A few days back, I was just going through my kindle, and suddenly rediscovered the fact that few of the best-sellers are available in multi-language. And I thought that if a book is loved, it becomes the best-seller, the author gets nominated for literature awards, sometimes wins it too. But, nobody talks about those people who translated the books in other languages! No-one knows their name and nobody cares even.
If I ask you that any best-seller book that you have read and is topping the chart, available in multi-language, do you know the name of those people who translated it? Do we understand the hardships of a translator, the mental state they go through and the pain behind translating someone else’s work!
Today we get candid with a translator who has worked in this genre and successfully translated around 35 books till now.
She has big authors in her kitty and has translated the work of best-sellers like – Ms Rashmi Bansal, Ms Preeti Shenoy, Mr Mark Manson, and our very own Mr Amish Tripathi. We are talking about the sweet, soft-spoken and lovely woman – Ms Urmila Gupta
Early Life and Marriage
Urmila belongs to a middle-class family of Delhi wherein she was the eldest among 3 kids. After passing with good grades in her school, she joined Ramjas College, Delhi for her graduation. “By then my parents were worried about my marriage as our society has a trend of getting a better suitable groom. If I am a graduate, at least a person who is a graduate or more, has to be my partner. I wanted to study further and my mother supported that. So I took the admission for Masters in Hindi Literature.”
By the time she finished her masters, there was a keen interest in pursuing a job and making a name out of herself. But due to family pressure, she had to marry and could not continue her dream of doing something that she likes. But the clinch was there, inside of her. “I was told by my in-laws that I would not be allowed to work, however, I can do any course if I want. I took that as the ray of sunshine in the dark hour and started the translation course which I wanted to do next. Gradually my in-laws understood my point-of-view and I started working as well.” clarifies the veteran who has worked for 12 years in different publishing houses.
Sounds like a cool story right? Let’s go ahead. How did your love for books happen?
“Since my early days in school, I use to like reading. When I came to college I fell in love with them. I use to sit in the library for hours; it used to give a feel like home. I was completely within me there. Books were my best companion back then, they are till now” she giggles.
That’s amazing, isn’t it! But then, how did the journey of translating books started?
“ I used to intern for a publishing house as a Proof Reader and Editor, wherein sometimes I had to translate a few lines or quotes in between which use to be there in other languages. So they observed this and thought probably I can translate a whole book as well. They gave me a book “Imagining India” and asked to translate it. I was not sure about it in the first place, I believe neither were they.”
She continues, “It was a joint translation but I took it as an opportunity and thought of going ahead with this and it came out well and had a good response in the market also. They liked my work and I was given my next book “The Wish Maker” of Ali Sethi, a Pakistani writer, it was his novel and it was my first solo project as a translator. I was scared as it’s a huge novel, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to finish it up as well. It took a long time to finally bring it to the readers but I am glad I was able to, honestly, I think I didn’t have a choice as well. If not this, then I wouldn’t get any work further here.” she smiles remembering the effort she took while doing it all alone at that time.
Wow, this is interesting! Okay, so let me ask her that – How do you define translation as a job? Is it easy to cope with?
“Translators never get popular; they don’t get the fame quotient. People don’t even get to know that if a book has been translated into other languages, it is not by the writer and by someone else. People like your relatives or known to you, say bluntly on your face, things like “What is so big in this? It was written in a language and you just translated it, that’s it.” But they never understand that it’s not that simple. There is a process involved in it so that the soul of the writer remains intact. I have translated 30-35 books till now and all have been difficult for me, and I believe it should be like that.”
It’s very important that you feel this work difficult so that you keep putting that extra effort; go till that extra mile to preserve the soul of the original content.
“A lot of times the original creator dumps the translations as the soul goes missing. As a Doctor’s work is known as ‘Practice’, so is the job of a translator and one while doing it, should believe in this as well.” she clears the air in her sweet but firm tone.”
That came rough, eh! So, Apart from all the well-known writers whose books you have translated till now, how difficult or easy was the experience with Amish’s book?
“There was a huge difference in translating his work and others. I was put on a gun-point. I was given a time limit of around 26 days to translate his whole book which consists of more than 300 pages and this happened both the times. These big writers always want to publish their work in all languages at one go so there was a lot of pressure. With big writers, you need to be on your toes. I had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement for that. But I was not reluctantly taking it as I was very clear that either I take it and make it or leave it and then, I never get another big writer under my closet. I took it as an India vs. Australia cricket match.” says the lady who translated in Hindi, 2 books of Amish’s Ramachandra Series – “Scion Of Ikhsvaku” and “Sita – The Warrior of Mithila.”
I remember once in an event, a Radio Jockey was reading the Hindi translation in front of Amish and after reading it, he said – Wow! How wonderfully you have narrated the whole scene. And he said – These are not my words in Hindi if you have to appreciate, appreciate the translator.” she proudly boasts about it.
Guys, I cannot hold anymore, I have to ask this from her. So now, after all the accolades, what’s next? Which are the books you are working on?
“I am doing the 2nd book of Mark Manson, earlier I translated his book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck” in Hindi and the reviews were amazing. All the Hindi copies were sold. Another one I have is of Vineet Bajpeyi’s, “Mastaan”.I did Vineet Bajpeyi’s Harappa Trilogy. This will be his fourth book by me.”
So after all this, I have to ask her the million-dollar question right? Here it goes – So you said there is no recognition in this work let alone fame, but are translators well paid even?
“Translators are under-paid yes, rarely do they get acknowledgement also. But now I think, times are changing and we are getting a decent amount. With big writers, the amount also rises. But in the early days and with not-so-famous books if given, NO the payment that we get is not even worth mentioning. But now, if you translate a book per month, you can easily look after yourself.”
Your views on Women Empowerment?
“Rather than Women Empowerment, I would like to talk about Human Empowerment, to me Women Empowerment feels like a lie and just a matter which is boasted of and not worked upon. I don’t feel that it exists even. Rather than focusing on that, I would focus on equality, where everyone is given equal rights and responsibilities.”
“People should start with small-small things like making men do household chores when they are young or kids. I see many places that men hesitate to do one set of work but help in other sets. This is because they are not well-groomed. I teach my 11-year-old son everything and he does it with a smile on his face. We should start treating everyone as human and equal, that’s it.”
And the interview ended with the exchange of pleasantries, and once again I was left baffled with the calmness yet firm determination of a being who quietly does her work without any kind of ShowshaBaazi.
Such was the aura of Ms Urmila Gupta who believes that God sends some message to her in the form of these books that she gets to translate. That mostly books come to her for teaching something valuable about life.