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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

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Munshi Premchand
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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-

Related article: 4 Indian litterateurs who should have got Nobel Prize

  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

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Governor humiliated for addressing in Hindi

  Incidentally, Hindi is a very powerful language, if we go deeper. This language is so self-sufficient that it is one of the direct descendants of Sanskrit, the oldest and the perfect language in the world

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Sri Ganga Prasad was criticised for giving his speech in his native language and not English in the legislative assembly.

Salil Gewali, Shillong

  • Hindi is one of the official languages of India
  • Sri Ganga Prasad faced criticism for giving his speech in his native language
  • This makes one question if English is becoming dominant in India

Sri Ganga Prasad faced a barrage of criticism when he delivered his maiden speech in the National language in the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly. Even one of the legislators abruptly walked out of the assembly hall while the Governor was digression the session. Thus, the Governor was intensely scoffed at and humiliated through the social media and other news media.

Well, everyone has their right to disagree and criticize. Of course, we do not disagree that the majority of people in Meghalaya are not fluent in Hindi.  This is not a big deal. But disrespecting the language could be.

Is Hindi being ignored as the nation moves more towards English? Wikimedia Commons

This news also made many of my facebook friends abroad pretty curious.  One very learned scholar – Avital Markel from New York speaks out her mind with a dose of humor: ‘why is there so much noise when your governor delivered the speech in the language which is originally from India itself? I know another popular name of this country as Hindustan, not “Englistan”, I believe.’ Another Yoga teacher from Las Vegas — JM Palmer remarks — ‘it’s ridiculous that people can disrespect their own language. I can easily pronounce a good many Sanskrit terms. I personally have tremendous respect for India’s Sanskrit and other languages because they are the languages of Yoga and wisdom of spiritual dimension’. Mr. Palmer is a spiritual seeker who regularly visits India.

                 I think both Avital and Palmer views resonate with what the citizens of other countries feel. At least with those who have not been insanely fascinated by the English language like some Indians do. It’s much observed in the country that one without English speaking skills is obviously looked down upon.  The ‘inferiority complex’ vis-a-vis the West and its external trappings often hold many Indians back in asserting that they are Indians. This syndrome is getting more pronounced among the certain class of intellectuals and the snobbish folks. This has already taken a very ugly shape. The trait of sedition is quite noticeable amount the certain class of citizens.

                    Anyway, if we have regularly tolerated the bunches of fraudsters, rapists, and murderers in the parliaments and state assemblies in the country, why could we survive a speech of few minutes in Hindi and so on? 

Also Read: Is Hindi The National Language of India?

On the contrary, the citizens of very developed nations such as China, Russia, Germany, Portugal, France will never lose their calm when their leaders speak in the native languages. Actually, they all speak their own languages. The imperialist British till the date has literally failed to cast its spell on them. The citizens of those self-reliant countries rather swell their chests and claim their superiority and what they are due for.

                          If I am not mistaken Hindi is still recognized as the national language of the country. So, even if we are unable to learn the language, it would do jolly good if we do not disrespect it at all. Here it will be quite relevant to cite a case of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at United Nations General Assembly. I believe, nobody walked out of that international summit on 27th Sept 2014 when the Prime Minister delivered his speech in Hindi. Thank God, we didn’t have any leaders from Meghalaya who might have cringed with embarrassment and walked out! That particular speech by PM Modi in UN was so applauded that it subsequently served to motivate the member countries across the world to vote in favor of declaring a Yoga International Day for 21st June.

Harivansh Rai Bachchan, a Padhma Bhushan awardee for his contribution in Hindi Literature. Pexels
Hindi is a powerful language and ought to be used more. Pexels

                        Incidentally, Hindi is a very powerful language, if we go deeper. This language is so self-sufficient that it is one of the direct descendants of Sanskrit, the oldest and the perfect language in the world. On the robust ground of India’s Sanskrit the Modern linguistic stands. Kudos to those unprejudiced and rational intellectuals such as Sir William Jones, Johann Goethe, F. Schiller, Franz Bopp, F. Schlegel, Ferdinand de Saussure, Leonard Bloomfield, Noam Chomsky who discovered the incredible literary gems in the languages of India.

                           Finally, for those who sniff at the languages of Indian origin and the wisdom and culture associated with them, I would like to share just one opinion by their much celebrated English master. Here exclaimed the American British Nobel laureate TS Eliot: “Two years spent in the study of Sanskrit under Charles Lanman, and a year in the  mazes of Patanjali’s metaphysics under the guidance of James Woods, left me in a state of  enlightened mystification.” I think we should not walk out of the “truth”. India has for ages been enriching the intellectual treasure troves of the West. But, what is a huge paradox is that our Indians are either not aware of it all or they do not want to acknowledge it.