Friday 28 July 2017

Munshi Premchand: A legacy unprecedented

A most ardent scholar from the realist school of literature, Munshi Premchand spoke to the very heart of the reading public, with his unique humour and devoted observation and commentary on the social life of that period.

Born as Dhanpat Rai in the year 1880 on 31st of July in the Lamhi village near Varanasi to Ajaib Lal (a post office clerk) and Anandi Devi (a housewife from Karauni village), Premchand was brought up with immense love and care especially from his grandfather. It has been noted that he was an ardent scholar of books from a very ripe age and started learning Persian and Urdu at a Madrassa where his formal education began at the age of 7. A very significant and defining incident that gave shape to his thinking and countenance was the death of his mother and his father's subsequent remarriage. His precarious relationship with his stepmother and the repercussions of his childhood played an integral and defining role in his future writings.

It was only after his enrollment in a missionary school that Premchand learnt English and read George W. M. Reynolds’s eight-volume series named 'The Mysteries of the Court of London, and even though he took admission at Queen's College , in Benares, he couldn't really continue his education because of his early marriage and the untimely death of his father.

 His life after his father's death became an epitome of struggle and sacrifices, but Premchand never really gave up on his love for reading and writing, and continued to cherish and pursue his greatest ambition, his greatest dream , amidst all that chaos that had taken over his life.

      As the literature lovers across the world marks his 137th, birth anniversary, it is important to remember, that this master novelist and story writer who in his life time gave Indian literature 14 novels and 300 short stories, a feat quite magnificent was a man quite ahead of his time and quite ahead of the humble dwellings that he found himself in by the virtue of his birth. Premchand was a socialist, a feminist and in a society where the peasants, widows, and prostitutes were oppressed and looked down upon, he was an advocate and preacher for their rights and equality. His writings are a living proof of how much bothered and worried he was by the social atrocities of his time, and how zealously he hoped to be the beacon of hope and change that he desperately wanted to see in the world, and perhaps that is why his writings were more social than political, something quite unlike the then trend back then

His short stories ‘Idgah’, ‘Kafan’, ‘Do Bailon ki Katha’  and ‘Shatranj ke Khiladi’  amongst others reflects his genius and his brilliant command over the written word which consisted of a delicious combination of Hindi and Urdu. In these stories Premchand creates an enchantment using the mundanity of human relations. There is something in Hamid saving his pocket money to buy a chimta for his grandmother who had burned her fingers while making chapattis, something in the projection of an Indian farmer’s attachment to his cattle and something in his profound understanding of a child’s psychology, that still moves the reader to tears and reflects an undeniable candor, even after a hundred years since their publication and perhaps it is the very reason that his short stories are still a very prime part of the school curriculum across the country.

       Premchand was a feeling author, he felt the pain of those around him with an intensity that was very much unique of him, and he channelised this very moving intensity into his writings. His novels ‘Karmabhoomi’  set against the backdrop of Satyagraha movement and ‘Nirmala’  which takes up the daunting issue of dowry depicts how well this maestro understood his subject and how much he stood apart from his contemporaries like Jaishankar Prashad and Sharatchandra Chattopadhyaya. These novels along with ‘Sevsadan Mansarovar’ are a symbol of Premchand’s formulating genius and writing but it was with his ‘Godan’ and ‘Gaban’, that he reached his cult status. Considered to be his magnum opus, these canonical works brought out the best of Premchand. His definition of literature as ‘sahitya jeevan ki aalochana hain’ (literature is the device to examine human life) is nowhere better stressed upon than in these novels, where Premchand muses over humanity and nature with a brilliant but almost sad commentary and with a rare but endearing humour. His characters are not ideal; they are aesthete but lacking virulence, very much like his writings and in them he created something universal, they speak to all ages, because in them the reader finds oneself, regardless of the timeline. There are no ghosts in Premchand, his works palpitates with blood, and it is as warm as a living flesh and as serene as the morning sun.

But when one takes a look at his essays, they seem to portray a new side of Premchand; a picture of a human being in search for truth, a restless artist whose views resonates with that of George Orwell. ‘Saahitya ka aadhar’, ‘Saahitya ki pragati’ and ‘Saahitya aur manovigyaan’  talks about his belief that literature could bring beauty to this world and make this world a better place. He was very much like the romantics, William Wordworth, John Keats and Lord Byron in his juxtaposing truth and beauty. Empathy and aesthetic went hand in hand for him and he chased this very sensory pleasure to attain an enriched conscience, not only for himself but also for his indifferent and somewhat clueless middle class reader.

Munshi Premchand stands alone with his remarkable sensitivity, precocious literary abilities, and colloquial diction lacking any esotericism and with a vision bright and vivid. Though his life was cut short at the age of 56, his works surely has attained a greater significance since then, an almost revered importance that makes him live in his writings and would continue to do so.

In his strange ability to leave the reader spellbound, in his role as a torch bearer to the numerous marginalised people and in his search for the greater good, laid a heart of a voracious reader, a reader who loved the very essence of texts, a worshipper of the written word and a priest of the religion that is literature, Munshi Premchand remains a figure quite unmatched, a picture of thought and justice, a novel that would probably never cease to mesmerise its reader.

- Ms. Annesha Mahanta

1 comment:

  1. These lines are really beautiful. Touches the heart. Keep up the good work miss Mahanta