PREMCHAND- God’s Share in Stale Rice & Other Stories
In Premchand the battle lines are clearly drawn, except that they are not battle lines. The confrontation between the two sides is not that of two equal or nearly equal adversaries; rather it is more like between the powerful and the weak. On one side are the zamindars, brahmins, thakurs, money lenders, the communalists (both Hindu and Muslim), lawyers, policemen, the urban English educated, the Raj and firangis and their toadies constituting the unjust political and socio-economic order; and even God. And on the other side, the poor and the wretched of the earth, the landless or near landless poor peasants, the low caste, the factory workers in cities, women especially widows and prostitutes, animals, the freedom fighters ready to stake their lives. – struggle against the unjust order…
Premchand’s idealism often subjverts this opposition, but it is also very clear where his sympathies lie, and that we see clear signs of this idealism drying up in some of his later works. And more than eighty years after his death and seventy years of independence we can see nearly the same lines drawn up, except that the socio-economic order and the Raj have been replaced by a new set of oppressors and rulers, and the victimized, especially women and the people from below, are taking control of their own destinies and revealing, in their writing, the devastatingly and shamefully cruel and unjust face of our society and civilization. They are now ready to fight their own battles. This highlights Premchand’s relevance today, and his greatness.
Premchand was born on 31 July 1880 in Lamhi a small village close to Benares in Uttar Pradesh. He was named Dhanpat Rai (Shrivastva). His education began with Urdu and Persian in a Madarsa. He learnt Hindi and English later. He began his career as a school teacher in 1900 and also began writing in Urdu around the same time under the adopted name Nawab Rai. He changed it to Premchand in 1910. He started writing in Hindi in 1914. Between 1900 and 1936 Premchand wrote and published,both in Hindi and Urdu, about 300 short stories and more than a dozen novels and dozens of articles, all of which show his deep awareness of the contemporary issues—social, political, economic, cultural, literary— in India’s national life, even though most of his life was spent in half a dozen districts of Uttar Pradesh, with occasional visits to different parts of the country. He made Hindi and Urdu literature faithfully mirror the renascent consciousness and the awakened aspirations of the Indian people. And he was the first writer to have brought to the centre of Hindi and Urdu literature the lowliest Indian and to have passionately pleaded that his life was as important as anyone else’s, and that the central issue before the Indian civilization was to rescue him from the abyss of poverty and inhuman degradation, not out of mercy, not out of pity, but because social justice demanded it. He died on 8 October 1936 at the age of 56.
Born in 1937 T.C. Ghai has taught English language and literature at a college under University of Delhi, retiring as Associate Professor in 2002. His publications include Pattern and Significance in the Novels of R K Narayan (1975), two works of fiction, The Stricken Moth (1984) and Alone in the Wilderness (2000), poems in the Journal of the Poetry Society (India). He has translated into English three Punjabi poets, Dr. Puran Singh Kanwar (A Season of Nights, 2006), the revolutionary poet Pash (Pash: A Poet of Impossible Dreams, 2010) and revolutionary-dalit poet Lal Singh Dil (Exclusion, Deprivation and Nothingness: Selected Poems, 2017). A few poems of Lal Singh Dil translated by him were published in the Transitions issue of MPT (Modern Poetry in Translation) in 2012 and MPT golden Jubilee anthology Centres of Cataclysm (2016). He has also published articles on English language teaching.