Sunday, April 25, 2010

Premchand: A true son of the soil

Last week I had gone to my native village and landed at Varanasi's Lal Bahadur Shastri airport which is in Babatpur. As the car went past the dusty road and small villages I was reminded of Premchand. I had read in a Hindi textbook in school that Premchand was born in Lamhi, a village near Varanasi. With every little village that my car passed by the thought that 'Premchand must have been born in one such village' went past me.

Premchand, born as Dhanpat Rai, is credited with turning kings, princess and religion based stories towards farmers and ordinary people. Like his personality, Premchand's stories too were simple and straightforward. While he pursued a day job to keep his house running, he continued to write with passion and pour his heart out.

Premchand's life was full of struggle and he faced financial difficulties throughout his lifetime. While continuing to teach he started contributing to Urdu magazine
Zamana and the weekly Awaz-e-Khalq. He also wrote on national and international issues and his fame as a writer grew.

However, it was his collection of short stories 'Soze Watan' in 1908 that caught the attention of the British authorities. The five stories in the collection were on patriotism and did not find favour with the government. The Britishers discovered that Nawab Rai (his pseudonym) was none other than Dhanpat Rai who was employed by them as a school inspector.

The British administration decided to destroy all the copies of Soze Watan as it was labelled seditious. More than 500 copies of the stories were destroyed. He had to also face an inquiry but somehow managed to come out of it. However, he was instructed to show his writings to the district collector before he got them published. Dhanpat Rai then decided to write under the pseudonym 'Premchand' to escape censorship.

Premchand used to regularly contribute to the magazine 'Kahkashan' that was published by Imtiaz Ali Taj. Taj was the son of renowned reformer Maulvi Mumtaz Ali and was based in Lahore. Premchand had written a novel titled Bazar-e-Husn in Urdu. He asked for Rs 250 from Taj for the story. While Taj was still to make a decision, he had got Rs 100 for the Gujarati edition of the novel and Rs 500 for Hindi.

The novel became popular in Hindi (in which it went on to be first published as Sewa Sadan) and made Premchand very famous. He took to writing in Hindi and never looked back. Some of his stories were on caste-based discrimination and the sufferings of farmers and common man. This ruffled many feathers and a section of wealthy landowners and upper caste people started a campaign to defame Premchand and bring him down. However, Premchand who had his ground to the ear had struck a chord with the comman man and his fame and popularity grew each day.

Premchand's greatest virtue was his simplicity and humbleness. Once he submitted a story to Imtiaz Ali Taj for publication in 'Kahkashan'. Incidentally, Taj himself was planning to write a story on the same theme. However, he dropped the idea when he saw Premchand's story. Later when Premchand came to know about the incident he wrote to Taj and asked him to complete his story and get it published. He also expressed his pleasure that they both had the same theme in mind as they were on the same wavelength.

My Hindi teacher once told me that many times people would ask about Premchand from the author himself. The reason was that people did not expect a writer of Premchand's calibre to be so simple and down to earth. It was perhaps this reason that Premchand could not be associated with Bollywood for long. He became a script writer for Hindi films but eventually came back to his village. He also chaired the first meet of the Progressive Writers' Conference in Lucknow in 1936.

When Premchand was posted in Gorakhpur, Firaq Gorakhpuri who hailed from the same district was a constant visitor to his house. While Premchand was in service he continued to study and managed to complete his BA. Premchand's last novel 'Godaan' is one of most popular and finest Hindi novels. His other stories Kafan and Shatranj ke Khiladi are considered as classics.

As my journey continued and I caught glimpses of poor farmers toiling in the scorching heat, I realised that it was Premchand's simplicity and his interest in the common man that made me think about him. A true son of the soil.


  1. wonderful work mr Danish. u have presented one of the best figures of literary and cultural history of India.

  2. Danish Khan Saheb....Khushbash,

    Well crafted and interesting article, but some how, it gives a picture that Premchand was a Hindi writer, although the references of his short stories and novel's title it self is in urdu, that you have quoted,and not even once it is stated that he wrote in urdu,please clarify ?


  3. Thank you for your comments Mr Thakur and Mr Jawaid.

    Mr Jawaid: Premchand wrote in both Urdu as well as Hindi. He is considered as the father of Urdu short stories by many, but grew in popularity as a Hindi writer.

    I have written in my post that Premchand used to regularly contribute to Zamana, an Urdu magazine and the Urdu weekly Awaz-e-Khalq. Soze Watan was a collection of Urdu short stories written by Premchand.

  4. this site giving the excellent knowledge about the Premchand who is a historical person, about this person this site give us the all history.
    thanks and Regard:

  5. Dear Danish, I have come into contact with your web site quitely late - in September 2010 - your work very hard on your stories and present them like a researcher. Many new aspects have been unearthed by you. Keep it up. Also, please send me your biodata so that I can include in the directory "urdu poets and writers of world' on

    Muslim Saleem

  6. Dear Saleem Sahab,

    Thank you very much for your comment. However, you can't include me in your directory as I am neither an Urdu poet nor writer. Your website is very informative.

  7. Nice and well defined.I have difference on opinion in few facts but overall it was a good read.
    I also write urdu stories at
    Please check and review.