Anyone who is really interested in this line of work and have a reasonable command over the two languages concerned, can do it

I am 75 years old. A few years ago, I was talking to my nephew, a medical doctor, asking for suggestions to improve my waning memory. Though I knew it was an inevitable offshoot of advancing age, I wanted to avail myself of a free consultation.

He told me it could not be avoided. But some parts of the brain that had functions other than memory retention could be re-activated to some extent if I took up tasks such as learning a new language, forms of music and so on.

I thought I should heed his advice since I didn’t have anything much to do since my retirement. But finally I dumped the idea as I had already tried them in the past and left them halfway.

The world of books

From childhood I was interested in reading fiction; the habit continues even now. I remember being so engrossed in a book while travelling in a bus and consequently failing to buy the ticket and being pulled up by the conductor harshly for wasting his time and energy despite his having called out repeatedly. So, why not I translate a good English novel into Tamil, my native language?

What book to start with? I remembered Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. This book had fascinated me. It would be a good choice, but would I be able to complete this as it has more than a 1,000 pages. Normally I don’t prefer reading books with more than 300 pages. But I was too attracted by this idea and found it hard to resist. I was not going to waste anything — except may be a bottle of ink and a considerable amount of unused time.

Once the decision was taken, I started translating slowly. After a hundred pages or so, I showed my handiwork to my daughter, a post-graduate in English literature. She went through it, said it was good and I could get it published. I was taken aback as I had only wanted to do it as a hobby of sorts.

In a year and half I completed the translation. I did not know how to proceed further. In my younger days, it would often be said that articles were to be written on one side of the paper, leaving a sufficient margin for marking corrections. After consulting a friend in this line, I learnt that nowadays from writing to printing everything is done using computers. You see, I belong to the “B.C era,” that is, Before the Computer. I then finished my work, writing on both sides of the paper.

I addressed two Tamil weeklies, asking whether they would like to serialise my work. There was no reply from them. I realised that people don’t have the time or aptitude to write letters, even replies, nowadays. Then I prepared a note on the novel with relevant details and sent it to a few publishers. After waiting for 10 days, I rang up one of them. The first question I was asked by a lady at the other end of the line was: how long had I taken to complete the work? When I said a year and a half, she said they were interested and asked me for the manuscript. When I said it was right in Chennai, she sent across a person and had it collected.

Due to unavoidable reasons, the book was never ever published. The publisher asked me whether I could translate old classics, which I did. These also did not come out in book form.

One after another

Later I was asked by them — my relationship with them is still good — whether I could translate another book from recent times. I agreed. The book came out around the time of the 2013 Chennai Book Fair. Now I am doing another work for them, which may see the light of the day in another month or so.

The lesson is that anyone can do translation work if one is really interested in doing it and have a reasonable command over the two languages concerned. Please do not expect any great remuneration for the job done. Whatever amount given is to be accepted. Except on the title page and the cover, nowhere else will you see your name or any other details about you. If your name is an ubiquitous sort, as is mine, nobody will even know you are the translator, unless you tell them.

Please don’t ask me whether in the process the problem of memory loss has reduced. No, it has not. But now I am interested in this new line of work.

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