New Delhi, February 24, 2013
Last Updated: 22:58 IST(24/2/2013)
When the betrayed Julius Caesar next turns around, he doesn't have to whisper "et tu, Brute". He can instead just yell, "Oye Brute, tussi?" Retired professor Surjit Hans is solely responsible for this possibility. The 82-year-old has spent the large part of the past 20 years translating all of William Shakespeare's works. He is finally done. Hamlet's misogynistic rants, as a result, may now start to sound like the inexhaustible lyrics of a Honey Singh song, and the many young lovers of Punjab might even confuse their staple Heer and Ranjha with the equally lovesick Romeo and Juliet. After having spent two decades perhaps resisting the temptation of replacing Romeo's poison with good ol' lassi, Mr Hans is convinced that there are several commonalities between 16th century England and lion-hearted Punjab.
The octogenarian translator has compared the sibling rivalry in Richard III to the enmity between two of Shah Jahan's sons, Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh. The assumption that Mr Hans makes is that there is enough in the Bard's now Punjabi repertoire for him to still draw in the crowds. So even though Twelfth Night has derided the tad intoxicated man as a fool, the whole of Midsummer Night's Dream seems to be a sound defence of raucous Punjabi merriment. Shakespeare, like Punjabis, also had a penchant for big weddings. Comedies like The Tempest could really have done with some impromptu bhangra at the end.
One of Mr Hans' greatest achievements, though, is the creation of a Shakespearean Punjabi. A ready translation of Shakespeare's works can give people a whole new vocabulary to articulate their Desdemona-like loves and Othello-like jealousies. Given that Mr Hans had taken to translating the Bard after being dissatisfied with the pentameter of an earlier Macbeth translation, his rigour seems beyond question. Only R40 a day is then too little a price to have paid a translator who has laboured under the burden of 43 Shakespearean works for decades, just so that you can read it as you like it.