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Munshi Premchand is one of the greatest figures of Indian literature ( Hindi literature). Social fiction in Hindi and Urdu was invented by Premchand. He was one of the first writers to discuss caste systems and the struggles faced by women and labourers in late 1880s society. His most famous work is Godaan which was published in 1936 and focussed on the Socio-economic exploitation of the village poor .
Premchand was born as Dhanpat Rai Srivastava on 31 July 1880, at Lamhi, Benares State, British India, as the fourth child of Ajaib Lal and Anandi. His parents lost their first two infant daughters, and their child was a daughter too, Suggi. He was the descent of the Kayastha family, who owned eight to nine bighas of land. ( A bigha is a unit of measurement of an area of a land. The Bigha’s measurement may vary from region to region). His father Ajaib Lal worked as a post office clerk, and Guru Sahai Rai was a patwari (village land record-keeper). His mother, Anandi Devi of the village of Karauni, served as the likely model for the character of Anandi in his novel Bade Ghar Ki Beti. His uncle, Mahabir, affectionately called him ” Nawab ” ( a baron). Premchand started using Nawab Rai as one of his pen names.
His school education began with his enrolment in a Madrasa in Lalpur, Varanasi, located near Lamhi, at the age of 7. He learned Urdu and Persian from a Maulavi ( A muslim scholar) . He lost his mother at the age of 8 and was raised by his grandmother who also died shortly. His elder sister, Suggi, got married and his father was busy with his work. Premchand’s father was transferred to Gorakhpur and remarried, but his second wife wasn’t affectionate towards Premchand, which was typical of a stepmother and inspired him to feature stepmother as a recurring theme in his books. Young Dhanpat Rai was hooked to the books and fascinated by fiction. In a tobacconist’s shop, he heard tales from the Persian-language fantasy epic Tilism-e-Hoshruba. He accepted a position selling books for a book distributor, which gave him the chance to read several books. He read various works of fiction, notably the eight-volume The Mysteries of the Court of London by George W. M. Reynolds, while learning English at a missionary school. At Gorakhpur, he wrote his first piece of literature, which was never published and is now lost. A bachelor who falls in love with a woman of low caste was the subject of this farce. Premchand’s uncle, who used to chastise him for being preoccupied with reading fiction, inspired the character; the farce was likely created in retaliation for this.
Midway through the 1890s, Dhanpat Rai enrolled as a day student at the Queen’s College in Benares after his father was transferred to Jamania. He was still in the ninth grade when he was married in 1895 at the age of 15. His maternal step-grandfather set up the marriage. The girl was older than Premchand and came from a wealthy landlord family. Premchand thought the girl was argumentative and unattractive.
His father passed away in 1897 and he managed to pass his Matriculation in second division, scoring below 60% because of which he became ineligible for the fee concession and joined the Central Hindu School but failed because of his poor arithmetic skills. He gave up studies and started tutoring an advocate’s son, earning five rupees per month. He stayed at a mud cell near the advocate’s stables and used to send home 60% of his salary. After accruing a number of debts, he once visited a bookstore to sell one of his collection of books in 1899. He met the headmaster of a missionary school in Chunar there, who offered him employment as a teacher at a salary of 18 rupees per month. He also agreed to tutor a student for a price of ₹5 per month.
Premchand was hired in 1900 as an assistant teacher at the Government District School in Bahraich with a salary of ₹20 per month. He was sent to the District School in Pratapgarh three months later, where he lived in an administrator’s bungalow and taught his kid.
He wrote his first short novel Asrar-e-Ma’abid (“Secrets of God’s abode”, Devasthan Rahasya in Hindi) as Nawab Rai but this book didn’t get appropriate response.
Premchand was relocated to Mahoba in 1909 and then appointed as the Sub-deputy Inspector Schools in Hamirpur.
Around this time, Soz-e-Watan was identified as a seditious work by British Government officials, who therefore prohibited it. Premchand’s home was raided by the Hamirpur district’s British collector, James Samuel Stevenson, who also ordered the burning of some 500 copies of Soz-e-Watan.
After that, the editor of the Urdu publication Zamana, Munshi Daya Narain Nigam, who had previously published Dhanpat Rai’s debut short tale “Duniya ka Sabse Anmol Ratan,” suggested the pen name “Premchand.” Dhanpat Rai changed his name from “Nawab Rai” to “Premchand” afterquitting his job.
He also tried his luck in Hindi film industry after relocating to Mumbai on on 31 May 1934. He was offered to write script for the film “Mazdoor (“The Labourer”)” at a yearly salary of salary of ₹8,000. As the film inspired the mill workers to raise their voices against exploitation by their employers, the wealthy, influential business managed to secure a stay on its release. He started disliking the commercial atmosphere in Mumbai and after completing the contract for his stay for 1 year, he went to Benares.
He became the first President of the Progressive Writers’ Association in Lucknow, in 1936. This literary genius succumbed to his illness on 8 October 1936 (aged 56) at Benares, Benares State, British India. His last novel, Godaan ( the gift of cow) (1936) is considered to be his best work. Literary critic Siegfried Schulz described Godaan as ” Godān is a well-structured and well-balanced novel which amply fulfils the literary requirements postulated by Western literary standards.”
Unfortunately, Premchand’s works didn’t get global recognition like Rabindranath Tagore because of lack of a good translation and also, he never traveled outside India. Munshi Premchand will continue to live in the hearts of those who appreciate Hindi literature and inspire many talented young budding authors to continue contributing towards Hindi literature.
His Works :
Premchand published fourteen novels, nearly three hundred short stories, countless articles and letters, plays, and translations.  After Premchand’s passing, many of his works were translated into English and Russian.
Translation by Premchand
Prem ki Vedi
Kuchh Vichar (two parts)
Qalam Tyag aur Talwar
Mahatma Sheikhsadi (biography of Saadi)
Bal Kahaniyan Sumpurn
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