Thursday, July 9, 2009

Munshi Prem Chand-'A Great Writer'

Munshi Premchand, (July 31, 1880 - October 8, 1936) was one of the greatest literary figures of modern Hindi and Urdu literature.

Premchand,whose original name was Dhanpat Rai Srivastava, was born on 31 July 1880, in village Lamahi near Varanasi, where his father was a clerk in the post office.He was also known as saala. Premchand's parents died young - his mother when he was seven and his father while he was fourteen and still a student. Premchand was left responsible for his step-mother and step-siblings.

Early in life, Premchand faced immense poverty. He earned five rupees a month tutoring a lawyer's child. He was married at the early age of fifteen but that marriage failed, later he married again, to Shivrani Devi, a balavidhava, (child widow), and had several children, she supported him through life struggles.

Premchand passed his matriculation exam with great effort in 1898, and in 1899 he took up school-teaching job, with a monthly salary of eighteen rupees.

Later, Premchand worked as the deputy sub-inspector of schools in what was then the United Provinces of Agra and Gorakhpur and there is a very lush green park on the name of prem chand - "prem chand park"and government of india has also an autonomous body for research purpose on his literature in Gorakhpur.|Uttar Pradesh].

In 1910, he was hauled up by the District Magistrate in Gorakhpur (near Normal school where DIET - Trtaining centre for B.Ed and B.T.C is eshtablished now a days)for his anthology of short stories Soz-e-Watan (Dirge of the Nation), which was labelled seditious. The first story of the anthology was Duniya ka Sabse Anmol Ratan (The Most Precious Jewel in the World), which according to him was "the last drop of blood shed in the cause of the country's freedom". All the copies of Soz-e-Watan were confiscated and burnt. Initially Premchand wrote in Urdu under the name of Nawabrai. However, after the confiscation of Soz-e-Watan. he started writing under the pseudonym Premchand. Before Premchand, Hindi literature consisted mainly of fantasy or religious works. Premchand brought realism to Hindi literature. He wrote over 300 stories, a dozen novels and two plays. The stories have been compiled and published as Maansarovar.

In 1921, he answered Mahatma Gandhi's call and resigned from his government job. Then he worked as the proprietor of a printing press, editor of literary and political journals (Jagaran and Hans). Briefly, he also worked as the script writer for the Bombay film world. He didn't think much of the film world and once remarked about film Mazdoor (The Labourer)- "The director is the all in all in cinema. The writer may be the king of his pen, but he is an ordinary subject in the director's empire...Idealism creeps into the plots I conceive and I am told there is no entertainment value in them."

Premchand's first marriage was a disaster. The second time, he married a child widow, Shivarani Devi, which was a considered taboo in India at that time. Premchand had three children - Sripat Rai, Amrit Rai and Kamla Devi Srivastava.

Premchand lived a life of financial struggle. Once he took a loan of two-and-a-half rupees to buy some clothes. He had to struggle for three years to pay it back.

When asked why he doesn't write anything about himself, he answered: "What greatness do I have that I have to tell anyone about? I live just like millions of people in this country; I am ordinary. My life is also ordinary. I am a poor school teacher suffering family travails. During my whole lifetime, I have been grinding away with the hope that I could become free of my sufferings. But I have not been able to free myself from suffering. What is so special about this life that needs to be told to anybody?".

Premchand chaired the first all-India conference of the Indian Progressive Writers' Association in April 1936 at Lucknow.

During his last years,he became terribly ill. The money his wife used to give for his treatment was used in running his press "The Saraswati". He was also writing a book "Mangalsutra" which would never be completed. All this had serious impact on his health leading to his early death on 8th October 1936, at the age of 52.

The main characteristic of Premchand's writings is his interesting story-telling and use of simple language. His novels describe the problems of the rural peasant classes. He avoided the use of highly Sanskritized Hindi (as was the common practice among Hindi writers), but rather he used the dialect of the common people.

Premchand called literature a work that expresses the truths and experiences of life impressively. Presiding over the Progressive Writers' Conference in Lucknow in 1936, he said that attaching the word "Progressive" to writer was redundant, because "A writer or an artist is progressive by nature, if this was not his/her nature, he/she would not be a writer at all."

Before Premchand, Hindi literature was confined to the raja-rani (king and queen) tales, the stories of magical powers and other such escapist fantasies. It was flying in the sky of fantasy, until Premchand brought it on the grounds of reality. Premchand wrote on the realistic issues of the day - communalism, corruption, zamindari, debt, poverty, colonialism etc.

Some criticize Premchand's writings as full of too many deaths and too much of misery. They believe Premchand does not stand anywhere near contemporary literary giants of India - Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay and Rabindranath Tagore. But it should be noted, that many of Premchand's stories were influenced by his own experiences with poverty and misery. His stories represented the ordinary Indian people as they were, without any embellishments. Unlike many other contemporary writers, his works didn't have any "hero" or "Mr. Nice" - they described people as they were.

Premchand was a contemporary of some other literary giants of that era like Acharya Ram Chandra Shukla and Jaishankar Prasad.

Premchand has written about 300 short stories, several novels as well as many essays and letters. He has also written some plays. He also did some translations. Many of Premchand's stories have been translated into English and Russian.

Godaan (The Gift of a Cow), his last novel, is considered the finest Hindi novel of all times.The protagonist, Hori, a poor peasant, desperately longs for a cow, a symbol of wealth and prestige in rural India. Hori gets a cow but pays with his life for it. After his death, the village priests demand a cow from his widow to bring his soul to peace.

In Kafan (Shroud), a poor man collects money for the funeral rites of his dead wife, but spends it on food and drink.

===Famous stories===

*Panch Parameshvar
*Shatranj ke khiladi
*Poos ki raat
*Boodhi Kaki
*Bade Bhaisahab
*Bade ghar ki beti
*Dikri Ke Rupai
*Udhar Ki Ghadi
*Namak Ka Daroga
*Panch Phool
*Prem Purnima
*Ram Katha


*Mangalsootra, incomplete



===Films based on Premchand's work===

Satyajit Ray filmed two of Premchand's works � Sadgati and Shatranj Ke Khiladi. Sadgati (Salvation) is a short story revolving around poor Dukhi, who gets exhausted to death while hewing wood for a paltry favor. Shatranj ke Khiladi (The Chess Players) revolved around the decadence of nawabi Lucknow, where the obsession with a game consumes the players, making them oblivious of their responsibilities in the midst of a crisis.

Sevasadan (first published in 1918) was made into a film with M.S. Subbulakshmi in the lead role. The novel is set in Varanasi, the holy city of Hindus. Sevasadan ("House of Service") is an institute built for the daughters of courtesans. The lead of the novel is a beautiful, intelligent and talented girl called Suman. She belongs to high caste. She is married to a much older, tyrannical man. She realizes that marriage is just like prostitution except that there is only one client. Bholi, a courtesan, lives opposite Suman. Suman realizes that Bholi is "outside purdah", while she is "inside it". Suman leaves her husband and becomes a successful entertainer of gentlemen. But after a brief period of success, she ends up as a victim of a political drama played out by self-righteous Hindu social reformers and moralists.

He also worked with the film director Himanshu Rai of Bombay Talkies, one of the founders of Bollywood.

An extremely famous name that comes to mind when we talk of Urdu novel writers is that of Munshi Premchand. The life history is of Prem Chand is like that of any ordinary man. But what makes him stand out are the numerous works he composed in his lifetime. They are still read with much enthusiasm and admiration. Though he had financial crunches all through his life, he had the rich collection of his works and compositions. Read on further about Munshi Premchand biography to know more about the life of this common man who was an extraordinary genius.

Born in a village called Pandepur near Varanasi, he was named Dhanpat Rai by his parents. Tragedy struck early in his life when he lost his mother at the tender age of eight. His father, Munshi Ajayab Lal worked as an ordinary clerk in the postal department. He left Premchand in the guardian of his grandmother and married someone else. He grew up without the love of his parents and was given responsibility at a very young age. His grandmother also died soon and he was left with no one to take care of him.

At the age of 15, he got married and it didn't work out well. Meanwhile, his father died and he had to curtail his studies, as he had to take care of not just himself but also his stepsiblings. He managed to secure a job as a teacher in a primary school and rapidly got promoted to the post of Deputy Inspector of Schools. When Mahatma Gandhi announced the non-cooperation movement, Premchand quit his job and devoted his time to writing fully. His first short story was published in a magazine called Zamana that was circulated in Kanpur.

When it comes to writing Urdu novel and short stories, Premchand definitely has his own special place. His style of writing novels began as fantasy tales of kings and queens. But as he became more and more conscious of what was happening around him, he started to write on social problems and his novels had the element of evoking the feeling of social consciousness and responsibility. He wrote about the realities of life and the various problems faced by the common man in a turbulent society.

His main focus remained rural India and exploitation faced by a common villager at the hands of priests, landlords, loan sharks, etc. He also emphasized on the unity of Hindus and Muslims. Some of his well-known works are Godaan, Gaban, Karmabhoomi, Pratigya, etc. His famous short stories include popular names like Atmaram, Udhar Ki Ghadi, Bade Ghar Ki Beti, etc. Some of his works were also made into films by the noted filmmaker, Satyajit Ray. This great literary personality of India breathed his last on October 8th 1936.

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