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A brief biographical sketch of Premchand
by Wangdi Gyalpo   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Sunday, November 26, 2006
Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2006

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It is a brief biographical sketch of great writer Prem Chand.

May be for the western readers the name ‘Premchand’ may be an alien name. However, for the great lovers of the Indian literature, his name comes at the top list. There is hardly anyone, who is oblivion about him, who has slight interest in Hindi and Urdu. Right from the childhood, children are fed with the rich and delicious short stories written by him. Not only that, in some homes, parents and grandparents narrate the stories of Premchand in place of lullaby. His popularity reached up to such an optimum point that most of his works are translated in various languages of the world. At present, one can read his works in various languages.

To begin with, Premchand was a poet, novelist, playwright and a storywriter who wrote in Hindi and Urdu. He was born on 31st of July 1880 at a village named, ‘Lamahi’ near Benares that falls in the Indian state Uttar Pradesh.

Although popularly known as Premchand but his actual name was ‘Nawab’ or ‘Dhanpat’. Premchand was his pseudonym, which he adopted in the year 1910 in order to ward off the wrath of British- India Government, after the government confiscated his work titled, ‘Sojay Waton’. He was coerced to take pseudonym as he was in the threshold of his career. On one hand, his passion was writing and on the other hand, he was working as a teacher in a government school. Due to his family problems he could not give up the job and due to his passion, he could not resist himself from writing. Finally, he found a neutral solution and that was to adopt a pseudonym.

His father was an ordinary man. His father was a poorly paid postal employee. Like other children, Premchand’s childhood also passed away playing, which is a blessing of the age of innocence. When he reached the age of seven, he was sent to a Moalavi (priest) to learn Pharsi and Urdu in a nearby village named, ‘Lalgang’, which was the custom of the village. The priest was a tailor by profession. It is believed that, the love for Pharsi language was developed in the tender heart of Premchand through his master that is why he even took Pharsi until his B.A.

His mother departed from this world, when Premchand was at the tender age of eight, leaving him at the mercy of his father and elder sister (Sungi) aged fifteen. His elder sister was married in the same year, before his mother passed away. Soon after the departure of his mother from this world, his condition aggravated. It was not because they were in financial strain; rather it was because now, there was no one who could fill up the gap of his love, which he had for his mother. His father could not give much time to him due to his frequent transfer. His father’s transfer took him to different places, such as sometime at ‘Gorakphur’, sometime at ‘Kanpur’ sometime at ‘Illahabad’, sometime at ‘Luknow’, sometime at ‘Jiyanpur’ and sometime at ‘Badalgang’. Just because of this tiresome transfer from one place to another, his father was always preoccupied in arranging different miscellaneous items that, he failed to provide ample time to a motherless child. Moreover, just because of it, a huge gap was formed between son and father, which remained until the last breath of his father. To make the matter worse, his father remarried in persuasion of other people. At first Premchand was delighted with a hope that now his thirst for maternal love was about to be quenched with the arrival of new mother. However, all his aspiration and hope for the maternal love turned into uncountable fragments, when slowly he started realising that, no one in the whole world could and have that vast love for which he was striving.

As Almighty, love its entire creature equally. Almighty provided a solace to Premchand. Almighty diverted the tender mind of Premchand towards books, which started quenching his hunger for love; affection and adventure, which he wanted to do, but couldn’t do. He transformed into a voracious reader. At the tender age of thirteen, he finished reading uncountable books. This includes…

a. Fouji’s works titled, ‘Tilismay Hosrubha’, which consisted of around eighteen books each book containing around two thousands pages.
b. Twenty-five books of Ronald’s ‘Mystery of the court of the London’ in Urdu version.
c. Molana Sajjad Hussain’s humorous books.
d. Mirza Rusawa and Ratannath Sarsar’s books and many more.

Here reader may wonder, how did an ordinary boy got access to all those books? The answer is…
At a place called, ‘Reti’ there was a bookseller by the name, ‘Buddilal.’ Premchand used to help him in selling books and doing other works in the shop. In return, he used to take novels and books to study at home. At that time, he along with his father and stepmother were living in Gorakphur, where he studied up to eighth standard. It was all because of his intense study of countless books that from there emerged an immortal poet, novelist, playwright and storywriter.

His life was full of vicissitudes but he did not give up. He did not have ample time to study and write. At the early age of fifteen, he was married but that marriage did not workout. It has just been a year or so that he was married, his father passed away leaving all the responsibilities of his family on his shoulder. He was just sixteen then. Due to all these turmoil in his life, that year he could not appear for his matriculations examination also. The following year that was in the year 1898 he appeared and cleared his matriculation. Nevertheless, to his dismay, he did not get admission in the college. Fortunately, in the year 1899, he got a job of a teacher in Benares (U.P). He continued his job as a teacher for twenty-two long years that was until 1921. He completed his plus two and B.A. while working as a teacher. He could have continued with his teaching profession for longer but he did not. He resigned from his job, when Mahatma Gandhi called all the true Indian to denounce all governmental titles and jobs in a meeting at Gorakphur on 8th February 1921.

It is believed that due his intensive travel from one place to another with his father and during his teaching profession, he came in close contact with numerous social problems in different forms, which provided him raw materials for his work. His job took him to ‘Pratapgad’, ‘Illahabad’, ‘Kanpur’, ‘Hamirpur’, and ‘Gorakhpur.’

One thing that has marvelled people is that, during 1906 when he was writing his novel titled, ‘Prema’ in Hindi (in Urdu, ‘Humkhurma O Hum Sawab’), which was published in the year 1907. In that novel, the hero marries a widow. And in real life, Premchand also married a balavidhava (child widow) named, ‘Shivrani Devi.’ This time his marriage was stable. Shivrani Devi bore him six children and supported him in all his struggles.

Shivrani Devi was a faithful, fearless, loyal and an honest wife. She was very clever and smart in running the house. No matter how much, Premchand earned, whether more or less, she handled the home very nicely. Despite tremendous amount of pressure and tension, Shivrani Devi always kept Premchand aloof from all domestic affairs, contributing him in his writing. It was just because of the understanding nature of her that Premchand could concentrate on writing for so long. So, half of the credit goes to Shivrani. It was because of her courage and support that he could resign from the job. Other wise, it would have been very difficult for him alone to take the decision, as he had to bear all the responsibilities of his family and children. It was the motivation, which he received from his wife; he got guts to kick off his job where he worked for 21 long years.

After leaving his job, he tried his hand in opening shop, promoting indigenous goods. However, it was not his cup of tea. The only thing that he knew to contribute towards motherland was through writing. Therefore, he started writing different simple stories that promoted Nationality. All those stories were very simple without any embellishments. During that time the Indian’s Movement, ‘Swarajya’ was at the peak. In this movement, some were facing the sticks of British force, some were gladly going behind the bar and Premchand took another way. To support the non-violent movement, he took up pen. He started vigorously writing. For the same he even decided to write and contribute continuously in one Urdu newspaper named, ‘Tehakik’ and one Hindi newspaper, ‘Swadesh’ but his plan did not work out. So, he returned to Kanpur. After reaching there, he took a teaching job in a private school. However, his head did not match with the manager of that school, so he gave up that job too. After that, he came to Benares. In Benares, he shouldered the responsibility of the editor of ‘Maryada’ a newspaper for time being. From there he left for ‘Kasi Vidhapit’ where he became Head master of a school. He always had a great desire of opening a press. Therefore, he started working towards his goal. Eventually, he opened press and started working with full vigour and dedication but the press did not run well. Ultimately, he had to close it.

Later on, he took up a job of editor in a newspaper, ‘Madhuri’ in Lucknow. He worked there for around six years and during his stay over there, he started his monthly paper, ‘Hansh’ in the year 1930. Again, in the year 1932, he went to Benares. From there he started weekly paper, ‘Jaagran’ along with his monthly paper, ‘Madhuri.’ Both the papers were very good but taking out good paper and running it for long was a different matter. When burdened by debt because of his two papers, he took up a job as a scriptwriter in Bombay (Mumbai) on the invitation of Mohan Bhavani. There in Bombay, he wrote a script for the film, ‘Mill Yaa Maajdur.’ Again, without completing his one-year contract with Mohan Bhavani, he ran to Benares without taking his two months salary. The reason was that, he was an ordinary and simple man. He could not digest all the glories and luxuries of film industry. He was persuaded to stay in Bombay but he did not. He was even asked to send story from Benares but he declined that offer too.

During his stay in Bombay, his health condition got aggravated. The unrelenting struggle that he had to go through, during all his life made him feeble. Because of it, he succumbed to his gastric ulcer, dropsy and cirrhosis of the liver on 8th of October 1936.

His Works:

As Amrit Rai, a biographer has put it, Premchand created the genre of the serious novel and the serious short story in two languages, Hindi and Urdu. His magnum opus is considered to be Goddaan (now published in English as, “The Gift of a Cow” in UNESCO’s Asian Literature Series).

Premchand chaired the first All-India conference of the Indian Progressive Writers’ Association in April 1936 at Lucknow.

Among his works are the novels Prema (Hindi, 1907, translated from Urdu Ham Khurma O Ham Sawab), Vardaan (Hindi, Jalwa-e-Isar in Urdu), Sevadadan (Hindi, Bazar-e-Hisn in Urdu), Remashrama (Hindi, Gosha-e-Afiyat in Urdu), Pratijnan, Nrimala, Gaban, Rangabhumi, Kayakalpa, Karmabhumi, Godaan and the unfinished Magalsutra. He wrote several memorable short stories like ‘Kafan’, many of them brought together in collections, for example, Soze-vatan.

Premchand wrote on social issues like child widowhood, prostitution, and exploitation of the peasant by the landlord and on the freedom movement taking place all around him. His solutions were idealistic, but his great contribution lies in posing the question at that point in time, and through the medium of novels and short stories which had till then been restricted to romance. Premchand used literature for the importance purpose of arousing public awareness about national and social issues.

Wangdi Gyalpo

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