Mohali, Apr 17:
It took a retired history professor two decades of meticulous effort to bring William Shakespeare closer to Punjab. Eighty-two-year Surjit Hans has finally translated all the works, including 38 plays, of the 16th century Bard of Avon into Punjabi.
Hans, who taught history at Amritsar’s Guru Nanak Dev University and chose to translate Shakespeare into Punjabi full-time only after his retirement in 1993, recently finished the translation of Henry VIII, the last of the plays of the Bard (1564-1616). He was assigned the translation work by the Patiala-based Punjabi University.
And there is no stopping him.
Hans says he is ready to start translating Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species”.
“This is worth doing. Darwin is the founder of the modern times. His work has modernity of thought,” he said.
“Now, I want Punjabi readers to know about ‘The Origin of Species’ too,” Hans said.
Hans’ relationship with Shakespeare goes back to his college days when he played the part of the wounded soldier in ‘Macbeth’ and acted in ‘Hamlet’.
“The inspiration to translate the work of Shakespeare into Punjabi came at that time. I wanted that the average reader in Punjab should be able to read Shakespeare even if he did not know English,” Hans told IANS in an interview at his residence in Punjab’s Mohali town, 10 km from Chandigarh.
“I translated ‘Macbeth’ into Punjabi when I was in college in the mid-1950s. I started full-time translation of Shakespeare’s works only in 1993 after my retirement,” he said.
Hans says his ‘ustaad’ (mentor) Raj Kumar Kaul in Hoshiarpur told him in the early 1950s that “a good reader should also write”.
“An Anglo-Irish teacher of mine also helped,” he said.
His love for the Bard’s works got stronger when Hans lived in London for seven years in the 1960s and saw plays at the Royal Shakespeare Club.
Asked about the difficulties he faced in translating the Bard’s works into Punjabi, Hans said: “Translating Shakespeare constructionally and in verse form was not difficult. In Punjabi though, there are no words to translate English words like he, she, him or her. You have to use a verb to tell the gender. In his poem, ‘Venus and Adonis’, the reference to these words comes in every line. But the beauty of the verse gets lost in doing translation. The weakness of (Punjabi) language is there.”
Among all the works of Shakespeare translated by him in Punjabi, Hans took the maximum time over “Two Noble Kinsmen” and “Henry VIII”. “These have a lot of rhetoric,” he pointed out.
Hans says some characters and situations in Shakespeare’s plays have a commonality with Punjab.
After finishing “The Origin of Species”, Hans wants to translate Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” as well.
“This is basic book of economics. People should know about it,” he says with a smile.