New Login   

Resonating a Moral Demand

Rakhshanda Jalil

By Prem Chand . Translated by Snehal Shingavi
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 275, Rs. 325.00


Delivering the Presidential Address at the First Progressive Writers’ Conference in Lucknow on 9 April 1936, Premchand said, “There have been many definitions of literature, but in my opinion the best definition of it is – ‘the criticism of life’. Whether in the form of an essay or a poem, literature should criticise and explain life.” Entitled Sahitya ka Uddeshya (The Aim of Literature), his speech makes a powerful and eloquent appeal for Indian literature to “mirror the truths of life” and to “develop a new sense of beauty”. Socially and politically engaged literature, he believed, must contain “high thinking, a sense of freedom, the essence of beauty, the soul of creativity and the light that emanates from the truths of life.” Completely in sync with the ideology of the Progressives who had adopted him as their patron saint, Premchand was, in many ways, a man ahead of his times. All through the 20s and the 30s, in story after story, he had taken up issues that not many had dealt with till then — untouchability, widow remarriage, women’s rights and women’s education, and most significantly, the position of women in ‘civilized’ society.   Relatively lesser known among Premchand’s novels, Sevasadan has not previously been translated in India; in Pakistan, though it has appeared in translation as The Courtesan’s Quarter (OUP, Karachi) under the series “Classics from South Asia and the Near East”. Written in Urdu in 1917 under the somewhat titillating title Bazar-e-Husn (The Marketplace of Beauty), it had to wait till 1924 to be published in Urdu till a sufficiently intrepid publisher could be found for so bold a subject. In Hindi, however, it found a ready market and instant fame despite the sober and colourless title – Sevasadan, or ‘House of Service’ referring to the institution set up for the daughters of fallen women.   Located in Banaras, Sevasadan deals with the city’s attempt to drive away its once-famous courtesans from the chowk and banish them to the city skirts. The courtesan of Premchand’s time was a woman who, though sought out by men for her sophistication and allurement, might or might not sell her sexual services and was therefore not, strictly speaking, a prostitute though she was clearly a “fallen” or “immoral” woman. Swayed by the combined influence of new education, the Arya Samaj Movement, theosophy and public lectures, the city elders wished to remove these “fallen women” from ...

Table of Contents >>
Please or to Read Entire Article

Free Access Online 12 Back Issues
with 1 year's subscription
Archive (1976-2011)
under construction.