What Shakespeare is to English literature, Munshi Premchand is to Hindi. This extraordinary writer was born in 1880 in a village named Lamhi near Varanasi. His actual name was Dhanpat Rai Srivastava, but he was known pseudonyms like “Nawab Rai” and “Pemchand” (Munshi was an honorary suffix). This early 20th century writer has contributed immensely to and influenced Hindi literature as well as Urdu. Some of his famous short stories are ‘Eidgah’, ‘Kafan’, ‘Namak Ka Daroga’, ‘Gilli-danda’, and ‘Zewar Ka Dibba’. It was Premchand, who introduced the ideas of social realism in Hindi literature. The inhuman treatments like caste hierarchies or the plight of women in the then prevailing society provoked his anger and this was reflected in most of his writings. He has also translated various non-Hindi works into Hindi. Premchand died in 1936. Giving him a symbolic tribute, we present the top 10 writings of Munshi Premchand.
‘Premashram’ is one of the best known novels of Munshi Premchand. It is based on Gandhian philosophy. Premashanker, the protagonist, is a foreign-returned zamindar (landlord), who comes to know that he is declared an outcaste in the society. When his own family rejects him, he decides to live in another village to lead a life on his own. One should read it from the beginning to the end to know the twist in the tale.
The plot of this novel is complex, as in most of Premchand’s writings. It is all about the oppression of the working classes, rural India and the farmers. We come across the blind Surdas and his struggle with life and death and the setbacks he receives from the society. The story effectively brings out the emotions of each character.
The protagonist of the novel, Amrit Rai, goes one step ahead and marries a young widow Poorna. As an aftereffect, he faces social criticism since he left behind his rich and beautiful fiancée Prema. The story is therefore of the one who was left behind.
This is one of the most popular short stories of Premchand. The story revolves around a poor boy, who lives with his grandmother. On the festival day of Eid, when other kids were busy with candles and toys, that little boy buys a pair of tongs so that her grandmother could make rotis without discomfort. The sensitivity of the story simply touches the heart.
Hailed as one of the best novels of Premchand, ‘Karmbhumi’ depicts the story of Amarkant, an intelligent and idealistic young man who becomes a nomad. When his father refuses to accept Sakina, Amarkant’s beloved, he leaves home and wanders around villages. In the process, he adopts a village of untouchables and teaches their children. He proves to be of great help to the villagers who manage to get rebate against the land tax.
The background of this novel is set in Varanasi, where an unhappy housewife becomes a courtesan and later takes a vow to change the lives of the courtesans. She sets up an orphanage for the young daughters of courtesans. Suman, the protagonist of the novel, belongs to an upper caste family and is married to a much older man. Somewhere in her married life, she realizes that a woman in just stuck in a loveless marriage and the treatment she receives is like a prostitute. So she bids adieu to her married life and actually becomes a prostitute.
The story revolves around two idle aristocrats during the early British period, Mirza Sajjad Ali and Mir Roshan Ali, who are natives of Awadh. Both of them are extremely careless towards their responsibilities. In a slapdash manner, they play chess all the time. They are so addicted to chess that even when the ruler of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah, is captured by the British they remain engrossed in their game. The story ends on a tragic note, when both of them kill each other over some conflicts in the game. Iconic Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray recreated this story on celluloid.
This is one of the most distinguished novels of Munshi Premchand, set in the backdrop of pre-independence India. It tells the story of Ramanath, an attractive but morally weak young man, who in order to fulfill his beautiful wife’s excessive craving for jewelry involves himself in complex economic troubles and damaged his personal relationships, which leads to his apparent embarrassment and he becomes an escapist. One of the classics of Indian literature, Gaban gives a riveting idea of Indian society and throws lights on the humble living conditions and conflicts of the prevailing North Indian society.
At the heart of this novel is its heroine, the eponymous Nirmala, a girl of 15 years who has been married to a man two decades her senior. The novel highlights the issues pertaining to the dowry system in India. A serialized version of the novel was first published in a magazine called ‘Chand’.
Like any of the great novels of Munshi Premchand, Godaan, too, is written to depict the socio-economic consciousness. It highlights the meager conditions of poor villagers during the British era. ‘The Gift of the Cow’, as the English title of its translation goes, is indeed a groundbreaking work in Hindi literature. The novel has been adapted for film and TV as well. The characters, Hori and Dhania are immortal icons of social and class struggle.