I was very pleasantly surprised to see the Google doodle today, commemorating the 136th birth anniversary of one of India’s greatest writers, Munshi Premchand. By the way, it’s difficult to make sense of the text behind the Google doodle image of Munshi Premchand.
I have always had mixed feelings about Munshi Premchand but that is primarily because my reading in general has been quite limited. I have always seen him writing about the wretched Indian rural life where people are constantly dying of hunger and even if somehow they managed to survive, they are pulled back into the hole either by natural calamities or social norms. There are signs of struggle, obviously, but these signs of struggle are mostly apologetic. I know atrocity literature and atrocity cinema hadn’t become a profitable industry back then, so can’t accuse Munshi Premchand of pimping India’s poverty to the west.
Then there was this film called Do Bheegha Zameen about a poor farmer who mortgages a small piece of land that he owns and then in order to get his land back from the villainous moneylender or the landloard he works as a rickshaw puller in the wretched streets of Calcutta and goes through all sort of humiliations and misfortunes. I don’t remember whether he gets the land back or not, but the constant agony stuck with me especially after knowing that it’s one of the most famous Premchand stories. If this is one of his best, I thought, how must be other stories?
Ever since then I have read Nirmala and Karambhumi. I’ve also read a few short stories like Heera aur Moti. This isn’t much of an oeuvre that can give one a glimpse of an author’s true reach, but at least I know that he wasn’t always writing about rural misery.
But he’s just not my type. I prefer Narendra Kohli and Amritlal Nagar because they don’t present a lopsided view of India. They write about different sides of India. India has a rich past. It has a great history of kings and empires that remained undefeated for many centuries. It doesn’t just have the poor living in constant misery and it doesn’t just have the rich always sucking the blood of the poor. There are unlimited layers between these two extremes. Narendra Kohli and Amritlal Nagar are able to write about different aspects of India, not just constantly mopping about India’s poverty.