Some friends of mine returned from the land of the Pharoahs with a beautiful blue vase. It was wrapped in newspaper, the page covered in curls I do not understand. The box below caught my eye.
I post it on these pages without the faintest idea what it says. It could be a short news report, a sports result, an obituary, a religious edict, or an advert for a washing machine.
My grandmother found the following inscription inside a notebook belonging to her brother, my great-uncle. Apparently the writer was a young Indian man, a student friend, who stayed with the family in Bargoed, in Glamorgan, for the summer.
It is signed and dated 1937, and we don’t know what it means.
Is it really necessary to find out? I think it could be a shopping list, but my grandmother hopes it is a message of kindness to her brother, from a young man who was shown hospitality in a strange land. My great-uncle was struck down by a heart attack thirty-five years ago.
It is as though these papers belongs to Schroedinger. Someone will be able to decipher them, but for my grandmother and me, the meanings are in our imagination, and perhaps we should keep them that way. Perhaps the true answers will throw up more questions than they solve.
Imagine the Arabic speaker, or the Urdu speaker, who cannot read English. They might stumble across this page, read the images that they understand, and be baffled by the words that surround them. What fantastic meanings might they believe my paragraphs to contain?
In Jorge Luis Borges’ fantastic Library of Babel, he imagines a vast library, which he calls The Universe. It holds every possible combination of letters, every possible book. It is the collected works of the infinite group of monkey typists, complete and unabridged.
If a number of possible languages use the same vocabulary; in some of them, the symbol library allows the correct definition a ubiquitous and lasting system of hexagonal galleries, but in other vocabularies library means bread or pyramid or anything else, and these seven words which define it have another value. You who read me, are you sure of understanding my language?
So it is with my salvaged scraps of paper, hastily scanned and posted here. Those of you who are bilingual, and would translate them for me: please do not. Yours is only one possible language, and one possible interpretation. There are countless others, locking away their secrets, the ramblings of a people who may never have existed, yet whose history is chronicled meticulously, in some book in Borges Library.