Born on July 31, 1880, Dhanpat Rai Shrivastava, most famously known by his pen name Premchand, was a pioneer in Hindi literature in India. His literary career spanned across three decades and his first story titled, Duniya ka Sabse Anmol Ratan (The Most Precious Jewel in the World) appeared in an Urdu monthly, Zamana in 1907. Later, we went on to write other novels like Karmabhoomi, Godaan, Idgah among others.
For Premchand, writing was a passion but not without a cause. He fervently believed in the power of words and their ability to give voice to those who society rendered silent. In the article Premchand and Indian Nationalism, author Sudhir Chandra writes “He (Premchand) passionately clung to the belief that no writer in a subject country could afford the luxury of writing without a social purpose.” He further believed that writers in India will forever be eluded from scaling “the highest peaks of art” as long as they are “under the yoke of alien subjection”.
He was deeply aware of the various ways in which nationalism could prove to be agenda-driven, making it no better than the oppressive rule. In the same article Chandra wrote that in 1919, Premchand warned the leaders of the Swaraj Movement of their selfishness, and in an article had written, “There is no reason for the public to prefer your governance to the governance of foreign rulers.” This, however, was not to say that he renounced nationalism. In fact, as Chandra adds, the author’s response kept varying, moving from appreciation to scepticism.
“His responses to Indian nationalism seem to vary in accordance not with the ebbs and tides of the nationalist movement, but with the form of writing through which he was reflecting the reality of nationalism,” he added in the article. Thus, if in his short stories he presents nationalism as an ideal, in his other works like Sevasada (1919) the depiction is not bereft of criticism. However, it is mostly in his novels where he explored the sordid reality.
He was very inspired by Gandhi, and after attending a meeting in Gorakhpur where the leader had entreated citizens to resign from government jobs, the author too had left his job as a Deputy Inspector of Schools in Allahabad. He passed away in 1936 leaving a wealth of wisdom that continues to serve till this day.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines