Friday, 26 September 2014

Zeno and the Moving Arrow


-Brian Mendonça

When I first came across Zeno in college I was struck by his name. Zeno. Wasn't it the name of a Greek philosopher? And how could one have the temerity to call himself the same name? In the hostel, I grew to like Zeno -- after admittedly, keeping a safe distance in the initial months.

For, Zeno was full of life. He was always smiling. Looking at him, sticking around him, you couldn't help but sense that a joke was on its way.  Even if you did not understand his wisecracks, he would deliver them and guffaw loudly, often thumping you on the back. He was an easy-going personality, never harried by time. He was not an exceptional table-tennis player but when we played in the hostel on rainy days you realized midway that winning was not the point – it was the fun of playing the game.

The game ended last month when, as his elder brother Ricardo put it, ‘Zeno did not open his eyes this morning.’  Beside the family grave he said, ‘I like to think Zeno was carried away to heaven.’ He spoke of how he was amazed at how many friends Zeno had all over the world. ‘The phone is still ringing.’

Zeno was full of savoir faire. It was this confidence that he instilled in you which made me try my first rum and coke with him at Bertsy’s the newly opened joint in Mapusa in the 1980’s. That impish grin on his face just wouldn’t go away. He gave you that feeling of expansiveness that no one else did. He had all the time for you. It was a moment frozen in time --  commemorated in my poem ‘Mapusa Memories’ in 2004.

Zeno of Elea believed a flying arrow was not really flying, simply because the entire period of its motion was made up of only instants which contain an arrow at rest. Thus time was not some long continuum but a series of ‘now’ moments each with its own momentousness or significance. Zeno lived in the 5th century B.C. in the time of Socrates and was born around 490 B.C.

The flying arrow -- like Achilles and the tortoise, and the grain of millet -- is one of Zeno’s paradoxes of life.  Zeno (both) always questioned the ‘obvious’ and put a new spin on things.

So when the press of people for the first Friday Mass at the magnificent church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Navelim, became too much at Communion time, I stepped out and let the breezes caress my face. And I wept, for the rum we were supposed to have again, for the words we were to share again. 

The day of the Month’s Mind Mass was also Teachers’ Day. Zeno taught me so many things in his own informal way. He pointed you in directions you could not dream off. He set the arrow in motion.
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http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/paradox-zeno/ ; Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez. Goa on Sunday 21 September 2014; Pix courtesy Mark Figueiredo.                                 

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