Munshi Premchand (31 July 1880 – 8 October 1936) was an Indian writer famous for his modern Hindustani literature. He was a novelist, short story writer, and dramatist who penned over a dozen novels, hundreds of short stories, and numerous essays.
Munshi Premchand was born on 31 July 1880, in Varanasi, India. In his early years, he studied Urdu and Persian at a madrasa in Lalpur. Later, he studied English at a missionary school.
He stopped studying after his father died, in 1897.
Despite struggling for a couple of years as a tuition teacher, he got a job at the Government District School in Bahraich in 1900 as an assistant teacher. He started writing fiction around this time too.
Asrar e Ma’abid, a short novel about temple priests corrupting poor women and exploitation, was his first short novel. ‘Awaz-e-Khalk’, an Urdu weekly based in Benares, published the novel in a series from October 1903 to February 1905.
In 1905, he moved to Kanpur and met Daya Narain Nigam, editor of the magazine Zamana. Later on, he wrote several articles and stories for the magazine.
As a patriot, he wrote many Urdu stories encouraging Indians to fight for independence from British rule. In 1907, he published his first short story collection, Soz-e-Watan. British officials noticed the collection and banned it.
He became a prominent Urdu writer by the mid-1910s, then he started writing Hindi.
In 1916, Premchand became the Assistant Master at Gorakhpur Normal High School. In 1919, he published his first major Hindi novel, ‘Seva Sadan’. He got a lot of recognition from critics.
As part of the non-cooperation movement, he attended a meeting where Mahatma Gandhi urged people to quit their government jobs. He had been promoted to Deputy Inspector of Schools by this time. In support of the movement, he quit his job.
After quitting his job, he moved to Varanasi to focus on his writing. In 1923, he started Saraswati Press, which published the novels Nirmala (1925) and Pragya (1927). These two novels are about dowry and widows’ remarriage.
In 1930, he started a literary-political magazine called Hans. The magazine aimed to inspire Indians in their independence struggle and was known for its political provocations. After failing to turn a profit, he was forced to look for a new job.
He started teaching at Marwari College, Kanpur, in 1931. Unfortunately, he had to leave this job after a disagreement with the college’s administration. Then he went back to Varanasi and became the editor of the Maryada magazine, and then briefly became the headmaster at the Kashi Vidyapeeth.
In 1934, he went to Mumbai desperate for money and took a script writing job at Ajanta Cinetone. He wrote a script for the film Mazdoor (“The Labourer”).
Mumbai’s commercial atmosphere didn’t suit him, and he wanted to leave. Mumbai Talkies founder tried hard to convince him to stay, but he had made up his mind.
Among his last works were the short story ‘Kafan’ (1936) and the novel ‘Godaan‘ (1936), which were published by him in Varanasi.
Munshi Premchand wrote about one and a half dozen novels like Sewa Sadan, Premashram, Rangbhoomi, Nirmala, Gaban, Karmabhoomi, Godaan, etc, and more than three hundred stories like Kafan, Poos ki Raat, Panch Parmeshwar, Bade Ghar Ki Beti, Old Kaki, Story of two bullocks, etc.
‘Godaan’ is one of the greatest Hindustani novels of the modern era. This novel explores several themes like caste segregation in India, exploitation of the lower classes, and exploitation of women. There was a Hindi film made in 1963 based on the book, and it was also translated into English.
He died on 8 October 1936, in Varanasi, India.
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