“The boys taunted me relentlessly each time I contributed an article for our college publication. They laughed at me, calling me a ‘busybody who wanted to have her finger in every pie’, even if that means churning out unwanted literature. Initially it embarrassed me and I thought I would quit writing altogether, but my parents dissuaded me from giving up, telling me that they were resentful of me because I am a girl.” Recalling those days in the 1930s, when she was studying at Borishal College (now in Bangladesh), Sheuli Majumdar, now a 92-year-old former schoolteacher, says that she is glad that she heeded her family’s advice and persevered, because in later years, she went on to earn a name for herself as one of India’s first professional women translators. “It was a time of great struggle for women who didn’t want to limit themselves to the confines of home, marriage and children. There was competition from men at every stage, who didn’t give up a single opportunity to try to humiliate me for trying to make it in the field of literature, making me feel as though I was somehow trespassing and breaching a domain which essentially belonged to them,” she recalls.
Born in the mid-1920s in Mymansingh (now Bangladesh), Majumdar was the second of three children of a ‘liberal-minded’ couple. “My father was a British government employee and he was very keen that my sister and I receive the best education possible—especially as far as the English language was concerned—something which was quite unusual for girls at that time. My grandfather too supported him in this, though many of our other relatives discouraged him, pointing out that it would all go waste once he married us off. But he didn’t pay any attention to them. Actually, he was more concerned about our education than our brother’s, who is our youngest sibling.” While she was studying in Borishal College, however, Partition took place and life turned topsy-turvy.