Competition Entry #29 | Freedom to Dream: India at 70


ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogging Competition Shortlisted Entry


A Borrowed Prayer
Jyoti Saini, 24 years, Ludhiana, Punjab


Her crinkled hand always sought a place on my shoulder while I read aloud and translated tales of worlds lost and found in books for her. The seventy-year-old curiosity of my nani could only understand two languages: the clacking of her rosary beads and loud gossips in Hindi, her native tongue. Hence it was an obvious deduction that she would fall prey to the charms of the written word. The only thing barring her osteoporotic bones from making the big leap herself, was her very limited education.

As a child, while I read fantastically coloured picture books of faeries, princesses and pigs, her wizened white eyes would look at those pages with me and ask, pointing towards some flying children, “what is happening now? Why are they flying?” I would explain the complex mechanics of magical flight to her. Thus began my journey as a dishonourable translator.

Time brought on a change from colourful to monochromatic complexities. But one cursed with a thirst to escape is always cursed with it. So it was with my nani. Books were her escape and I was her device.

Assuming the role of a translator is a task of utmost responsibility, answerable to both the writer and the listener. It was upon this cushion that I perched with my easy education, and went through the daily routine of passing on the writer’s clever thoughts to nani, who listened with eyes closed, a hand on my shoulder, a smile on her lips.

Completely unaware of the literary formulae of transference and counter-transference, I continued to feed her with foreign stories, infused with my own thoughts, perceptions and interpretations. Though I might agree or disagree with the various aspects of any literary creation, one thing was always obvious to me: translated words are always processed by an intervening brain; a conduit, who consciously or subconsciously modifies the end result.

My nani, with complete submission, listened to what she thought was a different person conversing with her every time I picked up a different book. She was completely unaware that it was only my voice. She never met any of those writers. She never read their words. She never understood their interpretations of the truth. She never understood her own. The ownership always rested with me.

Those are her seventy years; how India dreamed then, does now and will again. My nani’s opinions were meaningless and unbecoming, in a time when teaching a girl to read and write was too tedious a task, unnecessary and a threat to the shrines of masculinity. So much so that, that girl after seventy years worth of life, is still disabled from forming one on her own.

My dream is for every citizen of our nation to have the privilege to be their own translator. To construct their own opinions instead of submitting to the selfish politics of a million others. For everyone to build their own nation, book by book, brick by brick.


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