Pseudonym for Dhanpat Ray Śrīvāstava. Nationality: Indian (Hindī languages). Born: Lahmī, near Beanres, 31 July 1880. Education: Teachers' Training College, Allahabad, 1902-04; Allahabad University, B.A. 1919. Family: Married second wife Śivrānī Dev in 1906; one daughter and two sons. Career: School-teacher, Chunār, 1899, and Pratāpgarh, 1900-02; writer and contributor to Urdu journals, including Zamānā, from 1903; teacher, Kanpur, 1904-09; assistant deputy school inspector, Hamīrpur district, 1909-14; used pen name, from 1910; headmaster, Marwari High School, Kanpur, 1921-22; held series of jobs in publishing, from 1922; founder, Sarasvatī Press, 1923; editor, Mādhurī, Lucknow, 1927-31; founder, Hans (Royal Swan) magazine, 1930-35; editor, Jāgaraṅ, 1932-34; screenplay writer, Ajanta Cinetone, Bombay, 1934-35. Member: Hindustānī Academy, 1928 (founder); First All-India Progressive Writers' Association, 1936 (presi-dent). Died: 8 October 1936.
Mānsarovar (collected stories). 8 vols., 1936-50.
Kafan aur śeṡ kahāniyã [Kafan and Other Stories]. 1937.
Grāmya jīvan kī kahāniyã [Stories of Village Life]. 1938.
Nāri jīvan kī kahāniyã [Stories of Women's Life]. 1938.
Lailā aur dūsrī kahāniyã [Laila and Other Stories]. 1945.
Nimantraṅ aur dūsrī kahāniyã [The Invitation and Other Stories]. 1945.
Maṅglācaraṅ [The Invocation] (collected novels), edited by Amṙt Rāy. 1962.
Premcand kī pacās kahāniyã [Fifty Stories by Premcand]. 1963.
An Anthology, edited by Nagendra. 1981.
Soz-e-vatan [Passion for the Homeland] (as Nawāb Rāi). 1908.
Prem-pacīsī [Premcand's Twenty-Five Stories]. 1914.
Sapta-saroj [Seven Lotuses]. 1917.
Nav-nidhi [New Treasure]. 1917.
Prem-pūrnimā [Premcand's Full Moon]. 1918.
Prem-pacīsī II. 1919.
Prem-battīsī [Thirty-Two Stories by Premcand]. 2 vols., 1920.
Prem-prasūn [Premcand's Flowers]. 1924.
Prem-dvadśō [Twenty Stories by Premcand]. 1926.
Prem-pramod [Premcand's Delight]. 1926.
Prem-pratimā [Premcand's Image/Image of Love]. 1926.
Prem-caturthī [Four Stories by Premcand]. 1928.
Pãc phūl [Five Flowers]. 1929.
Prem-pratigyā [Premcand's Vow/Love's Vow]. 1929.
Agni-samāhi [Purification by Fire]. 1929.
Prem kuñj [The Pool of Love/Premcand's Pool]. 1930.
Prem pañcmī [Five Stories by Premcand]. 1930.
Sapta-suman [Seven Flowers]. 1930.
Prerṅā tathā anya kahāniyã [Inspiration and Other Stories]. 1932.
Samar-yātrā aur kahāniyã [War-Journey and Other Stories]. 1932.
Sohāg kā śav aur anya kahāniyã [Death on the Marriage Day and Other Stories]. 1932.
Vidrohī tathā anya kahāniyã [The Rebel and Other Stories]. 1932.
Premcand kī sarvaśrestha kahāniyã [Premcand's Best Stories]. 1934.
Pãc prasūn [Five Flowers]. 1934.
Nav-jīvan [New Life]. 1935.
Prem pīyūṡ [The Nectar of Love]. 1935.
Grām-sāhitya-mālā [Series on Village Literature]. n.d.
Short Stories. 1946.
A Handful of Wheat and Other Stories. 1955.
Soha The Secret of Culture, and Other Stories. 1960.
Guptadhan [Hidden Treasure] (unpublished stories in Hindī and Urdū), edited by Amṙt Rāy. 2 vols., 1962.
The Chessplayers and Other Stories. 1967.
The World of Premchand. 1969; revised edition as Deliverance and Other Stories, 1988.
The Shroud, and Twenty Other Stories. 1972.
Twenty-Four Stories. 1980.
Hamkhurmā o hamsawab. 1906.
Premā [The Vow]. 1907.
Jalvā-e-Īsar [Benediction]. 1912.
Premāśram [The Abode of Love]. 1921.
Raṅgabhumi [The Stage]. 1925.
Kāyākalpa [Metamorphosis]. 1926.
Nirmālā. 1927; translated as Nirmalā. Pratigyā [The Vow]. 1929.
Gaban [Embezzlement]. 1931.
Karmabhūmi [The Arena]. 1932.
Godān. 1936; translated as Godan, 1957; as The Giving of the Cow, 1968; as The Gift of a Cow, 1968.
Maṅgal-sūtra va anya racna [The Auspicious Bond and Other Works]. 1948.
Saṅgrām [Battle]. 1923.
Karbalā . 1924.
Prem kī vedi [Altar of Love]. 1933.
Mahātmā Shaikhsādī (biography). 1917.
Rām carcā [About Rām]. 1928.
Bākamālõ ke darśan. 1929; as Kalam, talvār aur tyāg [The Pen, the Sword, and Sacrifice], 1940.
Durgā Dās, 2nd edition. 1938.
Ciṫṫhī-patrī [Letters], edited by Madan Gopāl and Amṙt Rāy. 3 vols., 1962.
Vividh prasaṅg [Miscellaneous Articles], edited by Amṙt Rāy. 3 vols., 1962.
Sāhitya kā uddeśya [The Aim of Literature] (essays). 1967.
Kuch vicār [Some Thoughts] (essays). 1967.
Premcand kā aprāpya sāhitya [Premcand's Unavailable Literature], edited by Kamal Kiśor Goyinkā. 2 vols., 1988.
Translator, Sukhdās [Silas Marner], by George Eliot. 1920.
Translator, Ahaṅkār, by Anatole France. 1923.
Translator, Azād kathā, by Sarśār. 2 vols., 1925-26.
Translator, Cãdī ki ḋibiyā [The Silver-Box], by John Galsworthy. 1930.
Translator, Nyāy [Justice], by John Galsworthy. 1930.
Translator, Haṙtāl [Strike], by John Galsworthy. 1930.
A Premchand Reader by N. H. Zide and others, 1965; Premchand by P. Gupta, 1968; Munshi Premchand of Lamhi Village by Robert O. Swan, 1969; "Premchand's Urdu-Hindi Short Stories" by Mohammed Azam, in Indian Literature 21, 1975, and "Premchand's Mood and His Urdu Short Stories," in Indian Literature 18, 1978; Prem Chand by Govind Narain, 1978; Munshi Premchand by G. Sharma, 1978; His Life and Work by V. S. Naravane, 1980; A Western Appraisal by Siegfried A. Schulz, 1981; Between Two Worlds by Geetanjali Pandey, 1989.* * *
Premcand, pseudonym of Dhanpat Ray Śrīvāstava, wrote novels and short fiction in both Urdu and Hindi. Though the author of more than a dozen novels, Premcand is best known for his major and lasting contributions to both Urdu and Hindi literature in the form of more than 300 short stories. Most of these were published in his prestigious, if financially unsuccessful, literary journal, Hans (Royal Swan), and later collected into ten volumes. In these stories he managed to bring this genre from fantastic and romantic tales and fables to well-constructed, realistic stories about human beings living out their lives engaged in the search and struggle for survival and love.
An overriding concern of the short stories is to reform the social ills of India such as caste, superstition, and poverty, as well as to terminate Britain's political domination. Because this strain of didacticism—sometimes deep, sometimes superficial—permeates his work, his literary career is essentially the evolution of Premcand the propagandist to Premcand the artist, a development that is lucidly played out in his literary corpus.
Premcand's short fiction divides roughly into three phases. The years 1907-20 are a learning period. Here stories are long on didacticism, especially related to the topic of patriotism, but short on art. Generally lacking in subtlety, they tend to be set in romantic, foreign environments, and characters are stereotypical rather than individuated persons. For example, his first volume, Soz-e-vatan (Passion for the Homeland), was so unabashedly anti-British that the colonial authorities proscribed the book and ordered the unsold copies burned. In this collection's first story, "The Most Precious Object in the World," set in a country that is probably Persia, a beautiful princess refuses to love a handsome courtier until he brings her the most precious object in the world. He goes out on a long journey and returns with what Premcand feels is the most precious thing in the world: the last drop of blood shed by an Indian warrior fighting for his country.
"The Power of a Curse" (1911) combines social criticism with the supernatural. Ramsevak, a village lawyer, drives an old Brahman woman, Munga, to madness by duping her out of her life savings. In her madness she regularly visits his house, repeatedly cursing him ("I'll drink your blood"). She dies insane and destitute at his doorstep, and her ghost seems to haunt him and his wife, who dies of fright from seeing the bloodthirsty Munga in a dream. Ostracized by the villagers for having caused a Brahman's death and unable to make a living, Ramsevak goes on pilgrimage. Several months later a holy man looking very much like Ramsevak returns to the village, burns down Ramsevak's house, then disappears.
Ramsevak's unconvincing change of heart is an example of the unabashed idealism that permeates both stories and novels of this period. Such unexplained changes of heart, prevalent in the stories of the early and middle periods, are thought to be Premcand's chief artistic flaw. Such reversals do not emerge from the character's thinking but rather from the author's ideology.
The stories of the middle period (1920-32) mark a growth in Premcand's art. While still didactic in nature, they no longer take place in circumscribed, romantic settings but rather in the stark area of the Indian village, the milieu Premcand knew best. With a marked increase in satire—especially through the use of irony—and a decrease in editorializing, he continues to treat themes of nationalism, social reform, and respect for what is good in India's traditions. Plots are influenced by Tolstoi and Maupassant and by the political philosophy of nonviolence as espoused by M. K. Gandhi. He portrays village life and characters with realism, insight, and compassion. "The Road to Salvation" (1924), for example, depicts with both empathy and biting humor the senseless feud between the rich farmer Jhingur and the boastful shepherd Buddhu, which ends only when both are reduced to poverty. In "A Little Trick" (1922) Premcand pokes fun at both Indians who do not join the Gandhian movement to oust the British from India and gullible Gandhians who feel that the very popular boycott of British cloth would alone get rid of the British.
"A Desparate Case" (1924), with its Maupassant coup de canon ending, is one of many stories that depict the psychological and physical abuse of Indian women by autocratic husbands who threaten to abandon them if they do not produce male heirs. Hoping to bear a male child after the birth of her four daughters, Nirupma seeks assistance from a holy man, rituals, and prayer. Assured that her fifth child will be a boy, her husband's otherwise hostile family elaborately prepares for his birth. When she learns the child is a girl, Nirupma dies, either from the effects of childbirth or out of fear of her husband and in-laws.
The late period (1932-36) was a time of financial stress and failing health for Premcand. Works from this mature phase are didactic by implication rather than outright statement. Terse, understated, and focused, these stories feature a wide variety of well-delineated characters from village, town, and city, whose motivation and actions spring from their individual personalities rather than from a preconceived mind-set of the author.
"My Big Brother" (1934) is a humorous, even touching, portrayal of the warm, caring relationship of a not-very-bright older brother who, by bullying his younger brother into playing little and studying hard, takes credit for the younger's academic success. Without patronizing his older sibling, the younger allows him his illusions and shows him the respect due him by virtue of birth order.
"The Shroud" (1936), Premcand's last story, is a powerful portrayal of the soul-numbing effects of poverty and religion on the lower classes. This story reflects Premcand's fascination with Marxism late in life as a possible means of solving India's myriad ills.
Although Premcand's short stories are sometimes uneven in quality, they are, at their best, well-wrought, powerful commentaries on the sufferings and follies of human beings. For this reason Premcand is considered the major short story writer of both Urdu and Hindi during the first half of the twentieth century.
See the essay on "The Shroud."