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Speech by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, at the Inauguration of Tamil Digital Heritage Collection

22 Aug 2015

My Colleague, Minister Iswaran

Mrs Elaine Ng, CEO National Library Board

Mrs Rosa Daniel, CEO National Heritage Board

Mr Arun Mahizhnan, Chief Coordinator Tamil Digital Heritage Group

Writers, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

Good evening


1. I am very happy to join everyone here for the inauguration of the Tamil Digital Heritage Collection.

A Work for Generations

2.Many of the great Tamil classics are now being read easily and widely because more than a hundred years ago, Dr U V Swaminatha  Aiyer had the vision and the perseverance to collect decaying and disappearing palm leaf suvadis, and convert them into printed books. That was a new technology at the time. But this was not about technology, as much a labour of love - a love and reverence for culture and the Tamil language. Dr Swaminatha Aiyer, known more affectionately as Tamil Thatha, travelled all across Tamil Nadu visiting villages, and committed over five decades of his life to this mission.

3.The project that we inaugurate today, though on a much smaller scale, is similar in spirit. It is a labour of love, not a mere technological innovation. Hundreds of volunteers dedicated themselves to the project, some for several months and over several hours a week.

4.The digital collection has given our Tamil literature books of the last 50 years not only a new lease of life but a long lease of life. Even books will decay and, without care, will disappear.

5.The 350-odd digital books in the collection itself hold the memories of about 80 authors over a 50 year period. They include Cultural Medallion winners K TM Iqbal (poet) and M Ilankannan (novelist).

6.I hope therefore that the digitisation project continues. The Indian community’s literary output – in Tamil and other Indian languages – has been on the rise. We must ensure we preserve the literary works of today’s generation for future generations.

7.I hope too that these books will not only be treasured by the Tamil-reading public, but that some of them will be translated into our other languages so that our whole nation can benefit from the memories of a small community.

8.Indeed, that’s how we deepen Singapore’s social harmony - each community taking pride in their own culture, but also taking an active and keen interest in other cultures in Singapore.

9.It is also encouraging that the project was supported by donations not just from the Tamil or Indian community, but also Chinese, Malays and others. 

10. The Tamil community in Singapore is small, but its roots are deep and strong.  The memories of our writers will seed new memories in the next generation, and spur new imagination and new writings.  

11. I congratulate and thank all those who made this unique gift possible and completed it in time for SG50.