Munshi Premchand: My Memories and Learning
| Pravir Rai - Writer, Rochester, NY, USA - 23 Nov 2019

A personal memoir of Pravir Rai about famous Hindi writer Munshi Premchand.  Pravir Rai is an experienced IT professional with a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY, USA and the grandson of Munshi Premchand’s younger brother Shri Mahtab Rai.- Editor

By Pravir Rai

I do not remember exactly when I first heard of Munshi Premchand. It must have been during routine family conversations about my grandfather, grandmother and olden times. My father had a good collection of Hindi literature and one of the perks of his job was that we would get all kinds of newspapers and magazines at home every day. I got into the habit of reading very early (at the age of 7) in my life.

The first story which I read was ‘Idgah’ in Class 6. A small boy Hamid saves his pocket money to buy a chimta for his grandmother because her fingers got burnt while making chapattis. This was a short story written inHindi vernacular. I remember when I read the climax of the story, I was moved to tears. I can feel even now, the effect it had on my tender mind and soul. It taught me a lot of compassion in life.

My grandmother Late Shyama Devi, who had spent long time with Premchand Baba, would tell me fascinating stories about him. That he loved eating arbi and his laughter was so loud that people would throng to see him laugh. He loved to write while lying on the bed. She also told me, he lived an ordinary life. He was simple to the core and a true ‘Gandhian’.

The next story which I read was ‘Kafan’ and subsequently I consumed a lot of stories written by him in a matter of months. I think by the age of 12, I had also realized that he was my oldest grandfather and took great pride. I would boast to my friends and teachers about this newfound affiliation of being related to him.

The novel of his, which I first read was ‘Karmbhoomi’ followed by ‘Nirmala’. I was floored by the characterization and treatment of the subject against the backdrop of Gandhi’s Satyagraha movement and dowry respectively in both his works. His ability to use contemporary social evils like dowry, widow-remarriage, untouchability etc., to formulate stories, set him apart from his contemporaries like Jaishankar Prasad and Sharatchandra Chattopadhyaya.

As I grew up, I also read the works of Prasad, DevkinanadanKhatri, Sharatchandra, Jainendra Jain, MahadeviVerma, Mohan Rakesh, Shivani, Ageyaya, MaithilisharanGupt and a host of other distinguished litterateurs.  Since I was studying in the ICSE board, I devoured Shakespeare and Wordsworth too.  Keats, Lord Byron, and RK Narayan were absolute favourites. The more I read the works of these literary giants, more was the realisation about Premchand’s greatness. His ability to write in Urdu and Hindi (vernacular mostly), illustrate the misery of farmers; denounce all the social evils set him apart from most of these writers.

Getting back to his work, I read ‘Godan’ and ‘Gaban’ when I was around 23-24 years of age. It was a marvelous experience. The plight and misery of farmers were so accurately described by him that I could empathise with the protagonist ‘Hori’ and ‘Dhaniya’ to the core.It also gave me a view of feudal lords that existed then and their oppression of farmers. The title of ‘UpanyasSamrat’ was conferred on him by Critics after the publication of these 2 novels. Then I laid my hands on ‘Sevasadan’, ‘Mansarovar’ and a lot of his earlier works like ‘Soz-e-Watan

The title of the biographical book ‘Kalam kaSipahi’ written by his son AmritRai aptly summarises the literary pursuit of Baba. He was a true soldier who lived his life in penury but did not relent in his pursuit to write and educate us that life is meant for love, compassion and helping underprivileged people.

Image courtesy - 4to40.com 

About the Author: 

Pravir Rai is an experienced IT professional with a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY, USA. He is the grandson of Munshi Premchand’s younger brother Shri  Mahtab Rai. He has a passion for music, reading, writing, and cooking. This article is an original penned down version of the writer’s recollection and verbal stories told to him by his father, grandmother and all about Premchand.

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