Don’t consider this narrator heartless on getting to the end of this post. It is not his intention to blame or condemn a person. He shares here how the memory of something that happened long ago — an old event or a forgotten anecdote helps us to bear difficulty or pain with a beaming face.
Are you envious of a solitary translator working from home who doesn’t have to commute every day? Would you like to exchange places with him? He doesn’t have a steady job and if you don’t probe deeper, it will appear that he has an easy life. Years ago he decided not to run after jobs even though he needs some work to sustain himself. He lives frugally. Yet, even a thrifty life involves a few expenses. When your professional life spans over several decades and you have translated every day for those twenty or thirty years, you are wary of jobs. Any new email that reaches your inbox scares you.
The jobs, when they come, are not so welcome any more. The translator wants to run away. Translation requires a lot of time and attention — it is a tiring activity. When our translator opens his dictionaries, he loses himself among the words and forgets that he will have to complete the job by a deadline. Sometimes it feels like a marathon that never ends. But jobs must be finished — they must be coaxed and cajoled and gently taken to their destined ends.
Our translator’s mother is going blind. She has other ailments and infirmities that come with old age. She can’t move without help and needs caregivers round the clock. But, you know, it is not easy to get efficient carers even when the translator is ready to pay a decent salary. When someone is finally employed, she misses her duties with alarming regularity.
On such days when the day’s attendant doesn’t turn up, and the translator feels exhausted, he hopes for comfort and rest at the day’s end. When the night’s ayah comes, there’s a sigh of relief. That sigh, the silver lining in a gloomy sky, soon dies out when after a little while, our hapless translator enters his mother’s room to check on her and finds the caregiver resting and dreaming on her bed with half-closed eyes while his mom is still sitting up and mumbling Sanskrit slokas or a few lines of a Tagore song!
This makes the translator remember an anecdote his long-lost younger brother told him when he was an Economics Honours student at Calcutta’s Asutosh College. One day, when their class was left unattended, and no teachers arrived, the young men naturally created quite an uproar in the classroom. The noise they made was perhaps a bit too loud and the college principal soon peeked in through the classroom door! Seeing the boys who were having a gala time, with a few boys sprawling on the benches and others squatting on their desks and yelling, the sombre principal clad in his immaculate white dhoti and punjabi, spoke up in a tone of stinging sarcasm, “কেউ শুয়ে আছে, কেউ বসে আছ, কী ব্যাপার?” (some of you are asleep, some wide awake, what’s the matter?) The effect of this was immediate, and the noise subsided at once.
The nonchalance of the resting ayah immediately after joining her duty for the day made our translator remember his brother and a long-forgotten anecdote. Every event that makes us feel despondent is also the harbinger of hope?