Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tribute to a Master

By Asif Anwar Alig

Ajkal aur Premchand (Ajkal and Premchand), edited Abrar Rahmani, pp238, Indian Rupees210, Publication Division, Government of India, New Delhi, Hard.

Book Ajkal Aur Premchand
Simplicity is the glory of expression,” said Walt Whitman while defining the everlasting attributes of a great personality. Littérateurs attached to the roots usually possess such caliber whose down to earth approach make them "idols worth worshipping.” A common man too can show envisioning insight to the herd of masses from where he or she is born to become godfather.

Premchand is one such immortal nom de plume of the past century. His contemporaries did have hypes but their success was perishable that swept out of the history of literature.
There is no dearth of books and articles written on Premchand, who was born Dhanpat Rai on July 31, 1880 at Lamati near Varanasi. His father Munshi Ajaib Lal was a clerk in the postal department. Premchand lost his mother at the age of eight.

Though his grandmother raised him, she too died sooner. Both Urdu & Hindi critics have counted minute details of his life time and again since last five decades wherever littérateur in Premchand is being re-searched. Newer researches are still in continuum but there is ample scope to understand the multifaceted dimensions of his personality for “discovering” him–the person and the littérateur.

Reviewer Asif Anwar Alig
Recently launched book Ajkal aur Premchand is a major initiative by the publication division of India. This book, a compilation of published articles on Premchand’s life is a brainchild of the then editor of Ajkal magazine, Abrar Rahmani to tribute the legend. Rahmani gathered selected articles for this book: each thematic compilation of scholastic ideas that had already been printed in the literary journal Ajkal since independence.

Ajkal has given due respect to Premchand and published scholarly articles on him written by the critics of Urdu & Hindi, which attributed his contribution as a littérateur and evaluated the unique features of his fiction work in context of Indian subcontinent.

Editor, Abrar Rahmani
Each article of the book deals with a particular “corner” on this literary doyen, which is based on the evidences brought out over constant research. Mostly analytical they were written by eminent critics having expertise on Premchand. Troubled childhood didn’t hamper his urge to attain higher education. 

From receiving early Urdu education in a madarasa under the guidance of a maulavi to being married off against his wishes in the ninth standard barely at the age of fifteen and et al are the revelation of the thorough monologue quoted by Premchand himself—describes the facets of his life. After passing away of his father Premchand had to stop his study in intermediate to let his family run.

Destiny enforced him to join the job of a teacher in a primary school. Hard times of his life didn’t hinder his urge to attain higher education. In the year 1919, when Premchand was a teacher at Gorakhpur passed B.A. with English, Persian and History. His association with government of India as deputy inspector (schools) wasn’t the bed of roses.

In response to Mahatma Gandhi’s call for non-cooperation with the British, Premchand quit his job and gave full attention to writing. His plots are based on daily life events. He belonged to village hence knew the problems of the rural life that depict from the characters of his novels and short stories which are altogether a miniature of the rural undivided India. One gets enough chance to understand the versatile littérateur through this book. Most admirable aspect, though, is the personality sketch of Premchand on the basis of facts and findings identified ever.

Ajkal Urdu Journal
Sometimes, Premchand wrote the plots of Urdu stories/novels in Hindi and vice versa. He used to note down most Hindi & Urdu plots in English. This fact has been evidenced from his personal diaries that has a lot on his literary life, personal problems and the relationships he would have with his friends and publishers. These facts have already been made public through the special issues of Ajkal. The scholastic articles were until now scattered which needed compilation for more evidenced knowledge pool on Premchand.

This book provides us a chance to think beyond a particular framework of mind applied by the critics and researchers. The impartial leaning makes a room to know the momentous incidences that had happened in his life. Premchand penned meaningful details of his life in his diaries and letters and transformed some of those happenings into themes of his fiction work. It helps us to read between the lines the unrevealed corners.

Some critics might claim that Premchand had exchanged ideas with the writers of English. He could be influenced from few of them to design his own plots. He had been compared with the veterans of the literary world in the mid of his career. The unique style applied by him had already been admired by all. Renowned littérateur George Eliot had an impact on him whom Premchand liked. He had a thought that Eliot wrote sensible literature because her thoughts were beyond the imagination of her counterparts. Looking into Urdu & Hindi, one sees same individualism intense in Premchand what Eliot had in English. His novels and short stories created renaissance amongst the pre-independent Indians and awakened them to know their rights. His literature was educative and inspirational source for the masses to cope with their sufferings. The “provocative” ideals, according to some, included him in the group of progressives.

English Writer George Eliot 
In novels Seva Sadan was his first attempt. Ajkal aur Premchand sums best critical comments on his magnum opus novels and short stories Sevasadan, Rangamanch, Ghaban, Nirmala, Godan and Kafan. It also has a corner on his first short story that appeared in Zamana published from Kanpur. He had set principle in life to ‘hate the sin and not the sinner.’ Likewise concept of realism began with Premchand that others adopted later. This trend is a pioneer in the art of fiction.

He wrote primarily about life around himself to make his readers aware of the problems of middle class Indians. Each story/novel emphasizes on presenting the realities of life for that he made villages pivotal. His work augurs communal harmony. They are simple flowering of language with excellent use of satire, humour, drama and “comment”.

Godan by Premchand
Dealt in serious literature they keep pace with the realities portraying the nerve of the society that was rooted upon unequal bases. His famous stories Qaatil Ki Maan, Zewar Ka Dibba, Gilli Danda, Eidgaah, Namak Ka Daroga and Kafan explain this psychology, which still haunts the social and political system of the independent India. 

A few articles of the book describe Prem Pachisi, Prem Battisi, Wardaat and Zaad-e-Raah and the reality behind their inception. Three of Premchand’s novels have been made into films.

Being a social reformer and thinker he served his society from the bottom of his heart. To fulfill this and for the sake of a few bucks he moved to the film industry in Bombay (Mumbai) but the worsening condition of filmdom shattered his dreams. 

He had to return back disheartened. Literature being exploited in the name of glamour and monetary gains through cinema medium shivered his spines. That disrespect was intolerable to Premchand. His bitter experiences are noted comprehensively in a whole chapter of the book. Ironically same film industry attributed his novels in actuality after his death.

Literature embodies purpose, which can’t be merely a source of entertainment. According to Premchand, it is a powerful means to educate people that count the deeds of a society. He died in 1936 but since then he has been alive with us. Regarded in the Indian subcontinent and world over as one of the eminent fiction writers his contribution to literature is of paramount importance.

This book review first appeared in, Mumbai on 19 July, 2007.

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