It was past lunch time at office and I was trying to be patient, waiting for my meal to arrive. As I walked up and down the hallway, I noticed a lady, middle aged, with two large books in hand, talking to my editor. She introduced herself as Mrs Shailaja GP, a retired clerk from the Karnataka State Treasury Department who quit her job and now translates bestsellers from various languages to Kannada. Seems pretty mundane doesn’t it? Never judge a book by its cover they say and stories like these tell you exactly why.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going
Born to a mentally disabled mother and a father who tried to make up for her mother’s absence, Shailaja’s childhood was not an easy one to say the least. But she found refuge in books and that is when her romance with literature began. A voracious reader since childhood, she would spend hours together at different libraries until one day something unexpected happened.
Shailaja was sexually assaulted in the same place where she had sought refuge. A librarian tried to force himself upon her, she ran away, devastated. As she was putting the pieces back together and recovering from the shock, it happened again. This time it was a Yoga instructor. Although deeply dejected, Shailaja did not let these incidents bog her down, she continued doing what she loved- reading books, practicing yoga and managing a home, all alone.
Making a tough choice
When asked why she was drawn towards translating books when she could write her own, an extremely humble Shailaja says writing requires profound knowledge which she thinks she lacks. Translating was the next best thing to do and thus began her literary journey. But this journey too has not been easy. At the Karnataka State Treasury Office where she was a clerk for 25 long years, reading was something she was never allowed to do.
My superiors would not object to colleagues wasting their time loitering around and taking frequent coffee breaks. On the other hand they would frown upon me, when I stole time to read a page or two of a book,
she recalls. This left Shailaja at a crossroads. She had to make a choice between her secure job and books. At an age when few would dare to step out of their comfort zones, Shailaja quit her job and chose to explore the field of literature.
With a sum of Rs 10000 to buy translation rights, a lot of hard work and a little help from her daughter Pragati, she translated Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner to Kannada. She then circulated the book to various state run libraries and a few retail stores where she sold quite a few copies. She has also translated masterpieces from foreign languages to Kannada and is currently working on Francis Buchanan’s A Journey from Madras: Through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar.
The government is doing little to help translators like her.
They pay you as little as Rs 75 paisa per word, regardless of the volume or complexity of works that need translation. The delay in payment and poor channels of distribution are only adding to the misery. The retailers too delay payments and are of little help,
she says. Despite these hardships, Shailaja’s undying spirit towards books and literature is infectious.
“It is my daughter who pushes me to do bigger and better things. Every time I feel like giving up it is she who says, ‘Come on Amma! You can do it,’” she says on being asked what keeps her going.
“There was a huge hump causing a lot of accidents on the road I used to take to office every day. While everyone chose to avoid the hump, I made it a point to call the concerned authorities repeatedly and bring it to their notice,” she recalls. This action of hers not only saved a lot of lives but also earned her applause
and recognition from the authorities.Her current profession as a translator too is a service to society in a way. It is the passion within her that makes sure readers who can only read in Kannada get access to beautiful pieces of literature they would have otherwise not followed.
“I don’t do it for the money; I do it out of my love for books and literature,” she says.
Salute to the undying spirit
At 52, Shailaja is an active woman. Waking up at 4am and working out at the gym, passionately meeting people and visiting places looking for newer opportunities and most importantly, winning at life!
Shailaja walked into our office wanting to explore a new opportunity and walked out inspiring us instead. As I went about my activities that day, what she had told me just before leaving, kept ringing in my head,
“Don’t think of me as a burden because of my age, I can do everything a person in their 20s can, travel the world, work till late, converse in English and acclimatise to any given situation. I want to work, creativity satiates me.”
(If you would like to help Shailaja with a job opportunity in the field of translation, write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org)