Munshi Prem chand: One of his own kind

MAJOR KULBIR SINGH. Dated: 7/13/2017 11:46:43 AM


‘Munshi being an honorary prefix, was an Indian writer famous for his modern Hindi-Urdu literature. He is one of the most celebrated writers of the Indian subcontinent, and is regarded as one of the foremost Hindustani writers of the early twentieth century. Born Dhanpat Rai, he began writing under the pen name “Nawab Rai”, but subsequently switched to “Premchand’.


Major Kulbir Singh
Premchand (31 July 1880 – 8 October 1936), better known as Munshi Premchand, Munshi being an honorary prefix, was an Indian writer famous for his modern Hindi-Urdu literature. He is one of the most celebrated writers of the Indian subcontinent, and is regarded as one of the foremost Hindustani writers of the early twentieth century. Born Dhanpat Rai, he began writing under the pen name “Nawab Rai”, but subsequently switched to “Premchand”. A novel writer, story writer and dramatist, he has been referred to as the “Upanyas Samrat” far form places like sender which is Premchand by writers. His works include more than a dozen novels, around 250 short stories, several essays and translations of a number of foreign literary works into Hindi.
Premchand was born on 31 July 1880 in Lamhi, a village located near Varanasi (Banaras). His ancestors came from a large Kayastha family, which owned six bighas of land. His grandfather Guru Sahai Rai was a patwari (village land record-keeper), and his father Ajaib Rai was a post office clerk. His mother was Anandi Devi of Karauni village, who could have been the inspiration for the character Anandi in his Bade Ghar Ki Beti. Premchand was the fourth child of Ajaib Lal and Anandi; the first two were girls who died as infants, and the third one was a girl named Suggi. His parents named him Dhanpat Rai (“the master of wealth”), while his uncle, Mahabir, a rich landowner, nicknamed him “Nawab” (“Prince”). “Nawab Rai” was the first pen name chosen by Premchand. Munshi Premchand Memorial Gate, Lamhi, Varanasi
When he was 7 years old, Premchand began his education at a madrasa in Lalpur, located near Lamahi. He learnt Urdu and Persian from a maulvi in the madrasa. When he was 8, his mother died after a long illness. His grandmother, who took the responsibility of raising him, died soon after. Premchand felt isolated, as his elder sister had already been married, and his father was always busy with work. His father, who was now posted at Gorkhapur, remarried, but Premchand received little affection from his step-mother. The step-mother later became a recurring theme in Premchand’s works. As a child, Premchand sought solace in fiction, and developed a fascination for books. He heard the stories from the Persian-language fantasy epic Tilism-e-Hoshruba at a tobacconist’s shop. He took the job of selling books for a book wholesaler, thus getting the opportunity to read a lot of books. He learnt English at a missionary school, and studied several works of fiction including George W. M. Reynolds’s eight-volume The Mysteries of the Court of London. He composed his first literary work at Gorakhpur, which was never published and is now lost. It was a farce on a bachelor, who falls in love with a low-caste woman. The character was based on Premchand’s uncle, who used to scold him for being obsessed with reading fiction; the farce was probably written as a revenge for this. After his father was posted to Jamniya in the mid-1890s, Premchand enrolled at the Queen’s College at Banaras as a day scholar. In 1895, he was married at the age of 15, while still studying in the 9th grade. The match was arranged by his maternal step-grandfather. The girl was from a rich landlord family and was older than Premchand, who found her quarrelsome and not good-looking.
Premchand’s father died in 1897 after a long illness. He managed to pass the matriculation exam with second division(below 60% marks). However, only the students with first division were given fee concession at the Queen’s College. Premchand then sought admission at the Central Hindu College, but was unsuccessful because of his poor arithmetic skills. Thus, he had to discontinue his studies. Premchand then obtained an assignment to coach an advocate’s son in Benares at a monthly salary of five rupees. He used to reside in a mud-cell over the advocate’s stables, and used to send 60% of his salary back home. Premchand read a lot during these days. After racking up several debts, in 1899, he once went to a book shop to sell one of his collected books. There, he met the headmaster of a missionary school at Chunar, who offered him a job as a teacher, at a monthly salary of Rs 18. He also took up the job of tutoring a student at a monthly fees of 5 Annas.
In 1900, Premchand secured a job as an assistant teacher at the Government District School, Bahraich, at a monthly salary of ₹ 20. Three months later, he was transferred to the District School in Pratapgarh, where he stayed in an administrator’s bungalow and tutored his son.
Dhanpat Rai first wrote under the pseudonym “Nawab Rai”. His first short novel was Asrar e Ma’abid (Devasthan Rahasya in Hindi, “The Secrets of God’s Abode”), which explores corruption among the temple priests and their sexual exploitation of poor women. The novel was published in a series in the Benares-based Urdu weekly Awaz-e-Khalk from 8 October 1903 to February 1905. Literary critic Siegfried Schulz states that “his inexperience is quite evident in his first novel”, which is not well-organized, lacks a good plot and features stereotyped characters. Prakash Chandra Gupta calls it an “immature work”, which shows a tendency to “see life only white or black”. In his last days, he focused on village life as a stage for complex drama, as seen in the novel Godan (1936) and the short-story collection Kafan (1936). Premchand believed that social realism was the way for Hindi literature, as opposed to the “feminine quality”, tenderness and emotion of the contemporary Bengali literature.

 

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