Mansarovar – 4
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 Part 4, which contains 20 stories, Premchand writes about such themes as education (in the story Prerna), the caste system in rural India (in Sadgati, Do Kabre, Kuchad and Sava Ser Gehoon), discrimination against women in a patriarchal and caste-based society (Aaga-Picha), and the pretentious civility of the upper classes (Dhaporsankh).
Sadgati is a story about Dukhi, who worked as a servant in the house of a pandit (priest). Dukhi is from the Chamar community (now a Scheduled Caste), and so poor than he cannot afford even one meal a day. The pandit and his wife make him work relentlessly, so much so that one day, after Dukhi finishes his tasks, he collapses and dies. No one in the village is willing to handle his body because he is a Dalit. At the end of the story, the pandit uses a rope to drag Dukhi’s body outside the village, where it is eaten by crows, vultures and dogs.
Another story in this volume, titled Samasya, is about Garib, an office ‘peon’. A simple man and a hard worker, he is often mistreated by co-workers and seniors in the office. Garib has a farm which yields an abundant harvest, and all his colleagues are resentful that he does not share any of it with them. Premchand writes that rich and poor both have expectations from people with material wealth – that is human nature.
One day, Garib brings his harvest to the office to share with
colleagues. He is treated with respect thereafter. Having learned how to please
people, Garib’s behaviour changes – he becomes lazy, shirks his duties, and is
no longer sincere.
In Mrutak-Bhoj in the same volume, Premchand writes about superstition and the greed of powerful people. This is the story of Sushila, a widow who is bringing up her two children alone. She is coerced into selling her house to cater a meal for the Brahmins of the village as a ritual to mark her husband’s death. Impoverished due to the demands of the Brahmins, lawyers and panchayat members, she dies soon after.
Focus by Hetvi Dhimar.