate with these seekers of knowledge. The people watch with anticipation as the pile, made up of books, grows almost as large as a man but still they keep coming back with more and more.
“Why are they throwing all those books Mamma? Aren’t books full of knowledge and to be respected?” A little boy, no bigger than ten, asks his mother. The mother, her face pale, with an inkling of what is to come, puts a finger on her lips, signaling to the boy to keep quiet. It is not the place or the time to ask questions. It is not for them to ask, but to follow.
The sun creeps towards the horizon and the suppressed excitement reaches a crescendo among the students, who have finished flinging books on the floor. With the arrival of the working men, the crowd is getting boisterous when an officer arrives, and things calm down. The woman, standing next to her husband, shivers more out of fear than the chilly wind. The calm seems one before a storm.
The officer speaks and the students and everyone listen, enthralled. The speech is full of hate, half truths and hastens the misguided youth towards an act that will reverberate not only through their city and country, but through history and time.
One of the student leaders brings over a burning torch and hands it to the officer who lights up the pile of books. A sigh escapes the onlookers who gaze in horrified wonder at the flames lap up the disarrayed tomes and turn the pile into a roaring bonfire.
The boy watches the pages of an open book catch fire and curl up, as if ashamed of the insinuations made against it. Soon there is nothing left of the pile but ash, and charred pieces of unburnt pages, the words still visible in a last-ditch attempt at survival.
Years later, he would remember the day as the one which lit the fire of love for books in his innocent heart, for it was the day he understood the power words can wield.
The story is based on the infamous incident of burning of books in Nazi Germany in 1933. Burning of books has been in practice since ancient times and continues to this day.
Pic credit: wikipedia
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