Translated from Odia by Rabinarayan Patnaik.
Vikash reached Bahighar early that day because he had an appointment with the proprietor of the bookstore. He was a little surprised to find that it was not crowded like other days.
There was not a single soul around. The proprietor seemed visibly happy to see him. Saying “Oh! Vikash! I was just thinking of you. I want to talk to you alone. I have a proposal for you,” he pointed to a chair. After Vikash was seated he presented his proposal. “I think you are the most suitable for this job. If you decide that the proposal is not acceptable to you, forget it. Continue to work as you are working now.”
Bahigar, the most famous bookstore in town, was also a publishing house. Besides publishing books in all branches of literature, it also published textbooks in addition to executing government orders.
Vikash was a proofreader for Bahigar. He was not a writer but had a fascination for literature and therefore felt gratified for being able to read widely in his supporting role. But he was not a proofreader to satisfy his thirst for literature. He met a part of his expenses as a student with this part-time job.
Vikash had grown up in a village in an ordinary family. They just about managed their simple lifestyle in the village and fell back on their few acres of land for any extra expenses that arose from time to time.
Vikash had passed the State High School Board Examination with distinction and won a scholarship. After he got a seat in a famous city college he informed his father about his intention to study further and assured him that he would not be a burden on the family.
“The expenses in the hostel… will you be able to maintain yourself on your meagre scholarship money?”
He told his father that he would move into a flat with boys of his age and from their village. His father was somewhat appeased by that.
“Father, you don’t have to give me a single paisa. I have saved all the money I got as scholarship in the last two years. I’ll continue to get a scholarship. Besides, I’ll take up some private tuitions. If I manage to get two or three I’ll be quite comfortable.”
With these plans and many dreams Vikash came to the city. He worked hard to make his dreams come true.
A few months after admission in the college, he found a friend in Sadananda who also loved literature. Vikash told him everything about himself—that if he could get some more money he would be able to buy some more good books.
As Sadananda himself was earning some money through proofreading, he suggested Vikash could do the same. He taught Vikash some rudiments of proofreading and introduced him to the proprietor of Bahighar.
Of the twenty-four hours in the day, Vikash could carve out an hour and a half to proofread the books being published by Bahighar. The satisfaction he got was much more than what he earned. Before a book hit the stands he had read it.
Gradually he grew into an expert proofreader. The proprietor of Bahighar was so happy with his work that he allowed Vikash to take books from the store-shelf. Vikash read many books one after another, in Odia, Hindi and English.
One day the proprietor, “You read so many books. You have excellent language skills. Have you ever thought of translating something?”
“Translating?” Vikash repeated. “No sir, I have never thought about it.”
“Try, try once. I think you can do it.”
The idea was totally new to Vikash. Perhaps he would try just once, but why? Though he loved books, he was unknown to the world of literature. Even if he translated something who would publish him? The other problem was to get the permission of the original writer to translate his or her book.
The proprietor probably fathomed this. He said, “Well Vikash, I have planned to publish the Odia translation of some of the classical books in Hindi and English. Some professors are helping me in this project. But then I thought of you. I have a hunch that you will be able to do this job well. Why not give it a try?” He gave Vikash a book from the pile on the table. He then said, “There is no time limit. You can use your proofreading time for the translation.”
Vikash looked askance at the proprietor, who said, “Oh! I haven’t told you the most important point yet. You will be paid for the translation and that amount will be much more than what you get for proofreading.”
Vikash was elated. But he simply said, “I’ll try.”
“I am confident you will do a good job.”
“He wants you to do the translation. But it will be his name and not yours as translator on the cover and on the title page. He, of course, will compensate you well.”
Vikash had a careful look at the book. It was a copy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground. It was not a voluminous one. He had read a few other books by the writer, but not this one.
Vikash was so engrossed in the book that he felt he was narrating his own life story.
The proprietor declared that the quality of translation was indeed good. He was something of a scholar himself; besides, all three members of the committee of experts engaged by Bahighar to decide whether the manuscript was fit for publication spoke highly of Vikash’s translation.
And so Vikash began to translate classical books, one after another. Almost half of the series of books selected by the proprietor of Bahighar were translated by him. He was of course happy to receive his due remuneration. Though he discontinued two of the private tuitions, he was well off financially.
In due course he completed his graduation with honours and enrolled himself for a Master’s degree in English literature.
In addition to studies, proofreading and private tuition were a part of his life. He visited Bahighar at regular intervals to hand over completed proofs and pick up fresh work.
That day, the proprietor placed a lucrative proposal before him. Somebody wanted Vikash to translate some English books of renowned Indian authors. In return he would be paid handsomely.
The owner said that the proposal was conditional. He hesitated for a few moments. Vikash kept looking at him, his glance a mix of curiosity and apprehension.
Clearing his throat, the owner took a few seconds to say, “He wants you to do the translation. But it will be his name and not yours as translator on the cover and on the title page. He, of course, will compensate you well for this.”
Vikash did not take long to agree to the proposal. The next year was his final year of MA. He had to devote extra time to his studies to do well in the final examination. If he had money he could set aside the private tuitions. The tuitions were only an hour each, but considerable time was wasted in shuttling to three different places in the city. If this fatiguing problem was about to be solved, what did it matter if his name was not printed in the book he produced?
He accepted the proposal immediately.
Vikash passed the last examination of his student career, securing first position with the highest ever marks. Soon after, he got a teaching job in a college. He had no interest in looking for another job, so he accepted the offer and moved away from that city.
Three years after that incident, Vikash was watching TV along with his family one evening. Bits of news were streaming one after another on the screen. But when he saw a particular piece of news he uttered “Oh God!” involuntarily. He then quickly surveyed all those who were present there. Their eyes were fixed on the TV screen. No one cared for the news scroll. Even otherwise no one would have bothered. For them, it was just another piece of news. When there was no reaction from any one, Vikash was greatly relieved; yet within, he trembled uncontrollably.
The news was that the famous litterateur Sri Shyam Narayan Choudhury had been selected for the Sahitya Akademi award for the translation for his work, Ayee Maati Ayee Pruthivi. It was his due. He had a name both as a writer and translator. He was an outstanding figure in the literary firmament. People loved and admired him.
But Vikash was uneasy. When survival was his primary concern the thought of fame had not crossed his mind at all. Even now, when his love for literature had grown, he had no interest in either name or money through it.
But he should have been the awardee for this book, because it was he, Vikash, who had translated it! He had been forced to sell his identity for some money. Others may not know the secret, but the grand winner, the litterateur, surely knew about it. Another person who knew was the proprietor of Bahighar—the middleman in that deal made all those years ago.
Vikash said to himself: “Hmm. This gentleman is well-known as a litterateur. Many of his creations and translations have been acclaimed as bestsellers and he has earned considerable amount of goodwill from the readers.”
Had many people like himself been placed in the shadow to make this favourite son of the goddess Laxmi a favourite of the goddess Saraswati as well?
Selected by Mini Krishnan
Reproduced courtesy of Anubad Sahitya Parisad
Illustrations by Siddharth Sengupta