Books

Premchand, trashed?

As a writer, Premchand can only be compared with Rabindranath Tagore if only their influence on their respective Hindi and Bengali communities, as well as their international fame, are taken into account and the comparison is not overstretched to render it ludicrous.

Just as Tagore used to be described as the sun whom nobody could escape, Premchand too remains a challenge to Hindi writers even to this day although the art of fiction writing has made tremendous progress since his death in 1936.

Some Hindi writers deal with him by drawing inspiration from his works while others choose the easy way of trashing him. The latest example of the latter trend are the comments made by Sanjay Sahai, triggering a fierce controversy in the Hindi literary world. People were aghast since these derogatory comments were made by a person who happened to be the editor of monthly magazine ‘Hans’ that proudly carried Premchand’s name as its “original founder-editor” and Rajendra Yadav’s name as its second editor.

In a recent video appearance, Sahai was asked as to why the present-day editors like him ignored new writers although many of them were writing much better than Premchand. While agreeing with the questioner, he said that it was imperative for writers to write better than Premchand as, barring 25 to 30, the rest of Premchand’s short stories were nothing but trash. He cited “Bade Ghar Ki Beti” (The Daughter of a Rich House) and “Namak Ka Daroga” (The Salt Inspector) as examples. Displaying a conceptual muddleheadedness, he called them “status quoist” as well as “realist” in the same breath.

It may be pointed out that both the short stories belong to the early phase of Premchand’s literary life and cannot be used as a pretext to trash him as many serious scholars of Premchand’s oeuvre consider them quite important.

Pro-Hindutva researcher Kamal Kishore Goyanka, who devoted his entire life to discover, chronologically arrange and edit Premchand’s works, considers “Bade Ghar Ki Beti” and “Namak Ka Daroga”, published in 1910 and 1913 respectively, as those short stories that brought wide acclaim to Premchand and helped him reach the pinnacle of fame. According to Goyanka’s research, Premchand wrote 301 short stories. So, if one were to go by Sanjay Sahai’s opinion, at least 271 of them belong to the garbage bin.

A writer develops with time and his works emerge as part of an ever-unfolding process. Sachchidanand Hiranand Vatsyayan Agyeya, one of the top Hindi writers, once strongly criticised those who “displayed nothing but their ego and prejudice” by drawing up lists of writers who were “ahead of Premchand by at least ten years”.

He opined that Premchand was the first modern fiction writer in Hindi as his works had a deep understanding of modernity, contemporaneity, and inner forces active in contemporary society. Agyeya also underlined the difference between Premchand and his predecessors by pointing out that while their works were imbued with national consciousness, it was Premchand who coalesced national consciousness with social consciousness.

He also questioned the assertion that Premchand’s successors had left him behind, saying that “had it been so, it would have been a matter of satisfaction”. In his opinion, it was the excessive infatuation with form or technique that accorded undeserved importance to a certain kind of fiction.

Those who assert that Premchand was indifferent to “form” must read the two-part article that Premchand wrote on the “art of story-telling”. In this article, he explains his understanding of the art of story-telling and what realism is all about. He says that a short story is not “real” but reads like real. In real life, we do not react with such empathy to other people’s happiness or sorrows as we do when we read a short story because it offers us the minute details of its characters’ inner world.

It goes without saying that all the works of a writer cannot be of the same quality. It is said that Ghalib suppressed two-thirds of his poetic output and published only one-third in his Diwan because he wanted to offer high-quality stuff to the cognoscenti. Even then, all the published ghazals of his are not of the same literary value.

The writer is a senior literary critic

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Printable version | Aug 13, 2020 5:41:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/premchand-trashed/article32240113.ece

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