Mansarovar – 1
Munshi Premchand was the pen name of Hindi and Urdu writer Dhanpat Rai Shrivastava (1880-1936), who was born in Lamhi, a village near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. His written work includes 14 novels, 250 to 300 short stories, several translations of English classics, and innumerable essays and editorial pieces.
Many of his short stories were collected posthumously in an eight-volume series titled Mansarovar. This first volume has 27 stories, which highlight – through simple but layered narratives of everyday life – issues such as caste, class, the zamindari system, feudalism, communalism, poverty and the status of women in a patriarchal society. In particular, Algyojha, Maa, Beto vaali vidhva, Shanti, Jyoti and Dhikkar speak of how widows are treated by their families and society.
Idgah is a story about a poor orphan called Hamid, who is around five years old. On the occasion of Eid, his grandmother Amina gives him some money. Unlike his friends who buy sweets and toys, Hamid ends up buying a chimta (a pair of tongs) for his grandmother – an act of sacrifice that is heart-warming.
Bade bhaisahab is a story about two brothers. It is told by a young boy whose bade bhaisahab (big brother) is five years older than him but only three classes ahead of him at school. The older brother fails his exams often but is authoritative; the younger brother plays most of the time yet performs well at school. The conflict between the siblings is resolved when the younger brother understands his bade bhaisahab’s concern for him.
Stories like Poos ki raat and Manovratti delve into the human psyche. Poos ki raat is about a Halku, a poor farmer who spends a winter night in the fields. He doesn’t have thick blankets and so refuses to leave the side of a campfire even when his crop is being eaten by wild nilgai (large Indian antelopes). Manovratti explores the minds of onlookers as they pass by a young woman sleeping on the bench in a park early one morning.
Premchand’s stories don’t offer solutions, their impact is subtle and powerful – they make the reader sit back and reflect.Focus by Kanika Gupta.
01 Jan, 1961