July 31, this year, marks the 136th birth anniversary of Munshi Premchand who is known as India’s Shakespeare. This extraordinary writer has written more than a dozen novels and over 250 short stories. The greatest crusader of Hindi Literature was born in 1880 in a village named Lamhi near Varanasi. His actual name was Dhanpat Rai Srivastava, but he was known pseudonyms like “Nawab Rai” and ‘Pemchand’, Munshi was an honorary suffix. This early 20th century writer has contributed immensely to and influenced Hindi literature as well as Urdu. Some of his famous short stories are ‘Eidgah’, ‘Kafan’, ‘Namak Ka Daroga’, ‘Gilli-danda’, and ‘Zewar Ka Dibba’. In a tribute to this literary genius, here are some of the greatest works of Munshi Premchand:
‘Godaan’, or ‘The Gift of the Cow’ in English, is a ground breaking work in Hindi literature. The novel has been adapted for film and TV as well. The characters, Hori and Dhania are immortal icons of social and class struggle.
This is one of the most distinguished novels of Munshi Premchand, set in the backdrop of pre-independence India. One of the classics of Indian literature, Gaban gives a riveting idea of Indian society and throws lights on the humble living conditions and conflicts of the prevailing North Indian society.
Shatranj Ke Khiladi:
The story revolves around two idle aristocrats during the early British period, Mirza Sajjad Ali and Mir Roshan Ali, who are natives of Awadh. Both of them are extremely careless towards their responsibilities. In a slapdash manner, they play chess all the time. They are so addicted to chess that even when the ruler of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah, is captured by the British they remain engrossed in their game. The story ends on a tragic note, when both of them kill each other over some conflicts in the game. Iconic Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray recreated this story on celluloid.
Nirmala or Idaara-e-Furoogh:
At the heart of this novel is its heroine, the eponymous Nirmala, a girl of 15 years who has been married to a man two decades her senior. The novel highlights the issues pertaining to the dowry system in India. A serialized version of the novel was first published in a magazine called ‘Chand’.
This is one of the most popular short stories of Premchand. The story revolves around a poor boy, who lives with his grandmother. On the festival day of Eid, when other kids were busy with candles and toys, that little boy buys a pair of tongs so that her grandmother could make rotis without discomfort. The sensitivity of the story simply touches the heart.
Karmbhumi or Maidan-e-Amal:
Hailed as one of the best novels of Premchand, ‘Karmbhumi’ depicts the story of Amarkant, an intelligent and idealistic young man who becomes a nomad.
Sevasadan or Bazaar-e-Husn:
The background of this novel is set in Varanasi, where an unhappy housewife becomes a courtesan and later takes a vow to change the lives of the courtesans.
Prema or Hamkhurma-o-Ham Sawab:
The protagonist of the novel, Amrit Rai, goes one step ahead and marries a young widow Poorna. As an aftereffect, he faces social criticism since he left behind his rich and beautiful fiancée Prema. The story is therefore of the one who was left behind.
Rangbhoomi or Chaugan-e-Hasti:
The plot of this novel is complex, as in most of Premchand’s writings. It is all about the oppression of the working classes, rural India and the farmers. The story effectively brings out the emotions of each character.
Premashram or Gosha-e-Afiyat:
‘Premashram’ is one of the best known novels of Munshi Premchand. It is based on Gandhian philosophy.