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On Eco

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Feb. 20th, 2016 | 09:21 am

I think there have been many posts in this blog with Eco in it. I don't understand dedications, it seems like a votive offering but that means I think Eco is god. I do not. I think he is someone like me, who lives here in this time. He has seen the calendar turn its page to 2015.

And I think that's one of the first reasons I was fascinated with Eco. Here was someone whose books were fantastic, who hadn't died. I must say here that all the English language books that were deemed 'classics', which I was given to read, all had authors with strange names, who had lived in lands far away, and who were all dead. Even those were not deemed classics. Agatha Christie, Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens, Somerset Maugham, I could go on. And I think somewhere in my young mind I had decided that to be a good writer in the English language, you needed to be from a land far away and most definitely dead. As I lived in Goregaon and was very much alive, I never thought I could write. I desperately wanted to.

Then I met Eco and Rushdie, but I shall not speak about Rushdie here. Eco wasn't living in sometime that was called an Age. He wasn't depicted shaded in pencil or paint. He gave lecutres. He wrote. He talked. He shat. He was there, living in some corner of this earth I lived in, and he breathed the same polluted air. I was thrilled. I saw he taught semiotics. I didn't know what that was, but I decided then that semiotics it is. I needed to learn it too.

I first read In the Name of the Rose. And then came Foucault's Pendulum. Somehow, Foucault's Pendulum has been that book which never quite leaves you, for me. I think I read a stolen copy of Foucault's Pendulum. It was borrowed and then it became mine. I think I lied to a friend saying that I didn't have that copy. It all seems muddled now, as it was more than twelve years ago. But I remember some sort of guilt being associated with owning that book.

I had recently moved to Hartford, Conecticut in North America and I had a job where I could come home comfortably when it was still light. I then read for a long long time. I had a roommate, and I thought life was peaceful. As soon as I came home, I would start reading. Break for dinner, and then continue to read again. (Much later, I would come to realise that I was mistaken. She would tell me that roomates should talk to each other - and that me curled up with a book wasn't being a good roommate.)

I read Foucault's Pendulum in what could be termed as one sitting. Of course, I took breaks, but inside my head I was always in the book. I was dazzled. I didn't think, I just absorbed. Atwood is wrong. Eyes do allow for osmosis. It depends on the material at hand.

After my two-year stint in Hartford, I came back to Chennai and there were a lot of things that happened. I joined journalism college, I joined a newspaper, and then I hurt my back. I stopped working full-time, and joined a library. I had to recover.

I could write another note on the Eswari Lending Library in RA Puram, especially about the man who was in-charge. I borrowed Foucault's Pendulum to reread it.

This time, I knew what was coming. I wasn't dazzled anymore. I savored sentences. I would have marked paragraphs, were it not for my acute reluctance to write on a book. Like violating a vein. I think I understood Eco better. I wasn't in awe, but I was ready to engage.

Much later, I would start working on a book on design. There was philosophy, and I learned words like epistemology, ontology, and methodology. I wasn't in awe of dead white people. I wasn't an engineer from a Mumbai university, whose face was pressed to the glass looking in at people who wrote, spoke words like hegemony and postcolonial. The glass had disappeared, and the people seemed like me. They wrote. They talked. They shat. They lived in the same corner of the earth that I did, and they breathed the same polluted air.

I could write an essay about why Eco's preoccupation with lists appeals to a computer programmer. Why his meditations on beauty make sense to someone who is a feminist. Why language is what makes us human -- demonic, delightful, and damned.

Once again, you helped me recover. You moved me to write after all these days. My head now listens to the voice inside my head. It speaks with clicks and pauses, and makes me think of pages and pages.

You made me cry. Your books never did. When Belbo meditates looking at the farmland, I choked. But the tears never came.

Now they did. And so I love you. Not just for your writing, but for having been alive, but for having been part of my life at times when I needed you the most, and for writing. Always, the writing.

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