The Indian writer, Dhanpat Rai Srivastava, who was widely known by his pen name, Premchand, was born on 31 July 1880 and passed away on 8 October 1936, leaving behind his modern Hindustani literature. Premchand was a groundbreaking figure in the realm of Hindi and Urdu social fiction, having created the genre. As one of the initial authors to write about the caste division and the difficulties of women and workers that existed in late 1880s society, he was a pioneer.
Among his works are Godaan, Karmabhoomi, Gaban, Mansarovar, and Idgah. In 1907, he published his first collection of five short stories, which was released in a book titled Soz-e-Watan. After taking up the pen name of "Nawab Rai" to begin his writing career, he eventually changed to the name of "Premchand".
Munshi Premchand (31st July 1880 - 8th October 1936)
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A master of novel writing, story writing, and dramatization, Hindi writers have bestowed upon him the title of "Upanyas Samrat" (Emperor Among Novelists). His accomplishments in literature are expansive, having written over a dozen novels, nearly 300 short stories, a range of essays, and translated a variety of foreign literary works into Hindi.
At the tender age of seven, Dhanpat Rai began his educational journey at the madrasa located in Lalpur, Varanasi, situated close to Lamhi. The maulvi at the madrasa taught him Urdu and Persian. At the age of 8, his mother succumbed to a long lasting illness. Premchand's works often featured recurring themes of a stepmother. During his childhood, Dhanpat Rai immersed himself in books of fiction and found solace in them.
He happened to come across the tales of the fantasy epic of Persian literature, Tilism-e-Hoshruba, while he was at a tobacconist's shop. He was able to take advantage of the opportunity to read a lot of books by taking the job of selling books for a book wholesaler. He attended a missionary school to learn English, and he read several works of fiction, one of which was George W. M. Reynolds's The Mysteries of the Court of London, an eight-volume set.
In the mid-1890s when his father was sent to Jamania, Dhanpat Rai attended the Queen's College at Banaras as a day scholar. At the young age of 15, he got married in 1895 while he was still in the midst of completing his ninth grade studies. The girl was from a wealthy and well-established landlord family and was a few years older than Premchand.
After a lengthy period of sickness, his father passed away in the year 1897. Despite his marks being below sixty percent, he still succeeded in passing the matriculation exam with a second division. Consequently, the Queen's College provided fee concessions exclusively to those students who achieved a first division in their studies. He applied to the Central Hindu School, however, he was declined admission due to his lack of proficiency in arithmetic.
Therefore, he had no other choice than to discontinue his studies. He was then assigned to a job of coaching an advocate's son in Banaras and was given a monthly salary of five rupees. Premchand was known to spend a lot of time perusing books during this period. Having amassed a number of debts, in 1899, he decided to take one of his collected books to a bookshop in an attempt to sell it. While in Chunar, he encountered the headmaster of a missionary school and was subsequently provided with the opportunity to teach at the school with a salary of ₹18 per month. He also accepted the role of tutoring a student for a monthly payment of ₹5.
Premchand was appointed as an assistant teacher at the Government District School, Bahraich in the year 1900 and his salary was set at ₹20 per month. After three months, he was shifted to the District School in Pratapgarh, where he had a place to stay in the administrator's bungalow and he was given the task to teach his son. Initially, the writings of Dhanpat Rai were published under the name "Nawab Rai". His initial short novel, Asrar-e-Ma'abid ("Secrets of God's abode", Devasthan Rahasya in Hindi), delved into the subject of corruption amongst temple priests and their immoral abuse of vulnerable women.
The novel was released in a series of installments, that were published in the Banaras-based Urdu weekly Awaz-e-Khalk. According to literary critic Siegfried Schulz, the lack of experience of the author is quite evident in his first novel, as it is not well-structured, does not possess an adequate storyline and features characters that can be considered being stereotypical. Prakash Chandra Gupta has labeled it an "immature work" that demonstrates a disposition of only seeing life as "black or white".
In 1905, Dhanpat Rai was relocated from Pratapgarh to Allahabad for training, and then sent to Kanpur to be stationed there. From May 1905 to June 1909, he lived in Kanpur for a period of approximately four years. During his visit, he was introduced to Munshi Daya Narain Nigam, the editor of the Urdu magazine Zamana, and was eventually able to publish a number of articles and stories in the magazine.
In 1906, Premchand took a bold decision and married Shivarani Devi, a child widow who was the daughter of a landlord from a nearby village of Fatehpur. At the time, the move that Premchand took was seen as groundbreaking, but he encountered a lot of opposition from society. Following his death, Shivarani Devi wrote a book in his honor, Premchand Ghar Mein ("Premchand in House"), as a tribute. Inspired by the activism of the nationalists, Premchand published an article about Gopal Krishna Gokhale, the leader of the Indian National Congress, in the magazine Zamana in the year 1905.
He was critical of Gokhale's tactics for gaining political autonomy, and instead suggested utilizing the more extreme measures adopted by Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The very first of Premchand's stories that were published was "Duniya ka Sabse Anmol Ratan" ("The Most Precious Jewel in the World") which was featured in the magazine Zamana in 1907. This narrative portrays the last drop of blood required to gain independence as the most valuable 'jewel'.
The Indian independence movement had a distinct impact on Premchand's early short stories, which often had a strong sense of patriotism. From April to August of 1907, Zamana magazine released the novel Roothi Rani, written by Premchand, in serial form. Furthermore, in 1907, the publishers of Zamana released Premchand's debut short story collection, which was called Soz-e-Watan. The compilation, which was later outlawed, had four stories which were intended to encourage the Indians in their pursuit of political independence.
In 1909, Premchand was assigned to a new position in Mahoba, and eventually transferred to Hamirpur where he worked as the Sub-deputy Inspector of Schools. During this period, Soz-e-Watan was brought to the attention of the British Government officials, who found it to be a work that could cause sedition and consequently, put a ban on it.
In the year of 1857, British collector James Samuel Stevenson of Hamirpur district commanded a raid on Premchand's residence and destructively burned around five hundred copies of Soz-e-Watan. Upon the publication of Dhanpat Rai's first story "Duniya ka Sabse Anmol Ratan", Munshi Daya Narain Nigam, editor of the Urdu magazine Zamana, offered the suggestion of taking up the pseudonym of "Premchand". He gave up the name "Nawab Rai" and instead opted to go by the name Premchand.
Over the course of 1919, Premchand had already published four novels, each containing approximately one hundred pages. The year 1919 saw the release of Premchand's initial major novel Seva Sadan, which was written in the Hindi language. Premchand was offered ₹450 for his novel, Bazaar-e-Husn, by a Calcutta-based publisher, who published the novel in Hindi first although it was originally written in Urdu.
This novel tells the story of a housewife who is not content with her life and embarks on a journey of becoming a courtesan, and then goes on to manage an orphanage for the daughters of the courtesans. The critics gave it a positive review and it helped to further spread Premchand's name and his accomplishments.
Work and Social Reform
At a meeting held in Gorakhpur on 8 February 1921, Mahatma Gandhi asked those in attendance to leave their government jobs as part of the non-cooperation movement, and he was present at the gathering. Premchand, who was suffering from an illness, had a family he was responsible for; two kids and a wife that was expecting a baby. After extensive deliberation spanning a period of 5 days, Premchand and his wife decided it was best for him to resign from his government job.
In 1907, Premchand published his second short novel, Hamkhurma-o-Hamsavab (which is known in Hindi as Prema), and he used the name "Babu Nawab Rai Banarsi" as his pseudonym. This story delves into the difficult subject of widow remarriage in today's conservative society, as the character of the story Amrit Rai puts aside his wealthy and attractive fiancée Prema to wed the young widow Poorna, in spite of the social pressure against it. Prakash Chandra Gupta has commented that the novel, while showing glimpses of what could be in the future, still has a youthful quality and has not achieved the level of discipline which is an attribute of a fully matured text.
On the 31st of May in the year of 1934, Premchand travelled to Bombay in an effort to seek out any potential opportunities in the Hindi film industry. Taking on a script writing job with Ajanta Cinetone, he was offered a yearly salary of ₹8,000 and was hopeful that this would help him get through his financial difficulty. While living in Dadar, he took the time to write the script for the movie Mazdoor, which was given the name "The Labourer".
In the movie directed by Mohan Bhawnani, the viewers could observe the appalling plight of the working class. The leader of the labourers in the movie was played by Premchand himself. A number of influential businessmen were able to secure a restraining order on the film's release in Bombay. After it was released in both Lahore and Delhi, the film gave the mill workers the courage to stand up to the owners, and unfortunately was banned soon after.
Unbelievably, the film motivated the employees of his own loss-making press in Banaras to take action and initiate a strike, due to their lack of payment. The heavy debt of ₹400 that Premchand's Saraswati Press was under by 1934–35, meant that he had no choice but to cease the publication of Jagaran. Over time, Premchand developed a strong distaste for the commercial atmosphere of the Bombay film industry and he longed to go back to his hometown of Banaras. He had made a contractual commitment to the production house for a duration of one year. In the end, he departed from Bombay on the fourth day of April, 1935, before the one year anniversary of his arrival.
He passed away on 8 October 1936, after an extended period of ill health and all while still serving in his official capacity. The novel Godaan (The Gift of a Cow, 1936) is widely praised as Premchand's greatest work and is considered by many to be one of the finest Hindi novels ever written. The protagonist of the story, Hori, a poverty-stricken peasant, ardently wishes for a cow, a symbol of power and importance in rural India.
As Siegfried Schulz states, Godan is a novel that is fully accomplished in its structure and balance, living up to the expectations of Western literary standards. Although Rabindranath Tagore was widely recognized outside India, the same amount of appreciation and admiration was not present for Premchand outside of the country.
Schulz hypothesized that the lack of quality translations for his work was likely the cause of this issue. In contrast to Tagore and Iqbal, Premchand was never afforded the opportunity to travel outside India, receive an education abroad, or mingle with renowned foreign literary figures. In 1936, Premchand wrote the work "Kafan" ("Shroud"), a story depicting a man of modest means who collects money to provide a proper funeral for his deceased wife, yet instead spends it all on food and drink. Premchand's final published story was "Cricket Match", which was released in the magazine Zamana in the year 1938 after his passing.
To sum up, Munshi Premchand's life was characterized by his commitment to his art and his capacity to conquer a wide range of challenges and impediments. He grew up in a humble family in a small town in Uttar Pradesh, but eventually rose to prominence in the literary world, becoming one of the most renowned authors of modern Hindi and Urdu literature.
Despite the financial struggles that Premchand had to endure over the course of his life, he remained devoted to his writing and created an impressive body of work that touched upon issues such as poverty, caste, gender, and corruption. He had a talent for creating realistic characters and for using vivid descriptions to capture the reader's emotions and understanding of human psychology.
During his lifetime, Premchand was confronted with numerous obstacles, including the passing of his mother when he was still young and financial issues that necessitated him to take on miscellaneous jobs. Even in the face of such difficulties, he persevered in his love for writing and made a long-lasting influence on Hindi and Urdu literature.
Today, Premchand is considered as one of the most influential and highly acclaimed literary figures of modern Hindi and Urdu literature, with his works being praised for their deep understanding of the social and political atmosphere of his era. His life and accomplishments still have the ability to motivate and inspire writers and readers alike, and more than 80 years after his death, people continue to commemorate his contributions to the literary world.