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DateLine Sunday, 17 February 2008

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Dhanpat Rai alias Premchand

Premchand whose original name was Dhanpath Rai Srivastava was born on 31 July 1880, in a village, Lamahi near Varanasi, India, where his father was a clerk in the post office. At an early age, Premchand lost both his parents and left with the responsibility of looking after for his step-mother and step- siblings.

In his early life, Premchand faced immense poverty. He earned five rupees a month, tutoring a lawyer's child. He was married at an early age of fifteen but that marriage failed. For the second time, he married a child widow Shivarani Devi. Premchand had three children, Sripat Rai, Amrit Rai and Kamala Devi Srivastava.

Premchand passed his matriculation exam with great effort in 1898, and in 1899 he took up a teaching job, with a monthly salary of eighteen rupees. Later he worked as a deputy sub-inspector of schools in what was then, the United Provinces.

In 1910, he was hauled up by the Jamirpur District Magistrate for his anthology of short stories, Soz-e Watan (Dirge of the Nation), which was labelled seditious. The first story of the anthology was Duniya Ka Sabse Anmol Ratan (The Most Precious Jewel in the World), which according to him was "The last drop of bloodshed in the cause of the country's freedom." All the copies of Soz-e-Watan were confiscated and burnt.

Initially Premchand wrote in Urdu under the pseudonym, Nawabrai. However, after the confiscation of Soz-e-Watam, he started writing under a new name Premchand. Before him, Hindi literature consisted mainly of fantasy or religious works. Premchand brought realism to Hindi literature.

In 1921, he answered Mahathma Gandhi's call and resigned from his government job. He then worked at a printing press and editor of literary and political journals. Briefly, he also worked as a script writer in the Bombay film world.

Some criticise Premchand's writings as full of too many deaths and too much of misery. His stories represented the ordinary Indian people. The main characteristic of Premchand's writings is his interesting story-telling and use of simple language.

His novels describe the problems of rural peasant classes. He avoided the use of highly Sanskritized Hindi. Premchand called literature, a work that expresses the truth and experience of life impressively.

During his last years, he became terribly ill. This serious impact on his health led to his early death on 8th October 1936, at the age of 52.

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