The name Premchand takes us to a time when we could feel the folk culture in written words. But did you know that the laureate who changed the face of Hindi literature was not born Premchand? The wizard was named Dhanpat Rai Srivastava by his parents.
He hailed from a poor family and that plight of sadness was very well evident in his work. The most celebrated novelist of Hindi-Urdu poetry is also called the Father of Urdu short stories. One of the strongest influences in his earlier works was Gandhian politics, which he had been a part of since the Non-cooperation Movement in 1921.
He worked as a teacher for 20 years and wrote short stories alongside. During the course of writing he adopted a series of pen names. He chose the pseudonym Nawab Rai inspired by what his close uncle used to call him.
Premchand wrote a collection of short stories named ‘Soz-e-watan‘ (Passion for the Fatherland) in 1908 under his pen name Nawab Rai. The Britishers found his work seditious and they ordered a raid on his house where they found 500 copies of ‘Soz-e-watan‘.
The entire collection was burnt by British officials because of their strong patriotic message.
To escape the clutches of the British, Dhanpat Rai changed his pseudonym from Nawab Rai to Premchand.
He wrote more in Hindi than Urdu because of the wide readership that Hindi language offered.
Munshi Premchand was a pioneer of Hindi and Urdu fiction. He was one of the few authors who broke the stereotype and wrote about caste and plea of women and labours.
His identity as Dhanpat Rai was only limited to that of a teacher but as Premchand, he has received a soft corner in all our hearts. His writings were so ahead of his time, in one of his controversial works such as ‘Nirmala’ he wrote about social and psychological problems that were imposed on women by society norms. He addressed the issue of widows and prostitutes, how the society viewed them from their hideous lens, and why is it so important for them to be financially independent.
While serving as editor of literary magazine ‘Hans’ in 1930 he made a mutual ground for politics and literature. He served as president of All India Progressive Writers’ Association (AIPWA) in 1936. It was an initiative to unite Leftist and socialist writers. He has gained huge international recognition by his most famous novel ‘Godaan’ (Gift of cow).
He wrote under the name of Premchand till his death. His writings also dealt with moral corruption among the middle class, social evils of arranged marriages, rural peasantry and abuses of British bureaucracy.
He was also honoured by the title of ‘Upanyas Samrat’ by his fellow writers for the academic excellence and literature he offered.
The Sahitya Akademi established the Premchand Fellowships in his honour in 2005 which is awarded to persons of eminence in the field of culture from SAARC countries.