The making of Munshi Premchand

My life is a level plain. There are pits here and there but no cliffs, mountains, deep ravines, jungles, or ruins. Gentlemen who have the taste for mountaineering will be disappointed here

In April 1934. A Hindi writers conference was held in Delhi. Premchand was nominated Chairman of the fiction section. He was now at the height of his fame, but, made no special demands on the organizers. In the words of Jainendra Kumar, the eminent Hindi novelist, "he came and stayed like everyone else: getting a camp-bed in the dormitory along with many others."

Everyone speak of only one thing: the utter simplicity of the man. There was nothing false about him: he was as he was. If there was anything he really hated, that was affectation.

Life sketch of Premchand, the utter simplicity of the man,  learnt to smoke by the age of 12, by 13 years of age he had read hundreds of novels,


Premchand was born on July 31, 1880, in a village called Lamahi, 4 miles from Banaras. His mother died when Premchand was only 8. 

Early life of Premchand

Navab or Dhanpat, as the boy was then called, seems to have stored up the experiences subconsciously, from his father's transfers, every few months, to places like Banda and Basti, Azamgarh and Gorakhpur, Kanpur and Lucknow. His father did not take long to get angry. 

After his mother's death the only person who took his care was his older sister, but, she had married and gone away. This made for loneliness and somewhat wild, untended kind of growth. Vagrancy was the next step. The boy learnt to smoke by the age of 12, and, also many other things not good for a boy to learn at the raw age. It was a fortuitous coincident that, when Navab was with his father in Gorakhpur, he met a bookseller called Buddhi Lal.

He was then 13 years of age. He had read hundreds of novels in those two or three years. After he had finished novels, he read Urdu translations of Puranas published by Nawal Kishore press, and, also many volumes of Tilism-e-Hoshruba. 17 volumes of the giant book of mystery and wonder had appeared by then and each volume was no less than 2000 pages in the super royal size. 

Navab got married at 15. But, the couple were ill matched. Navab's father died the next year.

Navab's ambition was to get an MA and become a lawyer. In those days jobs were just as hard to get as now.

Premchand and mathematics

For Premchand mathematics was like the peak of Mount Everest: he could never reach it. It not only barred his entry to Hindu college but also prevented him from passing the intermediate exam for years and years.

He would set out for the library -- maths used to be the pretext but he would read novel most of the time.

He had appeared as a private student twice, and failed each time. He gave up in despair and could pass only when under the new rule he could offer some other subject in place of mathematics -- in 1916, a full 18 years after is matriculation!

One evening, at dusk, he went to a bookseller to sell a book -- the key to Chakravarti's mathematics, which he had bought two years ago. He had held on to it until now with great difficulty, but today in complete despair he decided to sell it.

Taking his rupee he was just about to leave the shop when a gentleman with heavy moustaches who was sitting there asked him, 'where are you studying?'

Premchand answered 'I am not studying anywhere but I hope to enroll somewhere.'

'Have you passed your matric exams? Don't you want a job.'

'I can't find a job anywhere.'

This gentleman was the headmaster of a small school and he needed an assistant teacher. He offered him a salary of 18 rupees, Premchand accepted. This was in the year 1899.

Thus began his life as a school teacher, a life which was to be his for the next 22 years.

Premchand's life as a Novelist

Around 1900 Premchand took writing seriously. He would write what he truly believed in.

He wrote a novel called 'Prema' in 1907, which deals with the life of a child widow and we are shown the idealistic hero marrying her. Premchand believed in justness of the cause and was not merely preaching it, was proved shortly after this, when after his first marriage had failed, he married a child widow, Shivrani Devi, in 1906.

During this phase, he wrote several patriotic short stories like the one called 'The most precious jewel'. The book was published under the name of Navab Rai but the authorities did not take long to discover the identity of the writer.

Later, a district collector summoned him. He ordered Premchand that he should never write anything else without the permission of the collector.

Navab Rai was not prepared to do this, so he changed his pen name to Premchand and continued to write as sharply as before.

The period from 1905 to 1921 was critical and dynamic in Bharatiya history and the world.

  • The emergence of Tilak as a national leader
  • The Swadeshi movement in Bengal 1905
  • The secret revolutionary societies with their bombs and guns
  • The Minto Morley reforms 1909
  • World war 1 1914 to 18
  • The Russian revolution 1917
  • Gandhi's return to India from South Africa in 1918.

The man had so conditioned himself that he could sit down anywhere anytime and write: he was the master of his mood and not its slave. This possibly came from a great sense of dedication to the people and the cause of their freedom -- as much from British slavery as from the slavery of indigenous exploiters.

Premchand would write in Hindi and Urdu.

Premchand went to Gorakhpur on February 8, 1921 and, as everywhere, called upon government servants to give up their jobs. Premchand decided to throw up his 21 years old government job and the pension that went with it.

He decided to move from Gorakhpur to Banaras. By 1923 Premchand was planning to live quietly in his village home and to start a printing press. But, this became difficult as he did not have working capital. He was once again forced to look for a job -- and this time he found it in Lucknow, as editor of Madhuri.

Meanwhile, he had started a magazine, Hans, from his publishing house at Banaras. So, in May 1932 he once again moved to Banaras. Hans was a big headache but now Premchand was going to publish a weekly, Jagran (The Awakening) although he had no resources to back it up.

Both the magazines had run up huge debts. It was at such a time that he got an offer from Mohan Bhavnani of Ajanta Cinetone Bombay. Premchand was wary of going to the film world but at the moment he had little choice; creditors were pressing for payment and money had to be found. Therefore, much against his will, he signed a contract with Bhavnani for one year. Premchand had had enough and decided to pack up even before the year was out.

And so he left Bombay on April 4, 1935.

He arrived in Banaras a sick man, with a liver in a state of near collapse. Yet, there was no rest for him. Godaan was weighing on his mind. Premchand had at last finished it early in 1936.

Premchand has lived his life, every minute of it, creatively, meaningfully. What more can one ask for? Premchand died on October 8, 1936. Barely a dozen people, friends and relatives from the village, attended the funeral: an end as humble as the beginning.


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