Munshi Premchand(1880-1936), born as Dhanpat Rai Shrivastav, was one of the foremost Hindi writers of the early twentieth century. He has to his credit more than three hundred short stories, fourteen novels, many more essays, letters translations and plays and even a film script.
His short story Shatranj ke Khiladi was made into an award winning film by Satyajit Ray as were a number of his other works by noted directors, like Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
With his reformatory zeal and an ability to create empathetic overtones, Premchand was a prominent writer in Hindi who was appreciated more after his death than before. Writes David Rubin, late translator and scholar, in The World of Premchand (Oxford, 2001): “To Premchand belongs the distinction of creating the genre of the serious short story—and the serious novel as well—in both Hindi and Urdu. Virtually single-handed he lifted fiction in these languages from a quagmire of aimless romantic chronicles to a high level of realistic narrative comparable to European fiction of the time; and in both languages, he has, in addition, remained an unsurpassed master.” Interestingly, Rubin taught for a number of years in Allahabad and Rajasthan Universities in India and is also known to have translated not only Premchand but also another very well-known Hindi poet, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’.
Premchand worked as a Deputy – Inspector of Schools under the British for a living but resigned when Mahatma Gandhi gave a call for the Non- Cooperation Movement. He started Swaraswati Press, a printing house, in Benares and wrote his well- known novels Godan, Kafan, Nirmala to name a few, critiquing social ills — dowry, casteism, women’s plight and more. He himself married a widow and faced social opposition.
He tried his hand in Bollywood in 1934 with a film called Mill(Mazdoor), which was banned as it caused widespread rioting among workers. He had written the story and the script for the film. Ironically this film caused rioting not only among workers in the Bombay film industry but also in Sarswati Press!
Earlier, in 1907, his short stories collection , Soz-e-Watan, had been banned by the British for inciting rebellion against them.
The power of Premchand’s reformatory zeal and nationalistic streak expressed in his writings has been recently been under review in a meet in Amritsar, Punjab. Read about it in Tribune India.
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