The bones of a lover’s spine

In Colombo and Anuradhapura, I saw the books written on ola leaves, known for the strange brittleness that made them resistant to sharp, vertical or horizontal strokes; over time, the Sinhalese alphabet developed curls and curves, rounded itself out as monks and scholars learned to bend their letters to the nature of the leaves.

From Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family:

“I still believe the most beautiful alphabet was created by the Sinhalese. The insect of ink curves into a shape that is almost sickle, spoon, eyelid. The letters are washed blunt glass which betray no jaggedness. Sanskrit was governed by verticals, but its sharp grid features were not possible in Ceylon. Here the ola leaves which people wrote on were too brittle. A straight line would cut apart the leaf so a curling alphabet was derived from its Indian cousin. Moon coconut. The bones of a lover’s spine.”

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