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Munshi Premchand

Munshi Premchand
  • Munshi Premchand was born on 31 July 1880 in Lamhi, a village located near Varanasi (Benares) and was named Dhanpat Rai .
  • His ancestors came from a large Kayastha family, which owned eight to nine bighas of land. His grandfather, Guru Sahai Rai was a patwari (village land record-keeper), and his father Ajaib Rai was a post office clerk.
  • His mother was Anandi Devi of Karauni village, who probably was also his inspiration for the character Anandi in his  Bade Ghar Ki Beti.
  • Dhanpat Rai was the fourth child of Ajaib Lal and Anandi; the first two were girls who died as infants, and the third one was a girl named Suggi.
  • His uncle, Mahabir, a rich landowner, nicknamed him “Nawab” (“Prince”). Dhanpat Rai began his education at a madrasa in Lalpur, located near Lamahi. He learnt Urdu and Persian from a maulvi in the madrasa.
  • When he was 8, his mother died after a long illness. His grandmother, who took the responsibility of raising him, died soon after. Premchand felt isolated, as his elder sister had already been married, and his father was always busy with work.
  • His father, who was now posted at Gorakhpur, remarried, but Premchand received little affection from his stepmother.
  • As a child, Dhanpat Rai sought solace in fiction, and developed a fascination for books. He composed his first literary work at Gorakhpur, which was never published and is now lost.
  • After his father was posted to Jamniya in the mid-1890s, Dhanpat Rai enrolled at the Queen’s College at Benares as a day scholar.
  • In 1895, he was married at the age of 15, while still studying in the ninth grade. His father died in 1897 after a long illness. He managed to pass the matriculation exam with second division. However, only the students with first division were given fee concession at the Queen’s College.
  • He then sought admission at the Central Hindu College, but was unsuccessful because of his poor arithmetic skills.Thus, he had to discontinue his studies.
  • He then obtained an assignment to coach an advocate’s son in Benares at a monthly salary of five rupees. He used to reside in a mud-cell over the advocate’s stables, and used to send 60% of his salary back home.
  • In 1900, Premchand secured a job as an assistant teacher at the Government District School, Bahraich, at a monthly salary of  20. Three months later, he was transferred to the District School in Pratapgarh, where he stayed in an administrator’s bungalow and tutored his son.
  • Dhanpat Rai first wrote under the pseudonym “Nawab Rai”. His first short novel was Asrar e Ma’abid (“Secrets of God’s Abode”, Devasthan Rahasya in Hindi), which explores corruption among the temple priests and their sexual exploitation of poor women.
  • From Pratapgarh, Dhanpat Rai was relocated to Allahabad for training, and subsequently posted at Kanpur in 1905. He stayed in Kanpur for around four years, from May 1905 to June 1909. There he met Munshi Daya Narain Nigam, the editor of the Urdu magazine Zamana, in which he later published several articles and stories.
  • In 1906, Premchand married a child widow, Shivarani Devi, who was the daughter of a landlord from a village near Fatehpur.
  • In 1905, inspired by the nationalist activism, Premchand published an article on the Indian National Congress leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale in  Zamana.
  • He criticised Gokhale’s methods for achieving political freedom, and instead recommended adoption of more extremist measures adopted by Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
  • Premchand’s first published story was Duniya Ka Sabse Anmol Ratan (“The Most Precious Jewel in the World”), which appeared in Zamana in 1907.Premchand’s second short novel Hamkhurma-o-Hamsavab (Prema in Hindi).
  • Premchand In 1909, Premchand was transferred to Mahoba, and later posted to Hamirpur as the Sub-deputy Inspector of Schools.
  • In August 1916, Premchand was transferred to Gorakhpur on a promotion. He became the Assistant Master at the Normal High School, Gorakhpur.
  • By 1919, Premchand had published four novels, of about a hundred pages each. In 1919, Premchand’s first major novel Seva Sadan was published in Hindi.
  • The novel was originally written in Urdu under the title Bazaar-e-Husn but was published in Hindi first by a Calcutta-based publisher, who offered Premchand  450 for his work.
  • In 1919, Premchand obtained a BA degree from Allahabad.By 1921, he had been promoted to Deputy Inspectors of Schools.
  • On 8 February 1921, he attended a meeting in Gorakhpur, where Mahatma Gandhi asked people to resign from government jobs as part of the non-cooperation movement.
  • After quitting his job, Premchand left Gorakhpur for Benares on 18 March 1921, and decided to focus on his literary career . Till his death in 1936, he faced severe financial difficulties and chronic ill health.
  • In 1923, he established a printing press and publishing house in Benares, christened “Saraswati Press”.
  • In 1928, Premchand’s novel Gaban(“Embezzlement”), focusing on the middle class’ greed, was published.  Premchand then took over and edited another magazine called Jagaran, which too ran at a loss.
    • Premchand arrived in Bombay on 31 May 1934 to try his luck in the Hindi film industry. He had accepted a script writing job for the production house Ajanta Cinetone, hoping that the yearly salary of  8000 would help him overcome his financial troubles.
    • He stayed in Dadar, and wrote the script for the film Mazdoor (“The Labourer”). The film, directed by Mohan Bhawnani, depicted the poor conditions on the labour class. Some influential businessmen managed to get a stay on its release in Bombay. The film was released in Lahore and Delhi, but was banned again after it inspired the mill workers to stand up against the owners.
  • By 1934–35, Premchand’s Saraswati Press was under a heavy debt of  4000, and Premchand was forced to discontinue the publication of Jagaran
  • After leaving Bombay, Premchand wanted to settle in Allahabad, where his sons Sripat Rai and Amrit kumar Rai were studying. He also planned to publish Hans from there. However, owing to his financial situation and ill-health, he had to hand over Hans to the Indian Literary Counsel and move to Benares.
  • Premchand was elected as the first President of the Progressive Writers’ Association in Lucknow, in 1936.He died on 8 October 1936, after several days of sickness and while still in office.
  • Godaan upanyas( The Gift of a Cow, 1936), Premchand’s last completed work, is generally accepted as his best novel, and is considered as one of the finest Hindi novels.