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Premchand: Soldier of the Pen


Rakhshanda Jalil

THE OXFORD INDIA PREMCHAND
By Oxford Publishers
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004, Rs. 750.00


By Munshi Premchand . Translated by Amina Azfar
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2014, pp. 260, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 5-6 May/June 2004

There’s something about Premchand. He gets under your skin and stays there. Once read, he is difficult to dislodge from one’s subconscious. Most of us in the Indian subcontinent have ‘encountered’ Premchand’s writings in some form or the other – as school textbook reading, on film, as television series. The orphan Hameed in ‘Idgah’ and ‘Do Bailon ki Katha’ (The Story of Two Bullocks) stay on in memory when all else has fled from Hindi classes at school. Satyajit Ray’s adaptation of ‘Shatranj ke Khiladi’ is vintage Premchand, as is ‘Kafan’ (The Shroud), ‘Thakur ka Kuan’ (The Thakur’s Well) and ‘Poos ki Raat’ (A Winter’s Night) seen in countless television adaptations.      Premchand died in 1936. Yet over six decades after his death his stories still speak to us. Some might appear a trifle didactic to the modern reader, even sentimental, but they make a moral demand of us that cannot be ignored. They appeal to all that is good and decent in us that is moved by injustice and inequality. Despite all the talk of Shining India, global markets, world citizens, progress and development, what lies beneath the surface of cosmopolitan India remains much the same as it did in Premchand’s time. The vast hinterland of India remains peopled by the Gangis, Jhingurs, Halkus, Dukhis and Bhungis that Premchand painted in such life-like colours. Moreover, greed, vanity, envy, ambition and all the colours of the human heart that Premchand understood so well and conveyed so effortlessly remain unchanged.      It is this that makes The Oxford India Premchand a useful and ‘relevant’ book. Part of the Oxford India Collection that has so far included omnibus editions of Ghalib, Ramanujan and Jim Corbett, this brings together previous collections of short stories and novels published by OUP.  However, in their eagerness to reproduce all they have ever brought out on Premchand within the covers of one book, the publishers have erred on the side of indiscretion. The Contents page seems garbled at first sight. It is difficult to tell who has written or translated what, for Introductions from previously published books have been clubbed together, followed by the short stories and then the two novels. To make matters worse, OUP has decided to cut corners on cost of production by reprinting four different books in toto simply binding them together. That explains the different typefaces and page numbers ...


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