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M Asaduddin

[Premchand: Complete Stories, Vols. 1-4, edited by M Asaduddin, Penguin Random House,2018]

‘Premchand stands supreme as the iconic fiction writer of Urdu and Hindi, and to
read and re-read him over and over again is to understand better ourselves and our
society’1- Harish Trivedi

Premchand is generally regarded as the greatest writer in Urdu and Hindi both in terms of his
popularity and the range and depth of his corpus. His enduring appeal cuts across class, caste and
social groups. He was not only a creative writer in Urdu and Hindi, but fashioned modern prose in
both and influenced several generations of writers. The fact that his works were published in more
than two dozen Hindi and Urdu journals2 simultaneously attest to his extraordinary reach to a wide
audience that formed his readership. Many of his readers encountered modern Urdu and Hindi
novels and short stories, and indeed any literary forms, for the first time through his writings.
Premchand’s unique contribution to the formation of a readership—and, in turn, to shaping the
taste of that readership—is yet to be assessed fully. Few or none of his contemporaries in Urdu-
Hindi have remained as relevant today as he is in the contexts of the Woman Question (Stree
Vimarsh), Dalit Discourse (Dalit Vimarsh), Gandhian Nationalism, Hindu-Muslim relations and
the current debates about the idea of India that is inclusive of all groups and denominations,
irrespective of caste and creed. Francesca Orsini who has worked on the Hindi public sphere says
pertinently: ‘His strong social conscience and radical politics, which brought him closer and closer
to socialism were rooted in an utterly secular and inclusive view of the Indian nation, which makes
him a particularly valuable and rare role model these days.’ (Orsini 2003: xxvi)

However, despite his pioneering and iconic status, studies on Premchand have remained awfully
inadequate because his entire corpus was/is not available in either Hindi or Urdu, not to speak of
English. Researchers had to remain content with only one of the corpuses (i.e. either Urdu or Hindi)
which is accessible to them. This is also true of his short stories. Till today, the entire corpus of
his short stories is not available in any of the versions. Fortunately, it is now being made available
in English, by combining and assimilating both the archives. Not only that, some new materials
not accessible so far either in Hindi or Urdu are being made available for the first time in English.
These twin advantages—in addition to the fact that the entire corpus is now being made available
in English in a reliable chronological order3—should make the reading of Premchand more fruitful,

Harish Trivedi, “Premchand’s Art, the Purpose of Literature, and the Urdu-Hindi Middle Ground”, the Sixth Munshi
Premchand Memorial Lecture delivered under the aegis of the Premchand Archive and Literary Centre, Jamia Millia
Islamia, August 26, 2015. Published by Jamia’s Premchand Archive and Literary Centre, 2016. P. 7
Among the Urdu journals are: Zamana, Hamdard, Tahzeeb-e Niswaan, Kahkashan, Azad, Khateeb, Adeeb, Subh-e
Ummeed, Baharistan, Shabab-e Urdu, Nuqqad, Al-Nazeer etc.
Hindi journals: Madhuri, Navnidhi, Saraswati, Bharatendu, Vishal Bharat, Mansarovar, Chand, Jagaran, Hans,
Prema, Prabha, Swadesh, Srisharda, Luxmi, Maryada, Aaj, Veena, Matwala, Usha, Gyanshakti Patrika, Sahitya
Samalochak etc.
In establishing chronology, I have benefitted from the works of four Premchand scholars – Madan Gopal, Jafar Raza,
Kamal Kishore Goyanka and Azimushshan Siddiqui. In addition, the Zamana archive in Zakir Husain Library, Jamia
Millia Islamia, was of great help. Unlike Tagore who dated each one of his manuscripts meticulously, Premchand was
not very particular about either dating or preserving his manuscripts. In the absence of original manuscripts, it is very
difficult to establish the date of first composition and the version -- Hindi or Urdu, unless there is reliable corroborative
evidence available, as it is with a story like ‘Kafan’. What, however, can be established from different sources, is the
first date of publication which do not accurately indicate the date of composition. Thus, the chronology that has been
exciting and enjoyable and give a new fillip to Premchand Studies. There is a need to revisit
Premchand in the light of the new materials that have come to light mainly, though not exclusively,
through the efforts of Kamal Kishore Goyanka, and some more new materials being presented in
this anthology.

Born Dhanapat Rai (1880–1936) in Lamhi, a few miles from Banaras, Premchand’s childhood was
spent in the countryside. Called ‘Nawab’ at home, his early schooling was in Urdu and Persian,
much in the Kayastha tradition of the time. He also attended the mission school where he studied
English along with other subjects. His father was a postal clerk who moved from place to place.
When Premchand was only seven his mother died and his father remarried. His relationship with
his stepmother was never cordial. He was married at an early age against his wish to a girl who
was totally incompatible and he refused to live with her. His second marriage, to a young widow
with literary interests, Shivrani, proved to be a happy one. When he was seventeen his father
suddenly died and the responsibility of running the family fell on him. He was forced to
discontinue his studies and take up the job of a school teacher. However, after his graduation in
1904 he became a sub-deputy inspector of schools, a job which required substantial travel which
did not agree with his frail health.

Premchand began writing in 1905 and contributed articles on literary and other subjects in
the Urdu journal Zamana. His first short stories were published in this journal. In fact, Premchand
began his career as a short story writer with the publication of Soz-e Watan (Lament for the
Motherland, 1908), written under his pet name, Nawab Rai. The collection drew the attention of
the colonial government because of its alleged radical intent. He was summoned, when he was on
an inspection tour, to explain his position. This is how Premchand describes the situation in his
own words:

… Those days I wrote under the name of Nawab Rai. I already had some information that the intelligence
wing of the police was making inquiries to track down the author of the book. I could realise that they have
found me out and I had been summoned to defend myself.
The Saheb asked, ‘Have you written this book?’ I admitted that I had.
The Saheb then asked me to explain the subject matter of each story, and finally burst out in anger,
‘Your stories are full of sedition. Thank God that you are a servant of the British empire. Had this happened
during the Mughal rule both your hands would have been chopped off’4.

He was asked to burn all the copies of the book, and henceforth, get prior permission from the
administration before sending any writing for publication. Petrified, he abided by the demands of
the magistrate and submitted all available copies of the book to his office to be destroyed.
Premchand realised that writing under the name Nawab Rai was no longer safe and sustainable,
and to circumvent the iron hand of colonial censorship he had to assume a new pseudonym, which
was Premchand. Thus, both Dhanpat Rai and Nawab Rai were finally buried and Premchand was
born, a name by which generations of readers would know him.

worked out for this anthology indicates the date of publication and the version, Hindi or Urdu, in which the story was
first published.
‘Munshi Premchand ki kahani unki zubani’ in Zamana (Premchand Number), 1938. Reprinted by National Council
for Promotion of Urdu Language, July 2002. P.54
Premchand as a Short Story Writer: Beginnings
Premchand pioneered modern short-story writing in Urdu and Hindi. The Urdu short story, or
‘afsana’ (sometimes called ‘mukhtasar afsana’ to distinguish it from longer fictional works), can
be seen as a continuity of the fictional tradition that existed in Urdu for several centuries—that is,
literature consisting of qissa, hikayah, dastaan, and so on, which drew upon the Perso-Arab
narrative tradition on the one hand and the Indian tradition of storytelling as one finds in works
like The Panchatantra, Hitopodesha and the Jataka tales, on the other. The short story proper in
Urdu, however, emerged only in the opening decade of the twentieth century. By that time, novels
and short stories were familiar conventions, having already been established in Bengali at the
hands of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Rabindranath Tagore and Sarat Chandra Chatterjee. These
Bengali writers are being invoked here because Premchand had read all of them in translation and
drew influence from them. In fact, he began his writing career by translating Tagore. Of course,
his staple readings were medieval style romances in Urdu and Persian popular at the time,
particularly the writings of Ratan Nath Sarshar and Abul Halim Sharar.

The atmosphere of dastaan and historical romances hangs heavy on Premchand’s early stories. But
he soon grew out of that phase and made his work more socially relevant by giving it the hard,
gritty texture of realism. His art of storytelling became a vehicle for his socially engaged agenda
of social reform and ameliorating the condition of the deprived and oppressed sections of society.
However, that does not mean that he was mainly concerned with the content and the external
circumstances of his characters and not with their inner worlds. Like all great writers, he took
interest in unraveling the mental processes of his characters and the psychological motivations of
their actions. As he says,
My stories are usually based on some observations or personal experience. I try to
introduce some dramatic elements in them. I do not write stories merely to describe
an event. I try to express some philosophical/emotional reality through them. As
long as I do not find any such basis I cannot put my pen to paper. When this is
settled, I conceive characters. Sometimes, studying history brings some plots to
mind. An event does not form a story, as long as it does not express a psychological
view of reality.5

In over 300 stories that he has written one finds different modes and points of view that he adopted
by employing an array of narrative devices. An overwhelming number of his stories are written in
the third person or omniscient narrative mode and a far lesser number in the first person. He makes
extensive use of dialogue where he uses different registers of Urdu and Hindi, in addition to
dialects, colloquialisms, idioms and speech patterns specific to a caste, class or community. He
also uses the technique of interior monologue and multiple points of view in quite a few stories.
The main point is -- even though Premchand was mainly concerned with the content of his stories,
to the extent of sometimes making them formulaic and predictable, he certainly does engage
himself with the stylistic aspects too. And in this respect, he received influences from both Indian,
specifically Bengali, and foreign writers.

“Premchand ki Afsana Nigari”, Zamana: Premchand Issue, Feb 1938; rpt. National Council for Promotion of Urdu,
New Delhi, 2002, p. 173

The subject matters of his stories have been taken from India’s history and mythology, Indo-
Muslim cultural history, contemporary society and his wide readings of literature from across the
world, particularly English, Russian and French literatures, from which he translated into Urdu
and Hindi. The early decades of the twentieth century in India were exciting times, marked by the
stirrings of many changes in society, particularly in its transition from a predominantly feudal and
patriarchal society to a more democratic and modern one. From the third decade, the movement
for independence of the country gained momentum. Premchand had a journalist’s curiosity of the
quotidian and the contemporary. He was extraordinarily alive to what was happening around him
and made the events and issues the subject matter of his stories. 6 There was hardly any issue
relevant to the India of that time that he has not touched in his fiction. From a reading of his short
stories it is quite possible to recreate the society of his time with all its quirks, contradictions,
superstitions as well as the reformist and intellectual climate that was sweeping through the
country, particularly its northern part.

Premchand began his career as a short story writer with the publication of Soz-e Watan (Lament
for the Motherland, 1908), written under his pet name, Nawab Rai. It is a collection of five stories
wherein he wrote on patriotism in a mode that can be called revivalist or revisionist, much in the
vein of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, whom he imitated in matters of style as well7. The patriotism
and hatred against invaders displayed in them made the colonial government ban the book and
Premchand barely escaped with a sharp reprimand from the magistrate. This was Premchand’s first
encounter with colonial censorship but not the last one. He had to battle with censorship that tried
to cripple him both as a writer and an editor of magazines later in life, without much help from
anyone else. What is pertinent to note here is that a strain of patriotism ran through stories such as,
‘The Rarest Pearl in the World’ (Duniya ka sab se Anmol Ratan), ‘Shaikh Makhmoor’, ‘Rani
Sarandha’, and ‘Raja Hardaul’ were written either in the dastaanesque mode or in the mode of
historical romances, sometimes combining both. He continued to write in this vein for some time,
before he moved gradually to the realist mode, the preferred mode followed by writers in many
other Indian languages.

‘Bade Ghar ki Beti’ is the first story to depict the family drama of an average, middle class Indian
family written in the realistic mode. He wrote a large number of stories throughout his career in
this mode and on this theme. ‘A Well-bred Daughter’ (Bade Ghar ki Beti) and ‘Family Break-up’
(Algojhya) are two classic stories about the Indian joint family that is held together by the ideal of
sacrifice, where individual aspirations are subordinated to what is good for the family. A joint
family in a village provides an ideal for Premchand whereby the peasants can avoid dividing their
According to Shashi Bhushan Upadhhay, ‘ … He was also one of those who almost always took up social and
political issues as central theme in his novels, stories and plays. He was extremely sensitive to the political and social
movements of his times and considered literature to be a potent medium for carrying, critiquing and analyzing
prevalent ideas.’ “Representing the Underdogs: Dalits in the Literature of Premchand”, Studies in History, 18, 1 (Sage
Publications), 2002
‘In a letter, he told Nigam that sometimes he followed the style of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, and at others, that of
Shams-ul-Ulema Azad Dehlavi. These days, Premchand added, “I have been reading the stories of Count Tolstoy, and
I must admit that I have been deeply influenced by them.”’ Madan Gopal, Munshi Premchand : A Literary Biography,
Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1964, p. 98
landholding to smaller units. The breaking up of a family is an immensely painful affair in
Premchand’s stories which brings social disgrace and opprobrium to those involved. However,
between the two stories mentioned above, Premchand has written a large number of stories about
the daily life of smaller families in both villages and small towns where he deals with different
aspects of family life – conjugal tiffs and strife, domestic cruelty, struggle for survival amidst
limited means and penury, polygamy, rivalry between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law for
domination in the house, the phenomenon of co-wives and the plight of step children, conflict
between legitimate aspirations and meanness of opportunities, the cycle of debt that ruined
families, and so on.

Premchand felt a deep affinity with the common man and his natural sympathy was towards
the oppressed and deprived sections of society. No writer before him in Urdu or Hindi, and possibly
other Indian literatures, had depicted the lives of the underdogs, the untouchables and the
marginalised with such depth and empathy. Throughout his life ‘Premchand did not let go of his
unsentimental awareness of the grim realities of rural life, of life at the bottom of the economic
scale’ (Amrit Rai: 1982, ix). The oppressors and oppression came in many forms – they may be
priests or zamindars, lawyers or policemen or even doctors all of whom held the society in their
strangle-hold. Rituals pertaining to Hindu marriages and death were so exploitative and oppressive
that these events were often robbed of their dignity and joy and spelt the ruin of families.
Premchand began his career by exposing the corruption of the Hindu priestly class in his novel
Asraar -e Muavid (Mysteries of the House of Worship, 1903-05), and then he continued the tirade
in many of his stories. In the story ‘Babaji’s Feast’ (Babaji ka Bhog) he depicts the greed of the
Brahmin baba who has no compunction in robbing a poor family of its meagre means, and in
‘Funeral Feast’(Mritak Bhoj) he showed how the predatory and parasitical Brahmins drive another
Brahmin woman to destitution and her daughter to suicide. In a series of stories where the central
character is Moteram, a Brahmin priest, Premchand exposes with rare courage the rapacity, the
hollowness and hypocrisy of the Hindu priestly class, which earned him the ire and venom of a
section of high caste Hindus, even culminating in a law suit for defamation. But he remained
undaunted and went on exposing many oppressive customs that were prevalent in society.

But his most trenchant critique was reserved for caste injustice whereby people at the
lowest rung of the Hindu caste system, the ‘shudras’, were considered untouchables and were
compelled to live a life of indignity and humiliation. The upper caste Hindus treated them as worse
than animals and this injustice was institutionalised through social sanction of the caste system.
Stories such as ‘The Well of the Thakur’ (Thakur ka Kuan), ‘Salvation’ (Sadgati), ‘Shroud’
(Kafan), ‘Temple’ (Mandir), ‘The Woman Who Sold Grass’ (Ghaaswali), and ‘One and a Quarter
Ser of Wheat’ (Sawa Ser Gehun) constitute a devastating indictment of the way the upper caste
Hindus have treated the Dalits for generations. The stories demonstrate that the Dalits were
subjected to daily humiliation by members of the upper castes and this humiliation stemmed from
the fact that Dalit inferiority had become embedded in the psyche of the members of the Hindu
upper castes who have developed a vast repertoire of idioms, symbols and gestures of the verbal
and physical denigration of the Dalits over centuries. Grave injustice and inhuman treatment of the
Dalits has become normalised, causing no revulsion against it in society. Despite criticism from
some Dalit ideologues levelling some rather irresponsible charges against Premchand for depicting
Dalits in a certain way, the above stories—some of which have been rendered into films—have
contributed significantly in raising awareness about the injustice perpetrated against the most
vulnerable section of society. In this respect, as Vasudha Dalmia suggests, Premchand was much
ahead of his times: ‘In his fiction, written over the three decades in the early century, Premchand
presented what academic scholarship was to face squarely only towards the close of that century.’8

A considerable number of his stories deals with the plight of women. Premchand was
deeply sensitive to the suffering of women in a patriarchal society where women had no agency
and had to live their lives according to the whims and fancies of men on whom they had to
depend—husbands, fathers, brothers or even close or distant male relatives. Women were expected
to be docile, submissive and self-effacing, sacrificing their lives for the wellbeing of the family.
Girls were treated as a curse to the family and parents of girls were subjected to all kinds of
humiliations and indignities while arranging their marriage. Parents were sometimes compelled to
marry off their nubile and very young daughters to old men just to unburden themselves of the
responsibility and shame of being saddled with an unmarried daughter. The practices of kanya
vikray (sale of a daughter in marriage), even kanya-vadh (killing of a girl child) too were prevalent.
In his essays and editorials, Premchand made a strong plea for the abolition of the evil practices
that made the life of women unbearable. He supported divorce in extreme circumstances,
supported the wife’s claim to half of the husband’s property in case of divorce and inherit the
property in case of husband’s death9. He also wrote in favour of the Sarda Bill which aimed at
raising the minimum age for marriage of girls. In a large number of stories, such as ‘Tuliya’ (Devi),
‘Sati’, ‘Goddess from Heaven’ (Swarg ki Devi) ‘Return’ (Shanti), ‘Godavari’s Suicide’ (Saut)
‘Thread of Love’ (Prem Sutra), ‘Two Friends’ (Do Sakhiyaan), ‘The Lunatic’ (Unmaad) and so
on, he sheds light on the plight of women in an oppressive, patriarchal system. Through the
immortal characters of old women like the Chachi in ‘Holy Judges’, Old Aunt in the eponymous
story and Bhungi in ‘A Positive Change’ (Vidhwans), he shows how difficult life was for old
women in a society that was known to respect its elderly members. The fate of widows, who were
considered inauspicious and were expected to renounce all joys of life, was even worse, as shown
in ‘Compulsion’ (Nairashya Leela), ‘The Condemned’ (Dhikkar) and ‘A Widow with Sons’
(Betonwali Vidhva).

However, there is a certain ambivalence in his depiction of women and their status as equal
partners in marriage10. Some of the stories were radical for his time, yet he had the inability to
imagine a fully independent and empowered woman with her own agency and subjectivity, as
Tagore did, for example, in ‘Wife’s Letter’ or Chitra11. In the entire Premchand oeuvre of short
stories there are two single women—Miss Padma of the eponymous story and Miss Khurshed of

Gordon C Roadermel, The Gift of A Cow: A Translation of the Classic Novel Godaan, Bloomington: Indianna
University Press, 2002. P. vi
Amrit Rai (ed), Vividh Prasang, Allahabad, 1978, Vol III, pp. 249-50
Geetanjali Pandey deals with Premchand’s complex response to women’s status in his fiction and non-fiction in her
article, “How Equal? Women in Premhand’s Writings”, Economic and Political Weekly, Delhi, Vol. 21. No. 50
(Dec.13, 1986), pp. 2183-2187. For additional insights, see Charu Gupta, “Portrayal of Women in Premchand’s
Stories: A Critique”, Social Scientist, Vol. 19. No. 5/6 (May- June, 1991, pp. 88-113
“I am Chitra. No goddess to be worshipped/ Nor yet the object of common pity/ to be brushed aside like a moth
with indifference/ If you deign to keep me by your side/ in the path of danger and daring/ If you allow me to
share the great duties/ of your life/ Then you will know my true self.” Sisir Kumar Das (ed), English Writings
of Rabindranath Tagore (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2004), cited in, Malashri Lal, Tagore and the
Feminine: A Journey in Translations (New Delhi: Sage, 2015), p. 181
‘Disgrace’ (Laanchan). While Miss Padma, despite her education and economic independence,
seems inadequate as a woman, deprived of a family life and appears bereft and regretful after a
failed live-in relationship, Miss Khurshed is depicted as enjoying to the hilt her single status as a
woman, and even sharing a deeply emotional relationship with another woman, Dr Leela.
However, there is such a large number of women characters in Premchand and portrayed from
different points of view that any kind of generalisation will be undesirable. Moreover, the labels
‘pro-feminist’ or ‘anti-feminist’ are not very helpful in understanding Premchand’s stories, as these
labels inevitably carry elements of reductionism inherent in them. To some, the very fact that he
could imagine women outside the marriage bond and finding fulfilment in a career were radical
enough, if not too radical, for his time. Similarly, despite his sympathy with the widows and his
support for widow remarriage, there is a certain uneasiness in depicting a widow who has an equal
claim to bodily pleasures and comforts. Widows in Premchand stories seem to find fulfilment only
in the ideals of service, devotion and self-effacement. Indeed, in the entire corpus of his short
fiction there are no more than two widow marriages12 and both of them end disastrously.

As stated earlier, Premchand began his career as a short story writer by writing stories of
patriotism in a somewhat revivalist mode. Later in life when he came under Gandhi’s influence
and showed deep involvement in India’s struggle for independence to the extent of giving up his
government job, he wrote a string of nationalist stories that deal with the adoption of indigenous
or swadeshi products, the boycott or even burning of foreign goods, picketing outside alcohol
shops, giving up government jobs and embracing a life of social service, among other things. Some
of them, like ‘A Strange Holi’ (Ajeeb Holi) and ‘Resignation’ (Istefa), show the discomfiture of
British colonial officials at the hands of Indians and the sudden conversion of Indian loyalists or
servants of the British raj into patriotic Indians, jealously protecting their honour and devoted to
the cause of independence. Some of these stories, as also some others, have been criticised for a
kind of contrived and easy plot resolution through the ‘change of heart’ device. Apart from the
above two, there are stories like ‘The Wine Shop’ (Sharab ki Dukaan)’, ‘Maiku and the Congress
Volunteer’ (Maiku), ‘An Audacious Act’ (Dussahas), ‘Role Reversal’ (Patni se Pati), ‘The Night
of the New Moon’ (Amavas ki Raat), ‘A Daughter’s Possessions’ (Beti ka Dhan), ‘The Call of
Dawn’ (Baang-e Sahar), ‘The Bankruptcy of the Bank’ (Bank ka Diwala), and ‘The Salt Inspector’
(Namak ka Darogha) where this device has been used to drive a point home, or as an easy way out
of various tricky situations. This is true of some of his peasant stories as well where the writer
finds it ‘safer’ to use the ‘change of heart’ of the oppressive zamindar as the convenient device for
plot resolution rather than showing the oppressed peasants forming solidarity amongst themselves
and ranging against the zamindars for collective, radical action13. He also uses suicide as a device
for plot resolution for women faced with social opprobrium, something which might seem
melodramatic and an easy way out to arrive at a denouement, but on closer analysis, seems to be
historically true. In Indian society, such kind of honour suicide is quite rampant even now as
newspapers and television news will testify.

Premchand’s love for the countryside is evident in his fictional and non-fictional writings.
He has written several extremely evocative stories such as ‘Panchayat’, ‘Do Bail’, ‘Idgah’, ‘Atma

‘Dhikkar’ and ‘Naagpooja’. In ‘Family Break-up’ ‘Mistress of the House’ and ‘Subhagi’ there is just the hint of a
widow marriage at the end of the story.
Shailendra Kumar Singh explores this in his essay, “Premchand’s Prose of Counter-Insurgency in Colonial North
India”, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 2016
Ram’, depicting the pristine village life of simplicity, honesty and quiet contentment. In fact, his
fictional corpus, if read uncritically, would lend itself to an easy binary between country life and
city life, one good and the other almost irredeemably evil. Yet, we have to recognise that he does
not depict country life as an idyll shorn of all evils. There are stories such as ‘A Positive Change’
(Vidhwans)’, ‘A Home for an Orphan’ (Grihdaah) and ‘The Road to Salvation’ (Mukti Marg) that
de-romanticise and demystify village life and depict the author’s awareness of the imperfections
and blind spots in the supposed idyll14. Thus, the apparent binary that seems to work in case of
some novels and stories cannot be stretched beyond a point.

Premchand’s deep interest in the simple life of peasants extended to his love for animals,
particularly draught animals, treated most cruelly in India. Very few writers have depicted such an
intimate bond between animals and human beings. Premchand depicts animals as endowed with
emotions just as human beings are, responding to love and affection just as human beings do, and
are fully deserving of human compassion. Often, the duplicity, cruelty and betrayal in the human
world is contrasted with the unconditional love and loyalty displayed by animals towards their
masters and those who care for them. It is a heart-wrenching moment, as shown in ‘Money for
Deliverance’ (Muktidhan) and ‘Sacrifice’ (Qurbani) when a peasant has to part with his animals
because of want and destitution. The deep compassion with which animal life has been depicted
in ‘Holy Judges’ (Panchayat) ‘Reincarnation’ (Purva Sanskar) ‘The Story of Two Bullocks’ (Do
Bailon ki Katha) and ‘The Roaming Monkey’ (Salilani Bandar) are treasures of world literature.
Stories such as ‘Turf War’ (Adhikar Chinta) and ‘Defending One’s Liberty’ (Swatt Raksha),
written in a humorous and symbolic vein, show how a dog fiercely protects his turf and how a
horse defeats all the machinations of human beings to make him work on a Sunday which is his
day of rest, rightfully earned after working for six days of the week! In ‘The Roaming Monkey’,
the author shows how a monkey earns money by showing tricks of different kinds and thus looks
after the wife of his owner, nurtures her and brings her back from the brink of lunacy. In ‘The Price
of Milk’ (Doodh ki Qeemat) we have the spectacle of goats feeding a baby with milk from their
own udders, thereby saving its life. The baby has been denied milk by its own mother because she
considers it a ‘tentar’, an ‘evil’ child destined to be the cause of death of one of parents/ members
of the family, and wishes it dead. In ‘A daughter’s Possessions’ (Beti ka Dhan) Sakkhu Choudhury
finds tears streaming down the eyes of his oxen in his moments of grief when the zamindar was
going to evict him from his home, and when his own sons were totally indifferent to his plight. In
the story, ‘Two Brothers’ (Do Bhai) the narrator contrasts the greed and lack of empathy of the
elder brother Krishna for his younger brother, Balaram, whose property he wants to grab with the
deep bond between two bullocks one of which refused to touch any food for three days when the
other was separated from it.

Several very popular stories of Premchand deal with Hindu-Muslim relation. He was
deeply interested and invested in a cordial relationship between Hindus and Muslims, a fact which
is evident in both his fictional and non-fictional writings. He had no doubt that the independence
and progress of the country depended substantially on the harmonious relationship between these
two dominant religious groups in India. Early in his life he was introduced to Muslim culture and
Islam through learning Persian and Urdu and the maulvi who taught him. He was also familiar
with ideals of Hinduism, both the orthodox variety and the reformist trend of Arya Samaj to which
his family owed allegiance. This, coupled with his inherently secular temperament, provided him
A trenchant critique of this idyll has been provided in postcolonial India by Srilal Shukla in his novel, Raag Darbari
a unique vantage point from which he could write fairly and fearlessly about both the communities
in an even-handed way. In fact, he was the only writer of his generation in any Indian language,
not excepting Tagore, to write about the external and internal lives of the members of both the
communities with a kind of insight, empathy and intimacy that have not been matched since. I
cannot think of any other Indian writer who possessed that kind of double vision. During his
lifetime, the relationship between Hindus and Muslims went through particularly volatile and
turbulent phases, but he was always unwavering in his belief in pluralism and kept the faith. Stories
like ‘The Holy Judges’, ‘Idgah’ ‘The Greater Pilgrimage’ (Hajj-e Akbar) ‘The Temple and the
Mosque’ (Mandir aur Masjid), ‘The Prophet’s Justice’ (Nabi ka Niti Nirvaah), ‘Forgiveness’
(Kshama) and essays such as, ‘Islamic Civilization’ (Islami Sabhyata15) demonstrate how deeply
he knew about Islamic culture and the intimate lives of Muslim families, and how the daily lives
of the Hindus and the Muslims were intertwined, particularly in the countryside. Towards the end
of the second decade of the twentieth century when the Hindu-Muslim relation was at the lowest
ebb, Premchand wrote his play Karbala, on a deeply emotional subject for Muslims, to cement the
bonds of Hindu-Muslim unity.

Premchand seems immensely relevant in today’s India when history is being sought to be
rewritten and Muslims are being constantly cast in the role of the ‘other’ and made accountable
for all the real and imagined atrocities of the Muslim rulers of the past! In his own time, he saw
with bewilderment how ‘Whenever a Muslim king is remembered, we evoke Aurangzeb’
(Premchand 1985:5), a remark that reverberates with contemporary resonance, indicating the
agenda of some people who always sought to frustrate any attempt at a broader understanding and
reconciliation between these two communities. He was opposed to religious sectarianism and
orthodoxy in any form. This will be evident if one reads his stories of the Moteram series and a
story like ‘The Holy War’ (Jihad) where he anticipates what goes today by the misleading and
erroneous name of ‘Islamic’ terror together. In this context, Syed Akbar Hyder’s comments seem
particulaly apt:
Premchand archives Hindu-Muslim relationship in mutually respectable terms that move
beyond Aurangzeb and his times into a temporal zone reflecting a more pluralistic Islam…
By ideologically fracturing religious communities, he undermines the antagonistic
communal bifurcation within the colonial milieu that posited Hindu and Muslim as age-
old enemies whose scriptures determined their mode of thinking and living. (Hansen and
Lelyveld:2005, 276)

Evolution in Premchand’s Art of Storytelling

Premchand art of storytelling evolved through his career encompassing three full decades, as did
his language and vocabulary. As he evolved from a dastaan-esque to a realistic mode, his language
also changed in register and vocabulary and the patches of purple prose likewise dwindled.
Moreover, as he slowly moved from Urdu to Hindi, but still continuing to write or translate in both
the languages (or forms or shaili, as some would characterise it), his language underwent visible
changes. And later in life, when he became a strong advocate of Hindustani, his endeavour was to
craft a language that will be equally intelligible to the votaries of both Hindi and Urdu. He also
moved from the earlier dense, lush narrative style incorporating multiple registers and a variety of
First published in the Hindi journal, Pratap (December 1925); reprinted in India Today Sahitya Varshiki (India
Today Literary Annual), 1995
characters as in ‘The Holy Judges’, ‘The Sword of Loyalty’ (Khanjar-e Wafa), ‘Atmaram’ ‘The
Idgah’ and so on, to a leaner, pared down narrative style focussing on one or two events and
involving fewer characters. The earlier expansiveness was replaced by intensity of experience. The
idealistic, sometimes even prescriptive, nature of his work evolved to a more robust and mature
understanding of life’s pitiless ironies and unpredictability that do not always conform to poetic
justice. Amrit Rai’s remark in this context seems the most pertinent:

In the year 1933-34 Premchand wrote several stories such as ‘Manovritti’, ‘Doodh ka Dam’, ‘Balak’, ‘Naya
Vivah’ and ‘Muft ka Yash’, which are entirely new from the point of view of both content and form…Such
are the stories which can be said to [be] characteristic of Premchand’s art at this time, though he also wrote
occasionally a story in his good old manner like the captivating ‘Idgah’ with its unforgettable child hero. On
the whole, though, there isn’t in these later stories in the new manner a dense and tightly woven web of events
as in the stories of an earlier phase. They have, instead, just a single focus of interest, just one little point to
make, an unremarkable enough state of mind to describe, the author’s own way of observing a fleeting
glimpse of truth or beauty – and this is presented in an informal and conversational manner without caring
much for the plot which is to embody it. Though this isn’t anything new for Premchand – he has written such
stories before – yet the difference is that the sentiments have a new maturity as if the hue of realism had
grown deeper, and the brick been baked better. (Amrit Rai 1982: 311)

Language Issues: Urdu versus Hindi

As indicated in the opening paragraph of this Introduction, a comprehensive understanding of
Premchand’s stature as a writer demands that the reader is able to access his stories in both the
versions. One great advantage of this anthology is that it points to differences in the two versions
of the stories. These differences are sometimes trivial, at other times substantial, and provide added
insights into the stories and expand their textuality. 16 Premchand began his career writing in Urdu
and he produced a substantial volume of work in the first twelve years of his career (1903- 1915)–
five novels and close to four dozen stories to be precise – before the thought of writing in Hindi.
His transition from Urdu to Hindi was gradual, though irreversible, given the social and political
circumstances and the publishing scenario of the time.

Now, the question is -- are the Hindi and Urdu versions of his stories exact replica of each other?
Not always and not necessarily. Premchand knew it too well, as he was fairly aware of the changes
that he made along the way. In a letter to Imtiaz Ali Taj, dramatist, translator and editor in Urdu,
he mentions that he changes entire scenes while translating the text from one version to the other.
As usually happens with writer-translators, whenever they translate their own work, the creative
impulse often takes over so that translation is often turned into re-writing. In case of Premchand
one finds many minor changes that are done either for stylistic embellishments, or for difference
in perceived readership, or, quite probably, for the space constraint in the journal in which the
stories were going to be published.

There is another dimension to this issue. It was not always Premchand himself who translated his
work between Urdu and Hindi. Often, he took help from others in this endeavour, and might have

Alok Rai and Mushtaq Ali in Samaksh: Premchand ki Bees Urdu_Hindi Kahaniyon ka Samantar Paath (op cit.)
and Kamal Kishore Goyanka in Premchand ki Hindi Urdu Kahaniyaaan, 2nd ed. (Delhi: Prabhat Prakashan, 2017)
have drawn attention to this aspect by reading several stories in both the versions. However, this is still a work in
progress. They have left out several stories from the ambit of discussions, as has been demonstrated in the “Notes”
sections in the four volumes of this anthology. This gap is sought to be filled by this anthology. Now that the raw
data have been made available, it is expected to provide a new impetus in research in this area.
had the time to look over it only cursorily. Several translators, most notably Iqbal Bahadur Verma
‘Saher’, are known to have helped Premchand in preparing versions both in Hindi and Urdu. Their
style now passes off as the Premchand’s style. His younger son, Amrit Rai, excavated several
stories in the Urdu version after his death of which there were no Hindi versions. Amrit Rai
published such stories in a two-volume anthology with the appropriate title Gupt Dhan (Secret
Treasure). In the Introduction to this anthology he writes about the kind of changes he has affected while
transferring the stories from one version to the other:

I thought it unfair to Hindi readers to publish these stories in their original form. So I clothed them
in Hindi, in the style of Munshiji, as far as it was possible for me. How far I have succeeded in this
effort to not only preserve the soul of the story but the language and style as well will be judged by
you. As for me, I feel satisfaction in the thought that I have pulled all my resources in this

It is both significant and debatable why Amrit Rai felt it was necessary for the stories to undergo
changes for the sake of intelligibility and readability in Hindi. Had the two languages changed so
much within twenty-five years after Premchand’s death that they needed to be interfered with?
This also throws up questions of ethics and authorship. Does anyone, be it the writer’s own son or
whoever, has the right to temper with the original works of a writer to make them suitable for a
particular readership?

How radical these changes sometimes were can be illustrated through the two versions of his
famous story, ‘A Night in the Month of Pous’ (Poos ki Raat). The story is about a poor, destitute
peasant Halku who, as happened with peasants, was in permanent debt to the village money lender.
Halku spends the severe winter nights in the field to save the harvest from marauding beasts. But
ultimately, he is unable to save the crop when one night a horde of wild beasts descends on the
field and despoil the harvest. In the Hindi version which was first published in the Hindi journal
Madhuri (May 1930) the story ends on a note of seeming relief for Halku who decides to transform
his life of a peasant by becoming a worker in a factory. However, in the Urdu version which was
published later in Prem Chaaleesi 2 (1930) Premchand has added a section at the end where Halku
ponders over the travails of peasant life but nevertheless decides to stay a peasant. Turning himself
into a day labourer, he thinks, would mean an insult to the land and to his forefathers who were
peasants. So, he takes the resolve to stay a peasant whatever the challenges. Thus, the two endings
of the story admit of two radically different interpretations. It is clear that the Urdu version is not
simply an expanded version of the Hindi, but it radically alters the perspective of the protagonist.
In the Hindi version of the story Halku comes across as yielding to the pressures of being a peasant
and surrendering to the fate of a wage-earner, whereas the Urdu version stresses his strong
resistance to any such shift in his career. He faces the challenges of a peasant’s life, stands face to
face with total ruin as the marauding animals destroy his harvest, but none of it could destroy his
spirit. He is convinced that he should continue to be a peasant to carry on the legacy of his
forefathers. Thus, while the Urdu version maintains the status quo in Halku’s life, the Hindi version
envisages his transformation into a factory worker. Changes of the kind signalled above, with
variations and different degrees of emphasis, can be found in a number of short stories.

Amrit Rai (ed.) [in Hindi: ‘Prastutkarta’, [i.e., presenter], Gupt Dhan [Hidden Treasure]; Premchand, Allahabad:

Hans Prakashan, 1962, p.6

‘Atma Ram’ is a story that had presented Premchand with the problem of cultural untranslatability.
It has been built on the Hindu philosophical concept of Maya and Moha18, and Premchand must
have found that these concepts were not easily translatable in Urdu. The story is about a devout,
village goldsmith, Atmaram, who, disenchanted by his own children, got attached to a parrot which
he symbolically named Atmaram. The story plays on the popular belief that atma or soul is like a
bird which flies out at the time of death. Mahadev’s religious and spiritual inclinations are
demonstrated by his constant chanting of two lines of a popular bhajan, i.e. religious hymn: Sat
Gurudat Shivdat Daata/ Ram ke charan mein chitta laga. The villagers could identify him from a
distance hearing the sound of the bhajan. It so happens that one of his sons accidentally opens the
cage one day and the parrot flies out. When Mahadev finds the cage empty his heartbeat stopped
for a moment. All his attempts to tempt the parrot back into the cage bears no fruit. The parrot
comes, sits on the cage, flies about the cage, but cannot be made to enter the cage. Mahadev
continues his effort. The climax of the story shows this tug of war between Mahadev and the parrot

[The parrot] would come and sit on the top of the cage and now sit at the door of the cage and look at the
bowls for food and water, and then fly off. If the old man was moha inc arnate, the parrot was incarnate maya.
This went on till evening descended. The struggle between maya and moha was lost in darkness.

Hindi: [Tota] kabhi pinjre par a baithta, kabhi pinjre ke dwar par baith apne daanapani ke piyalion ko dekhta,
aur phir urh jata. Buddha agar murtiman moha tha, tau tota murtimayi maya. Yahan tak ki Shaam ho gayi.
Maya aur moh ka ye sangram andhakar mein vilin ho gaya

Urdu : [Tota] kabhi pinjre par aata, kabhi pinjre ke darwazey par baith kar apne daanapani ki piyalion ko
dekhta, aur phir urh jata, magar joonhi mahadev uski taraf aata who phir urh jata. Buddha agar paykar-e
hawas tha, tau tota daayre aarzoo. Yahan tak ke shaam-e siyah ne hawas aur arzoo ki is kashmakash par parda
dhal diya

One would understand that Urdu words like hawas and arzoo cannot adequately represent the
philosophical concept of maya and moha and Premchand must have realized this fact of cultural
untranslatability. Similarly, the constant chanting of the bhajan, Sat Gurudat Shivdat Daata/ Ram
ke charan mein chitta laga would befit the genius of the Hindi language more than Urdu and would
appeal to someone brought up in the tradition of Hindu religion more than anyone else. That
Premchand himself was conscious of this is evidenced by the fact that the story was originally
intended for the journal Kahkashan published from Lahore. But as the story got written Premchand
realized that it was not probably suitable for the predominantly Muslim readership of Kahkashan.
He wrote to the editor, Imtiaz Ali Taj:

I have recently written another story, “Atma Ram”. I am sending it to Zamana. It has turned out to be so
utterly Hindu that it is not suitable for Kahkashan. You may call yourself a Hindu but your readers certainly
are not Hindu.19

This statement, however, seems at odds with the entire version of the Urdu story which Premchand
seems to have written with far greater relish than the Hindi version. The Urdu version is longer by
two dense pages than the Hindi version. (Hindi 8 pages; Urdu 10 pages). The rhetorical flourishes,
the deployment of metaphor and simile, the idiomatic turn of phrase – all these make the Urdu
I am indebted to Harish Trivedi for this idea expressed in his essay, ‘The Urdu Premchand : The Hindi
Premchand’ The Jadavpur Journal of Comparative Literature, 1984, 22: 115
Letter to Imtiaz Ali Taj, December 25, 1919.
version more urbane, supple and enjoyable than the Hindi one which seems somewhat stark and
dull in comparison. Thus, reading the short stories in both the Hindi and the Urdu versions reveal
several interesting facts.
In many cases, the Urdu version is larger than the Hindi version, showing the use of
traditional rhetorical embellishments. This would encourage us to make a couple of speculations:
(a) Urdu was Premchand’s first love, and as he professes in his essay, ‘Sahitya ka Uddeshya’ it
came more naturally to him than Hindi. (b) As a language, Urdu lends itself to finer and intimate
shades of feelings and emotions in Premchand’s hand in a way that Hindi does not do; in
comparison, Hindi is somewhat bare and unadorned. (c) In the Urdu versions one can find virtuoso
passages, passages of purple prose designed to dazzle the readers into an admission of the author’s
full control and command over the language. It is interesting to speculate whether there is an
organic relationship between theme and language-form, whether language determines subject
matter and styles or, at least, whether language and themes are intimately connected. Alok Rai
says, ‘It seems as though some utterances can be made most felicitously in Hindi and some in
Urdu. What lies behind this – history, social and cultural predisposition or literary traditions? This
can be a subject for research’20 (Alok Rai & Mushtaq Ali, 2002: ii; my translation) He further
says that the communalization of these two languages are evident, as one could see that in Hindi,
if the characters are given Hindu names, in Urdu they are given Muslim names21. I would argue
that the reasons for the differing versions should be traced in the different readership that
Premchand was addressing. And these two readerships were different not only in their religious
practices and cultural traditions and cultural symbols, but also in their class differences, in their
reading habits and the literary tradition they inherited. To quote Alok Rai again: ‘Only a deeper
study will reveal what was thought to deserve utterance in what tradition and what was considered
redundant. One can see the emerging mental disposition of that period hidden in these differing
utterances’.22 (Alok Rai & Mushtaq Ali, op cit., my translation)

The Hindi original is as follows: Aisa lagta hai ke kai baatein Hindi mein zyada swabhavik dhang se kahi ja sakti
hai, aur koi Urdu mein. Is pratyaksh anubhav ki jad mein kya kya chhupa hua hai – itihaas, sanskritik-samajik
purvagraha, sahityik parampara – ye shod ka vishay ho sakta hai. Alok Rai & Mushtaq Ali (eds), Samaksh:
Premchand ki Bees Urdu_Hindi Kahaniyon ka Samantar Paath (Allahabad: Hans Prakashan, 2002), p.ii
The following table shows such changes in Hajj-e Akbar’/ ‘Maha Tirth’:

Hindi Version Urdu Version

Title of the story Maha Tirth Hajj-e Akbar
Husband Munshi Indramani Munshi Sabir Husain
Wife Sukhada Shakira
Child Rudramani Nasir
Maid servant Kailasi Abbasi
Place of pilgrimage the family Badrinath Hajj (to Mecca)
intends to visit
Name for God Khuda, Allah Parmeshwar, Narayan

Apart from Hajj-e Akbar’’ similar changes can also be seen in stories like ‘The Call of Dawn (Shankhnaad) and ‘The
Correction’ (Pashu se Manushya) etc.
The Hindi original is as follows : Adhdhyan hi ye bataayega ke kis parampara mein kaun si baat kahna zaroori
samjha gaya, aur kaun ghair zaroori; kaun si baat kahi ja sakti thi, aur kaun si baat ankahi hi samaj li gayi. Us
prarambhik daur mein ubharti mansikataon ke sanket in rupbhedaon mein luke chhipe hain, dekhe ja sakte hain. Alok
Rai & Mushtaq Ali (eds), Samaksh: Premchand ki Bees Urdu_Hindi Kahaniyon ka Samantar Paath, p.ii
Premchand in English
In an article, ‘Nirmala Translated: Premchand’s Heroine in English Dress’, Rupert Snell raises the
question, ‘Is Premchand translatable?’ and then answers quickly, ‘In a word -no: the subtext of
purity borne by the very title ‘Nirmala’ is denied to those who access this novel only through
English’ (Snell 2001:307). Snell rightly underlines the fact that all the linguistic and cultural
resonances evoked by a word or phrase cannot be transferred to the target language. But this is the
translator’s challenge, not to produce a ‘perfect’ translation which is an impossibility but to gesture
towards a universe of possibilities, of cultural nuances invested in the original text. Snell further
surmises that few readers will be moved by Premchand if they were to read him only in English, a
proposition that one finds contestable. After all, the most widely read fiction writers in
contemporary times, Pamuk, Kundera, Murakami are read overwhelmingly in English translation
than in the original languages and readers are profoundly moved by them23.

Snell’s proposition will not hold good for a multilingual country like India where the richness of
literature in many languages are accessed through English. The question one really needs to
address – what kind of English so that the voice of the original author is not drowned into what
Gayatri Charaborty Spivak characterises as ‘… a sort of with-it translatese, so that literature by a
woman in Palestine begins to resemble, in the feel of its prose, something by a man in Taiwan’24,
apparent unevenness and angularities are retained, the cultural nuances are preserved and not
flattened out. In contemporary India where the largest archive on Indian literatures and their
interrelationships are being created not in any Indian language but in English, the importance of
translation in this language cannot be overemphasized. In the multilingual classrooms and literary
meets and festivals in India, English often acts as the ice-breaker and a catalyst for entry into the
multilingual world which is the Indian reality. English is also being moulded for this purpose by
writers who are writing originally in English and translators who are translating works from Indian
languages into English25.

Premchand has been translated by a number of translators with different degrees of competence
and success. Elsewhere, I have dealt comprehensively with the history of Premchand translation
in English and the challenges thereof. 26 Most of the challenges articulated in the essay—like

In a recent article in Wasafiri, Boyd Tonkin, former literary editor of the Independent and someone who has worked
to give translation a place of honour in several international awards, reinforces this argument when he points out how
works in translation were profoundly transformative for him even though he did not know the original languages: “I
can recall the late teen-age and early twenties frenzy of excitement inspired by my discovery of writers such as Kafka
and Proust, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Except, of course, that what I discovered were the standard English translations
they circulated by Penguin classics and a couple of other publishers.” Boyd Tonkin, “Labours of Love: Literary
Translation Inside and Outside the Market Place”, Wasafiri, Vol. 32, Number 1, March 2017, P. 9
“The Politics of Translation” in Lawrence Venuti (ed), The Translation Studies Reader, Second Edition, New York
& London: Routledge, 2002. P. 372
The recent writings by Amitav Ghosh (particularly, his Ibis trilogy), Amitabh Bagchi, Chandrahas Chaudhury,
Hansda Souvendra Shekhar and others reveal how Indian words of cultural import and regional specificity have been
normalised in the English that is being written in India, which embolden translators in English to be innovative and
mould the English idiom for their own advantage.
“Premchand in English: The Story of an ‘Afterlife’” in M Asaduddin (ed), Premchand in World Languages:
Translation, Reception and Cinematic Representations, New Delhi & London: Routledge, 2016
varying registers of the original, irregular punctuation, instability of meaning of words and phrases
in the original, allusiveness—are valid for this anthology too. Premchand’s world is culturally so
rich that any translator will have to grapple with the phenomenon of cultural untranslatibilty. Not
to speak of English, sometimes one finds that the cultural resonances of the phrases even in Hindi
and Urdu are not the same. Gregory Rabassa, the famed translator from Spanish, has pointed to
this phenomenon succinctly as follows: A “language will load a word down with all manner of
cultural barnacles … bearing it off on a different tangent from a word in another tongue meant to
describe the same thing.” (Rabassa:2005, 6). Attempts have been made to preserve these ‘cultural
barnacles’ rather than eliminate them, even if it meant straining the idiom in English. Inevitably,
it has involved a series of particular, contingent judgements and ad-hoc decisions that could not
always be anticipated. These decisions have also differed from story to story. And that is why there
are sentence structures and turns of phrases which might seem infelicitous in English but will give
the reader some clue to the linguistic varieties and speech patterns of the characters in the original
and the ways in which some ideas are expressed in it. Rather than assimilating the foreignness and
cultural specificity of the original in a universalist idiom, attempts have been made to preserve
both linguistic and cultural nuances, allowing the English to attain a certain measure of both
readability and 'bi-culturality’.

Premchand was writing at a time when the protocols of style, including punctuations, in
both Urdu and Hindi were not yet settled. The editorial endeavour here has been to bring the text
in line with the modern conventions of prose writing in English. That involved changes in the
format of dialogue writing, appropriate use of quotation marks, using italics both for interior
monologue where characters internalise their thoughts, and for emphasis and splitting or joining
paragraphs. Short, choppy sentences that come in a string without subjects or subordinating clauses
in Hindi/Urdu have sometimes been joined together to make coherent, intelligible sentences in
English. The Roman script has the advantage of having letters in both lower and upper cases and
modern computer technology has made it easier to write the script in bold or italics for varying
purposes that have been used discreetly. Translators are, after all, interpreters of the text they are
translating and if a certain device of the Roman script was helpful in expressing the intended
meaning of the original, they were encouraged to use this device to bring the text in line with
modern prose. However, such instances are minimal and have been resorted to only after careful

A Plea for Humility

Premchand scholarship is very much a work in progress. Textual research on him has remained
bogged down by lack of availability of original manuscripts. Scholars have tried to gather works
from journals and magazines in Urdu and Hindi, and in the process, committed errors because of
logistical or linguistic inadequacy27. These journals and magazines often operated on a shaky and

Here, the case of Kamal Kishore Goyanka, a lifelong Premchand researcher who has written close to thirty books
on different aspects of Premchand’s life and art, is salutary. Goyanka unearthed a hitherto unavailable story in the
Urdu version with the title ‘Roo-e Siyaah’(Black Face), but he read it as ‘Rooh-e Siyah’ (Black Soul) and translated
it in Hindi as ‘Kalooshit Atma’. This story was first compiled in the collection, Premchand ki Aprapya Kahaniyaan
(Delhi: Anil Prakashan, 2005), Pp. 152-160. On the facing page the Urdu title page is given where the title, ‘Roo-e
Siyah’ is written in bold, clear Persian script. One cannot attribute this error to any other cause except for the inability
to read the Persian script correctly. Now, how this error will impact the readers’ response to the story and falsify the
intent of the author is anybody’s guess. This is not intended to undervalue the wok of Goyanka but to underline the
fact we should spare no efforts to eliminate avoidable errors, understand our own inadequacy and seek help where it
tight budget and had very little or no editing rigour. Mistakes of the calligrapher, compositor or
proofreader often went unchecked and undetected, and thus became part of the text. All this makes
it difficult to arrive at a definitive version of the text. On our part too, there is no claim for finality.
Only an assertion that all efforts have been made to collate texts from different sources to arrive
at the final version. There could be errors and inadequacies in our versions too. We will request
discerning scholars and readers to bring them to our notice, however grave or trivial thy are, so
that they can be corrected in the later editions.

Work cited
Asaduddin, M (ed), 2016. Premchand in World Language: Translation, Reception and Cinematic Representations,
New Delhi & London: Routeledge
Gopal, Madan, 1964. Munshi Premchand : A Literary Biography, Bombay: Asia Publishing House
Hansen Kathryn & Lelyveld, David (eds). 2005. A Wilderness of Possibilities: Urdu Studies in Transnational
Perspective, New Delhi: Oxford University Press
Orsini, Francesca (ed), 2003. The Oxford India Premchand, New Delhi: Oxford University Press
Rabassa, Gregory. 2005. If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents. A Memoir. New York: New Directions
Rai, Alok & Ali, Mushtaq (eds), 2002. Samaksh: Premchand ki Bees Urdu_Hindi Kahaniyon ka Samantar Paath.
Allahabad: Hans Prakashan
Rai, Amrit, 1982. Premchand : A life, translated from the Hindi by Harish Trivedi (Bombay: People’s Publishing
Rai, Amrit (ed), 1978. Vividh Prasang, Allahabad
Roadermel, Gordon C, 2002. The Gift of A Cow: A Translation of the Classic Novel Godaan, Bloomington: Indiana
University Press
Venuti, Lawrence (ed), 2002. The Translation Studies Reader, Second Edition, New York & London: Routledge

is needed. Many scholars, including Premchand’s son Sripat Rai, have rendered Urdu version of Premchand’s stories
into Hindi, as indeed some have rendered some Hindi versions into Urdu. It will be a valid subject of research to
examine how accurately these versions have been rendered.