An Ode To The Master Of Hindi Literature – Munshi Premchand

Ask an average teenager to name five of their favorite Indian authors, and you’ll possibly draw a blank. No kids, Durjoy Dutta with his modern day version of Mills & Boons doesn’t qualify. (A certain Mr. Bhagat? Well………). “Arundhati Roy” you say. “Amitav Ghosh.  Anuja Chauhan. For heaven’s sakes, woman, SALMAN RUSHDIE!”

Agreed. There’s no dearth of producers of good literature in India. There never has been. But much before any of these, while Kolkata was Calcutta and Chennai was Madras and Lahore was still in India, there was one man along with his stories – Munshi Premchand.

Born as Dhanpat Rai Shrivastav in a village near Varanasi, he later gained fame under his pseudonym Premchand. The honorary title “Munshi”, meaning a person having vast knowledge or someone who is very learned, was later added to his name. Often referred to as the “Samrat” or Emperor of Hindi Literature, Premchand produced more than a dozen novels and two fifty short stories in Hindi and Urdu during his lifetime.

He is said to be the originator of the realist style of writing among the Hindi authors. He would often use the irony in the storyline to showcase the evils of the society. Most of his works presented a glaring example of the caste system or the deep rooted social inequality, and the complacence of the rulers. One of his most famous works “Shatranj ke Khilaadi” was also adapted into a film by Satyajit Ray. It features two rulers who are blissfully unaware of the situation in their constituencies and keep playing chess throughout the Battle of Awadh.

In this Article, we bring to you the brief summary of four of his most popular short stories along with some beautiful excerpts:

Kafan (the Shroud)

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A father ( Ghisu) and his son (madhav), both slackers of the highest order, sit outside a threadbare hut. While inside the wife of the latter lies writhing in pain due to childbirth. After her death they go around the village asking for money so as to be able to perform her funeral and arrange for a shroud. They collect five rupees, and after much deliberation, go and spend all of it on buying liquor, meat, fish fry and bread (puris). This whole time reasoning without a shred of guilt, that the shroud would have burnt anyway. That nothing could benefit a departed soul more than blessings of two people whom she had fed. The story ends with them blessing her, for she had done something good for them even in her death.

“Kaisa bura rivaaz hai, ki jise jeete jee tan dhakne ko chithri bhi na mili, use marne par kafan chahiye!”.

What an absurd custom, she, who never had even a rag to cover herself while she was alive, needs a shroud on her death.

Read the full story here.

Idgah

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It’s the day of Eid. 5 year old Hamid whose parents have passed away, lives with his grandmother Amina. She works day and night to make ends meet. Hamid cannot wait for the village fete on the occasion, Idgah, where he plans to go with his friends. Some of his friends buy sweets while the other buy fancy toys. While Hamid who has only three paise, regards these as momentary and wasteful expenditures.

After some time, he spots a “Chimta” (tongs), on the shelf of one of the stalls. And after bargaining, manages to buy it and returns happily home. On seeing what her grandson has bought, she admonishes him. Asking him why he couldn’t have just bought a toy like all the other children. To which he replied that he would watch her burn her fingers everyday while she made rotis for him, as she didn’t have tongs. Amina breaks down in tears, hugging little Hamid.

“Bacche Hamid ne boodhe Hamid ka part khela tha. Budhiya Amina baalika Amina ban rone lagi. Daman failaati aur Hamid ko duaayein deti.”

The child, Hamid had acted like an old man, while Amina wept like a little girl. Holding her grandson close to her chest and blessing him.

Read the full story here.

Bade ghar ki beti

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Beni Madhav Singh, once a rich landowner, now lives under a simple thatched roof along with his two sons – Shrikanth and Lal Bihari. While Shrikanth is level headed and a simple person who lives in Allahabad to earn for the family, Lal Bihari is arrogant and quick with his temper. Shrikanth gets married to Anandi, who comes from a family much higher in the social strata hence, the title. One fine day, when Lal Bihari gets meat and asks Anandi to cook it, an argument ensues between the two due to the shortage of “ghee”. After a few harsh words, Lal Bihari picks his slipper up and throws it at his sister in law. As a result of which Shrikanth decides to leave the paternal house. The story ends with Anandi uniting the two brothers, thus proving herself to be a “Bade ghar ki Beti”.

“Striyon ke aansu purush ki krodhaagni mein tel ka kaam karte hain”.

The tears of women often act as fuel in the fire-like anger of men.

Read the full story here.

Budhi Kaaki

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The protagonist of the story, an old woman not having any descendants, bequeaths her property to her nephew Budhiraam and his wife Rupa. This is in exchange for their promise to feed and clothe her throughout her lifetime. Old and senile, her behavior now resembles that of a young child’s, and she often starts crying when her demands for food aren’t fulfilled. It is a day of celebration in the house, and kaaki (old lady) has dreamt only of eating the warm, golden puris being phished straight out of the hot oil. So much so that she goes and sits near the kitchen in anticipation. On seeing this, Rupa, already burdened with far too much work, insults her and takes her back to the room.

The same happens once again, when kaaki, hoping that the guests must have had their fill, quietly crawls to the aangan (sitting hall). But alas, is dragged by her hands to her room and locked by her nephew. Laadli, Budhirram’s daughter who is the only one attached to kaaki in the house, quietly hides a few puris and goes and feeds kaaki late at night. This, however, only makes kaaki hungrier. She asks laadli to take her where the guests have eaten, and quietly eats from their discarded plates. Rupa wakes up to these scene and is ashamed of herself, and prays to God for forgiveness. She having committed the sin of forcing a Brahmin lady to eat the remains of others.

“jaise thodi si varsha thandak ki jagah aur garmi paida kardeti hai, waise hi wah thodi si puriyaan kharak kaaki ki bhook aur badh gayi thi”.

The way a little bit of rain only ends up increasing the temperature and making the situation worse, the few puris had only increased kaaki’s hunger.

Read the full story here.

His stories are the reason he is and will always be remembered as one of the greatest writers ever born.

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