Sunday, 26 February 2017

Munshi Premchand: Victim of Apathy

I tried to search for some news or articles on Rafi and Dhanpat Rai Munshi Premchand in Urdu, English, Hindi and other vernacular newspapers. But to no avail. Former died on July 31, in 1980 and the latter was born on this day.Though there were a few perfunctory articles on the great singer, Premchand was just absent. " Not knowing Premchand is not knowing Hindi," Italian father Kamil Bulke once said while compiling the anthology of Hindi writers and poets. Why Premchand's seldom been granted very little space in the Indian English media is really baffling. Pakistan's English dailies The Nation and The Friday Times carried big pieces on this great novelist. " 

Premchand's outdated. He's an anachronism," opined a professor of English at a college in Madras a couple of years back. Though he apologised afterwards, his opinion on Premchand made one thing clear that this was the general tenor. Premchand's indeed a marginalised writer on the syllabi of Indian universities and collective psyche of readers in India.  Indian students read over-hyped Chetan Bhagat, Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri, et al whose 'works' lack everlasting relevance. Even Jadavpur University, first to conceptualise a course in comparative literature, doesn't give any weightage to Premchand's works. His poorly translated novels into English cannot capture the myriad moods of his characters in Urdu and Hindi. Readers, who're unaware of his novels and stories in English, read the humdrum translations and never get to the core of his craftsmanship. Premchand wrote in Urdu and after that in Hindi. 

His language of consciousness was Urdu, not Hindi. He always considered his Hindi to be laboured and inferior to his Urdu, the way Ghalib found his Urdu to be subordinate to Persian. Most of Premchand's English translations are from Hindi and a very few are from Urdu. This is the main reason of Premchand appearing commonplace and not extraordinary to the English readers. His stories 'Poos ki raat', 'Boodhi Kaki' and 'Sadgati' are bracketed with the very best in the world of literature and on many counts, even better than those of Anton Chekhov, Maupassant and O'Henry. So are his novels like 'Premashram', 'Kayakalp', 'Ghaban', 'Godan' and 'Nirmala'.

 But ask any student or even 'serious' readers about these novels and stories, pat comes the answer, Premchand? Who?? Let alone his works. Sahitya Academy must publish standard translations of his oeuvre for the anglicised new generation, which knows no Hindi and for which Urdu's a language from an alien planet. It's high time, Indian print and visual media gave some coverage to the great writers and made people aware of these stalwarts' existence on the firmament of literature.      
  
                                                        ----Sumit Paul

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