Diamond of Hindi and Urdu literature: Munshi Premchand

Premchand was born on 31 July, 1880 in a village named Lamhi near Varanasi. He was named Dhanpat Rai

Munshi Premchand

By Shruti Pandey

 “Literature adds to reality; it doesn’t simply describe things”.- C.S. Lewis

Munshi Premchand is one of the peculiar writers of India who lived up to this thought and modified the trend of Hindi and Urdu literature, being all about religion and fantasy. He was a pioneer in writing who relished and even succeeded in bringing a change in society with his words.

Here are 10 quick facts about this exemplary writer-

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  1. Premchand was born on 31 July, 1880 in a village named Lamhi near Varanasi. He was born to Ajaib Rai and Anand Rai and was named Dhanpat Rai. Ajaib Rai did clerical jobs in a nearby post office. His mother met with a casualty and died when Dhanpat was only 8 years old. This followed a remarriage of Ajaib Rai. His early education was accomplished in a Madrsa, where he learnt Urdu and Persian.
  2. Although, he was very close to his elder sister, he shared bitter relation with his step-mother, which took him towards books and he became a voracious reader after that. Dhanpat was married at an early age of 15, but he renounced his wife later on as he couldn’t find competence with her. Things turned upside down when his father died due an illness in 1897 and Dhanpat was compelled to take care of his sisters and step-mother.
  3. He started working as a tuition teacher and along with this, he completed his matriculation. After struggling for years, he finally found his luck at Government District School in Baharaich. At the age of 20, he did his intermediate, privately, and completed his bachelor’s in arts. He even inspired himself to complete some creations in Urdu.
  4. Dhanpat Rai started writing under the pseudonym “Nawab Rai” and wrote his first short novel titled “Asrar-e-Ma’abid” ,that dealt with the issues of corruption among the religious preachers and their tendency to exploit poor women, sexually. He came under the watch glass in 1910, after he published a collection of short stories named  Soz-e-Watan. The copies were burnt by the British Government and were termed seditious as it contained elements that were intended at arousing nationalist sentiments. After his work was confiscated by the British, he relinquished “Nawab Rai” and instead opted for another pseudonym “Munshi Premchand”.
  5. His journey as a Hindi writer began in 1914. In this series, he wrote many short stories and novels. His first major Hindi novel was “Sevasadan”. The issue of this book was one of a kind. The story explored the life of a prostitute, who aspired to be educated and live a respectful life and finally ended up doing so. This was a rebellion of Premchand against the injustice done to women and he fought this with bullets of words.
  6. He also showcased this valor when he turned against social norms and married a child widow Shivarani Devi and had three children with her. As a part of National Freedom Movement, Gandhiji asked all the public servants to leave their jobs as a form of protest. Following the diktat, he renounced his job and joined to movement. He came to Varanasi and went on to establish his own publishing house: Saraswati Press in 1923.
  7. From Saraswati press, he published novels Nirmala and Pratigya and both the novels had women as the leading protagonist. They were shown being empowered in the novel. He started a Socio-political magazine in 1930, which failed to derive economic benefits and was finally shelved, forcing Premchand to look for more stable job. He became principal at Marwari College in Kanpur in 1931.
  8. Not a lot of people are aware of this fact that, Munshi Premchand did film script writing for a while. His financial condition was declining and to make up for it, he accepted the job of writing at Ajanta Cinetone where he wrote script for the movie “Majdoor”. But because of  his inability to walk hand in hand with the commercial writings, he left the job and finally came back to Varanasi and wrote a number of short stories and completed “Godaan” in 1936. He was working on his novel “Mangalsutra” before he embraced death on 8 October, 1936 out of illness.
  9. The peculiar thing about his writing was that, he never made use of Sanskritized Hindi which was in trend at that time. Instead, he used common Hindi language that was the tongue of majority of people in India in those times. The second thing; his stories never revolved around the upper classes of the society. The protagonists always belonged to some lower sections of the society which made everyone believe that there is a hero inside everyone of us.
  10. His most famous work, “Godaan” was based on a Dalit farmer family ,who were hand to mouth and how they were exploited. He didn’t write to please the élites, instead he wrote to please the masses. Apart from this, his short stories like “Poos Ki Raat” and “Namak Ka Daroga” dealt with contemporary problems of those times. He wrote around 300 short stories and novels and the anthology of his works has been named “Mansarovar”.  

Shruti Pandey is a third year engineering student in HBTI, Kanpur and aspires to bring a change through words. Twitter  @srt_kaka