Regarded as the “emperor among novelists”, 31st July 2020 marks the 140th birth anniversary of the acclaimed novelist, Munshi Premchand. A socialist, feminist, progressive Intellectual, he used to conceive most of his works in English and then write it in Hindi or Urdu. He believed in,”What the world calls sorrow is really joy to the poet.” His short stories like ‘ Iddgah’, ‘ Do Bailon ki Katha’, and ‘ Shatranj Ke Khiladi’ are an essential part of the curriculum in schools and colleges. Premchand was the founder of critical realism in Urdu and Hindi literature.
All of his works are filled with odes of lamentations for his mother, whom he lost at a young age. He couldn’t show his emotions then but felt the loss later.
Premchand couldn’t develop good relations with his stepmother. This led him to be a troubled child, thereby making him find solace in his books and become an avid reader.
Born as Dhanpat Rai, he took on the name of ‘Nawab Rai’ for his early writings. This name was inspired by one of his wealthy uncles who liked to call him ‘Nawab’.
He had to get married at the tender age of fifteen to Shivarani Devi, due to the whimsical decision of his father.
He got in trouble with the British because of his short story collection ‘Soz-e-Watan’ which encouraged the people of India to fight against colonialism. The copies of this book were destroyed, and this led him to take on the name of ‘Premchand’.
He took an active part in the freedom movement of India and was staunchly against moderates while giving full-fledged support to the extremists.
Premchand established ‘Saraswati Press’ in Benaras after quitting his teaching job in a government school. This decision was taken by him after the clarion call by Gandhiji for the Non-Cooperation movement of 1921.
His favorite writers were Maulana Sharar, Pandit Ratan Nath Sarshar, Mirza Rusva, Maulvi Mohammed Ali of Hardoi.
“Asrar-i-Maabid” was the earliest novel written by him. It was serialized in the “Avaz-i-Khalq”, an Urdu weekly of Benaras. It is a caricature of the Brahmin priestly class.
He came to be associated with short stories after beginning to translate Bengali stories of Tagore in Urdu. Along with writing novels, he also continued with Urdu journalism.
The emerging film industry in Bombay during the 1930-40s was the place for scriptwriters who were paid a hefty amount for it. Premchand decided to try his luck there and wrote the script for his first movie called “Mill Mazdoor”. This led the Censor Board into a frenzy and they were aghast at the provocative plot.
He wrote ‘Cinema aur Sahitya’ which served as a harsh critique of the Indian film Industry.
His 1924 short story “Shatranj Ke Khiladi” was made into a film. The 1977 Satyajit Ray-directorial, starring Sanjeev Kumar, Shabana Azmi, Farida Jalal, Farooq Shaikh, among others, was narrated by Amitabh Bachchan and won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi.
He gave a speech “Sahitya ka Uddeshya” in Lucknow to aware the young people about how literature can be found anywhere and everywhere.
‘Godaan’ is the last completed work of Premchand. Considered as one of the finest Hindi novels in India, it is also one of his best works.
Premchand’s works blend the political and social problems of the country with perceptive characterization. He championed basic humanist ideals and regarded the common folks as an integral part of society.According to him, “Likhte toh woh log hai, jinke andar kuch dard hai, anurag hai, lagan hai, Bichar hai. Jinhone dhan aur bhog bilaas ko jeevan ka Lakshay bana liya, woh kya likhenge?”