Mansarovar – 2
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. Initially, he wrote in Urdu under the pen name Nawab Rai. However, the British government found his work ‘seditious’ and burnt several hundred copies of his short story collection Soz-e-Watan. So he switched over to the name Premchand in 1909.
Premchand’s 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. Volume II of the series has 26 stories. Chamatkar, Riyasat ka diwan, Damul ka kaidi and Neur speak of issues like poverty, unemployment, the caste system, patriarchy, dowry and corruption in pre-independent India.
Other stories like Kusum, Vaishya and Shudra have strong female characters who challenge the patriarchy in their own lives. For instance, Kusum (a young woman in the story with the same name) decides to leave her husband after she realises that his coldness towards her is only a ploy to make her blame herself and eventually pressurise her family to cover the costs of his education in London.
Chamatkar is the story of Chandraprakash, who tutors Thakur Sahab’s son and steals from him too. However, Thakur Sahab’s unconditional love and respect for Chandraparakash nudges the tutor to change, and he returns everything he had stolen. In this story, Premchand looks at the transformation of a human being – from immoral to ethical.
In Do bailon ki katha, Premchand personifies two oxen – Hira and Moti. They’re sent off to plough the fields of their master’s brother-in-law, but they return to their caring master Jhuri. Through the telling of the story, Premchand emphasises the deep and lasting friendship that the oxen share.
Doodh ka daam depicts the tragic reality of India’s caste system. Bhungi is a Dalit who breastfeeds the village zamindar’s son instead of her own, Mangal. After a few years, when Bhungi and her husband die, Mangal is orphaned and he lives on leftover food from the zamindar’s home.
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