Mansarovar – 3
Munshi Premchand was the pen name of Hindi and Urdu writer Dhanpat Rai Shrivastava (1880-1936), born to Ajaiblal and Anandi Devi in Lamhi, a village near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. Premchand’s written work includes 14 novels, 250 to 300 short stories, several translations of English classics, and innumerable essays and editorial pieces. He also published and edited two literary journals: Hans (The Swan) and Jagran (Awakening).
Many of Premchand’s short stories were collected posthumously in an eight-volume series titled Mansarovar. In volume III (which has 32 stories), Premchand critiques the caste system and highlights the hypocrisy of Brahmins through stories like Manushya ka param dharma, Guru-mantra and Babaji ka bhog. Others like Pariksha, Shatranj ke khiladi, Vichitra Holi and Satyagraha are set in the times of Nadir Shah (in the 18th century), Wajid Ali Shah (in the 19th century), the British, and the independence movement (in the early 20th century), respectively.
Shatranj ke khiladi depicts the debauchery of Lucknow’s aristocracy during the reign of Wajid Ali Shah, the last independent nawab of Awadh. Premchand says that they indulge in dance, music, poetry, opium, clothes and chess, forgetting all else. His protagonists – the aristocrats Mirza Sajjad Ali and Mir Raushan Ali – are so immersed in a game of chess that they neglect their familial responsibilities and even flee Awadh when it is captured by the British East India Company – just so they can continue their game. Eventually, Wajid Ali Shah is captured, but Mirza and Mir end up fighting each other to their deaths over their kings in chess – and not their actual king.
Ek aanch ki kasar highlights the duplicity of Yashodanand, a politician who publicly denounces the dowry system at his son’s wedding. In reality, however, he has accepted a dowry from the bride’s family. He gives a speech at the wedding against dowry and has his younger son speak about its ills too. Unluckily for him, the younger son reads out a letter from the bride’s family that asks Yashodanand if he can reduce the dowry amount from Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 20,000.
Mata ka hridya is a story about a widow called Madhavi and her change of heart. Madhavi’s son Aatmanand is a nationalist who is imprisoned under false accusations by the British government for eight years. She is heartbroken and decides to take revenge against Mr. Bagchi, the superintendent of police. Madhavi, who looked after Mr. Bagchi’s son when he was an infant, starts working in their home once again. Slowly, she begins to care for their son as if he were her own. One day, the child falls sick and dies suddenly. Madhavi is overcome with grief and cannot bring herself to take revenge.
Focus by Kanika Gupta.