At the Umberto Eco Lecture

Annie, Raj and I arrived at the Italian Cultural Centre with passes for 10 people. I was feeling a little odd because I had convinced the organisers to give me 10 when they were handing out just two per person; quite a few people bailed out. Still, we walked in to find every seat taken: the only seats empty inside the auditorium were the ones with sheets of paper kept on them, indicating that they were reserved. The rows of chairs stretched beyond the auditorium, into a little patio. Full. I wasn’t keen on sitting outside, so far away, in any case.

Inside, in the hall, they’d set up a screen in front of which rows of chairs had been placed, all taken. If there wasn’t a person on a chair, then the presence of a handbag was indication enough that this seat was taken. We asked one of the ladies in charge whether we could squat on the floor. “If you don’t mind”, she said. We didn’t.

Annie and I were thirsty, so we walked up to the reception. “Water?” we asked. The lady pointed towards the corridor. We walked past the door that let to the toilets to find only classrooms. Three of them. We walked back and looked again at the door that led to the toilets. Looked at each other, at the door again, and trooped back to the reception.

Drrinkiing water?” Annie asked.

The lady seemed taken aback, and someone else told us the door marked for toilets leads into a little room that houses the water dispenser. That room has entrances to separate toilets. Straight-faced, we walked in and burst out laughing inside.

Outside, the place was filling up, which I found rather strange because this hadn’t been advertised. But I guess word-of-mouth is the only media for impromptu events.

We discussed, among other things, black and white paintings with ketchup on them, ghostly lampshades hanging from the ceiling, about how it wouldn’t be prudent to make jokes on the mafia here, and the colour of a particular mans shirt:

“You know how the metrosexual man wears colours like pink? What would you call that?” Raj asked, pointing to a man wearing a shirt that was an unusual shade of green.
“Pista green?”
“Not Pista. That’s pista green,” said Annie, pointing to a painting on the wall.
“This is lighter” I offered, not knowing one shade of green from another.
“I suppose,” said Raj,”you would call this man Petrosexual.”

Silly as that might sound, we couldn’t stop laughing then. We then did the prudent thing: stopped looking at the Petrosexual man.

“Pistasexual”, Raj suggested later, when Eco was answering questions on Transmutations. I think Petrosexual is more “with it”.

Eco walked in with a group of people leading him towards the auditoriam. He stopped briefly to exchange pleasantaries with someone. Once he was in, and seated with a mike in hand, we squatted.

The lecture was on translations and transmutations, and the problems associated with them: problems that arise out of different meanings being associated with words; from differences in culture and context, and about how different translators impact translations. There was ample humour thrown in, and Eco was kind enough to translate almost every joke he made in Italian into English and laugh again.

Food for thought: Almost all the religious texts were written in languages that are no longer in common use. The tranlator could have changed an entire religion on the basis of the translation. In fact, Brahmins acquired power on the basis of being the only community that had the right to study the religious texts, as well as translate during rituals. So what do you do now? Convert to Scientology?


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