Prof Surjit Hans, who translated all of Shakespeare to Punjabi, dies at 89

Prof Surjit Hans, who translated all of Shakespeare to Punjabi, dies at 89

Prof Surjit Hans. File photo

Vishav Bharti
Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, January 17

He had once expressed the satisfaction that what all Shakespeare wrote was now available in Punjabi, his mother tongue. Yet there was a tinge of sadness in him that despite his untiring efforts his work was yet to reach the masses.

Prof Surjit Hans, who undertook the mammoth task of translating all of Shakespeare into Punjabi, passed away on Friday morning following a prolonged illness.

He was 89. He is survived by a daughter, who is a senior journalist.

The cremation took place at 4 pm at the Sector 25 crematorium in Chandigarh. 

Punjabi is perhaps among the few languages in which Shakespeare’s complete works in translation are available. No less than 43 titles of the bard have been published by Punjabi University, Patiala.

Hans’ tryst with Shakespeare began early when as a young student of English literature he translated ‘Macbeth’ in 1955. Later, he moved to the United Kingdom and worked as a postman at Heathrow Airport for eight years before joining Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.

Hans formally began translating Shakespeare on January 1, 1993, when he retired as head of the department of history at GNDU. He was offered a fellowship by Punjabi University. Hans at that time was paid Rs 8,000 for the translation of each play. Despite his best efforts he couldn’t go beyond two plays a year. The translation of the last play of the lot—Henry VIII—was completed in 2013.

The project was conceived in the early 1990s when Joginder Singh Pawar was vice chancellor of the university. “We always felt a large chunk of our population didn’t know English. So the idea behind offering fellowship to Hans was to popularise Shakespeare. The university’s publication bureau has done its job; now it should be introduced in the curriculum. In fact, this should have been done long ago,” says Pawar.

Hans’ accomplishment was widely acknowledged by the Indian and the British media. In 2013, when the story about his work broke in the Indian media, the British media, including the BBC and the Telegraph, lapped it up. Also known for his work on Sikh history Hans has authored 60 books in all. As a historian he belonged to the McLeod school of thought.

Born on October 31, 1930, Hans was bestowed with the Punjab Sahit Akademi and Chandigarh Sahit Academy awards. His book ‘Mittti di Dheri’ was highly acclaimed. Among his last works was the translation of Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’ and a book of poems ‘Mrit da Sapna’.

After giving 20 years of his life to the Bard of Avon, Prof Hans would lament that the task was still incomplete for the translated work was yet to reach the masses. “Undoubtedly, Shakespeare is the greatest writer who ever walked this earth. I started translating him with the idea that it would help Punjabi readers,” he had said four years back as the world celebrated 400 years of Shakespeare.

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