India is today celebrating the 143rd birth anniversary of the famous Hindi writer Munshi Premchand. He began writing under the pen name “Nawab Rai” but switched to Premchand.
Premchand’s stories imparted wisdom. They made the readers ponder over the moralities, truth and realities of the world we live in. 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.
Initially known as Dhanpat Rai Shrivastava, Premchand was born on 31 July 1880 in Lamhi, a village located near Varanasi, UP. He has been an inspiration to filmmakers from Hrishikesh Mukherjee to Satyajit Ray.
Munshi Premchand began his education at a madrasa in Lalpur, located near Lamahi where he learnt Urdu and Persian from a maulvi in the madrasa.
He launched a literary-political weekly magazine titled ‘Hans’ in 1930. The magazine aimed at inspiring Indians in their struggle for independence and was known for its politically provocative views.
In 1905, inspired by the nationalist activism, Premchand published an article on the Indian National Congress leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale in Zamana. He criticised Gokhale’s methods for achieving political freedom, and instead recommended adoption of more extremist measures adopted by Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
Initially, he assumed the pen name Nawab Rai for his first novel Asrar e Ma’abid, which focused on corruption among temple priests and exploitation of poor people.
The novel was serialised in the Varanasi-based Urdu weekly Awaz-e-Khalk from October 1903 to February 1905. He began his literary career in Urdu but eventually switched to writing in Hindi.
Premchand’s novel Godaan, considered to be one of the greatest Hindi novels, deals with the themes of caste discrimination, exploitation of poor and women; and ill-effects of industrialisation.
In the 1920s, he was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s non-co-operation movement and the accompanying struggle for social reform. During this period, his works dealt with the social issues such as poverty, zamindari exploitation (Premashram, 1922), dowry system (Nirmala, 1925), educational reform and political oppression (Karmabhumi, 1931).
Premchand was elected as the first President of the Progressive Writers’ Association in Lucknow, in 1936. He was also influenced by the teachings of Swami Vivekananda. He died on 8 October 1936, after several days of sickness and while still in office.