Toil and trouble pay off for the Bard of Punjab | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 28.03.2013
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Toil and trouble pay off for the Bard of Punjab

An Indian scholar has translated all the works including 38 plays of the 16th century Bard of Avon into Punjabi. The translation of William Shakespeare's works has taken two decades to complete.

For the last 20 years, Surjit Hans, 82, has been getting up at the crack of dawn, scrupulously studying the works of the Bard of Avon for nearly eight hours. His dedication paid off and he now wants to bask in the glory of his perseverance.

Shakespeare in Punjabi

In January, Hans, finished the last translation of Shakespeare's Henry VIII, completing his epic project. It was finally a dream come true and the unassuming man is taken aback at the response that his effort has evoked from far and wide.

"Many people were skeptical of doing Shakespeare in the native language, but I was swept off my feet by a production of Macbeth in Zulu and realized the wide scope of Shakespeare's plays," Hans told DW at his residence in Punjab's Mohall town, 10 km from state capital Chandigarh.

William Shakespeare portrait (Chandos Portrait)

While Shakespeare's plays were written centuries ago and far away, they have relevance in modern Punjab

As an impoverished immigrant in England in the mid-sixties, Hans worked a series of jobs - in a post office, a factory, and as a bus conductor.

The germ was planted there.

"It was while in England that I became a member of the Shakespeare Club. I was able to watch Shakespeare stage shows for a nominal fee. I soaked up the Shakespearean world during these performances, more so because, a few years earlier, as a postgraduate student in Hoshiarpur, I developed a fascination for the Bard," Hans explains.

A labor of love

His relationship with Shakespeare goes back to his college days when he played the part of the wounded soldier in Macbeth and acted in Hamlet.

But it wasn't until after his retirement as professor of history from Guru Nanak Dev University in the holy city of Amritsar in 1983 that he took up the gigantic Shakespeare project. It began with the translation of Othello on a fellowship of the Punjabi University at Patiala.

But why did he embark on a project like this? Was it a labor of love?

"Many of Shakespeare's plays have relevance for Punjabi readers. Relationships and love in 'As You Like It' would strike a chord with Punjabis, as would 'King Lear,' with the mistreatment of the elderly raging here in India. And that's why this project was important."

"And remember I got very little money for these translations. But I enjoyed the endeavor," he adds.

His daughter Nanki, a journalist, is proud of her father's single-minded commitment.

Surjit Hans looks at books on a shelf at home (Photo: Murali Krishnan / DW)

Surjit Hans' next translation endeavor Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species

"He has always been a disciplined man. Now, the next logical step I hope is that more literary clubs and Shakespeare societies across the India spread the word of these translations," she told DW.

N. P. Ashley, assistant professor of English at St Stephen's College in Delhi and staff adviser of its Shakespearean Society feels the translations will have resonance.

"Because of our colonial past and the fact that Shakespeare is still an icon, these translations will strike a chord among English literature fans," he says.

Now that Hans is done with Shakespeare, there is more to come. His next project is to translate Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species" - a more ambitious project, he says.

"Translating science is far more difficult than translating literature," he admits.