Malobika Chatterjee

And why not?

Malobika grew up in a strict family, in the remote town of Burnpur. As life took a different turn, she came to realise her fondness of languages and obtained Diplomas in many. She went on to found her own translation agency, which has been on the block for 32 years, till date.

Why not succeed at something tough, unheard of, absolutely different and come out at the top? A major part of my life was extremely sheltered, in Burnpur, enveloped in lush green nature, and of course strict parental discipline. There was no question of public transport of any sort and I am almost ashamed to admit not even knowing about the concept of a ‘public bus’! After the dreaded ICSE exams, it was a tailor-made French course at the Club and in general wallowing in quiet discipline and immersed in books of every shape, size, and colour. Everybody knew everybody and a helping hand was always available.

The story changed diametrically when father retired and we came to Kolkata to settle down in our ancestral house. In a short while, the norm of anxious relatives prodding and propagating the all-important institution of marriage began. “Aren’t you planning to get her married?” “Is no groom agreeing to marrying her?” …. and so on and so forth.

By then I had obtained my diploma in French and German and also been offered a job as a junior executive in one of the leading travel agencies. But, was it worth saying “Yes Sir… No Sir… three bags full, Sir?” My individuality felt stifled.

It was decision making time and I had to take a firm stance on what I wanted to succeed at – for it was sure I would put in every kind of effort to reach the top of the mountain. The struggle began. Being an ‘also-ran’ was never my cup of tea and neither was I particularly fond of academics. What other feasible and yet, not run-of-the-mill professions remained? Yes, a love for English and languages was a long-standing affair, beginning with my mother teaching me the first ‘big’ English word – garden. Then, what about a translation bureau?

A brilliant idea for sure, but at the time I began, budgeting for a computer was too tough a goal and of course a mobile was out of question. It was a challenge 32 years ago to formally start a translation bureau and offering translation in any language was unheard of. I was told it was embarrassing going out in my company – because I would apparently nab any foreigner and ask with all enthusiasm, “Excuse me. What language do you speak?”

All the encouragement began… “Oh, it’s impossible!” “You will have to get a trade licence --- and anyway, who will give work to an unknown with no experience?” “Why do you need to work anyway?” The more the discouragement, the more the criticism. There was an irresistible, overwhelming impetus to move towards the goals I had set. In front of me floated this image of an ascending, slippery, narrow staircase with no handrails on either side. It was do or die – my choice, and it became my single focus to succeed in a profession that was unimaginable for most.

The struggle continued. Never had I scanned the newspapers so thoroughly even for exam research examinations. Bingo! There was a gentleman asking for a translation in the Finnish language of an agricultural treatise. I wrote in and to my horror the gentleman actually turned up and asked if it was possible for the assignment to be completed in a week. I assured him with all my confidence that it could be. Mind you… I had not the foggiest idea of how to set about it. Then followed a long and arduous process of contacting the embassies, honorary consul generals and finding the one lady in Kolkata who could handle this. She, unfortunately, was not comfortable in English and would explain as best she could. I would, in turn, re-write and painstakingly type it out. But, yes, it was ready a day before… and did I preen!

Sometime in between the struggle to locate the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and legally completing the formalities, I met my husband to be and that was a major positive factor. However, one spanner in the works was our mothers – both bed-ridden. It was a juggling act, seeing that the all-important family responsibilities were not neglected in any way. But a bull-dog tenacity kept me (with the staunchest husband to offer support), battering at what seemed the impossible.

This reminds me of a universally renowned mountaineer who recently breathed his last, cradled in his beloved mountains. Once he was asked, what thoughts passed through his mind as he plodded slowly through the slippery and unknown terrain that could give way any time. His answer still rings in my mind, “When I climb, I don’t see the whole mountain range, I see only the small, medium and large pebbles; which ones are hardy and will allow me to proceed to my goal. It requires determination, back-breaking work and sheer grit.”

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