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Encountering Premchand in Translations

Pushpesh Pant

By Premchand. Translated from the Hindi by Lalit Srivastava
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 358, Rs. 395.00

By Madan Gopal
Roli Books, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 230, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 12 December 2006

Premchand has an iconic status in Indian literature that is almost unmatched. Only the Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore is held in comparable esteem. Premchand, it may be argued with some justification, has always been more accessible to the general reader than Guru Dev, first, because fiction and narrative prose has more takers then mystical poetry and secondly because Premchand was a writer who believed in actively participating in the struggles waged by his fellow beings. His commitment to the socialist ideology and abiding involvement with the freedom struggle have also contributed to his enduring popularity. Just one more thing may be added. The language Premchand wrote in was Hindustani —not shuddh Sanskritized Hindi or the refined Urdu used in the court circles. Many credit him with forging an idiom that reflected with great fidelity the synthesizing sprit of the Indian people—residing in the Hindi heartland.   His novels and stories deal with the lives of ordinary villagers or those belonging to the segment of populations that is best described as the wretched of the earth—the so-called untouchables and the abjectly poor-exploited women and the like. Style and substance blend beautifully in the works of Premchand and it is not surprising that seven decades after his death he still draws the attention of translators and critics.   Premchand has been translated in all the major languages in the world and some minor ones too. At one time translating him into Russian was a flourishing cottage industry and the reputation (well deserved) of German translator Dr. Lothar Luthze is largely based on his exertions with Premchand. There has been no dearth of English translations either. Madan Gopal was a pioneer and many worthies have followed him. One of Premchand’s novels has been translated by his gifted grandson Alok Rai, a professor of English and some of his stories are now available in translation done by his award-wining translator granddaughter Sara Rai. Besides translations in print numerous Indians and foreigners have encountered the great writer in cinematic ‘translations’. Satyajit Ray has rendered into celluloid Kaphan  (Sadgati) and Shatranj ke Khilari, Godan and Do Bailon ki Kahani (Heera Moti) have also spawned memorable films. Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren have been exposed to Premchand as prescribed text.   However, the classic Godan has cast such a long shadow that other perhaps equally interesting, novels written by Premchand have suffered some neglect. It is ...

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