In one of his early works, Love’s Labour’s Lost, William Shakespeare dwelled on pursuit of studies to the exclusion of women from the lives of his protagonists. Centuries later, professor (retd) Surjit Hans might not have taken a similar oath, but he surely devoted two decades to translate every ‘written word’ of the bard to Punjabi.
Now 82, Hans has translated all 43 works of Shakespeare, including 38 plays and all his sonnets, narrative poems and epitaphs. “You can say that each word Shakespeare has written is now available in Punjabi,” he says with satisfaction.
Officially, Hans first started translating Shakespeare (Othello) on a Punjabi University, Patiala, fellowship on January 1, 1993, after he retired as the head of department of history at the Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.
The renowned Sikh scholar’s tryst with Shakespeare, had, however, begun in 1955 when, as a student of English literature, he started translating Macbeth. “When I read the translation, I realised that the pentameter was not correct. So, I translated it again,” he recalls.
The relationship became thicker during his UK stay (1965-73) as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. “The experience helped me understand Shakespeare and his works better.”
Hans was paid Rs. 8,000 per play by Punjabi University, which published all the volumes, including the last, Henry VIII. Despite all his efforts, he couldn’t translate more than two plays a year. “So, I got Rs. 40 a day,” Hans laughs.
What now? “I have already started working on Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. Translating science is far more difficult than translating literature,” he smiles.