Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Munshi Premchand...a very respected Hindi and Urdu writer. I came across the translation of his most famous work "Godaan" and I picked it up in sheer curiosity. I was never a great reader of Hindi literature. But I remember having one of his stories to study in school. I picked up the book just to know why it was so famous.

I may not be able to tell a lot about the book. But this book is definitely a good read. The translation, I suppose, could have been better. But I found it entertaining.

Godaan is the story of Horiram, his wife Dhania, son Gobar(dhan), daughters Sona and Rupiya, and other characters in the story, which are quite a number of them. You will meet most of the usual crowd that you will find in a village drama, the local policeman, the sahukars, the pundits, the city-bred folks, the upper-caste and lower-caste people. The novel records Horiram's dream of owning a cow, which is not just the pride of the household, but also considered sacred, the problems he faces, and how society plays an important role in all this.

Horiram's utter poverty, deprived conditions, loans to run the family and household, and social norms that he faces and succumbs to is a major theme in the novel. Loan sharks take away his money, his farm produce, his bulls, his self-respect too. But there's one thing that they just can't take away...his dreams. Horiram is just a representative of the lakhs and crores of farmers who share the same plights. Their world is almost similar to what is shown in the book. And I doubt it has changed much since the book was written in 1936. The socio-economic deprivation of small, poor farmers is, I guess, still the same.

Premchand has very intricately shown a diaspora of themes intertwined with each other. You have the problems Horiram faces due to his loans, the extravagant celebrations at Rai Sahib's place, the city-bred folks and their discussions on politics, money, life, social standards, their hypocrisy, a disruption in social order as high-caste men ensnare low-caste women, life of the city dwellers, marriages, weddings, social festivals, and human emotions all spun in the same tale.

While at one place Horiram's life is dwindling towards ulitmate destruction due to loans, Premchand portrays the exhuberant and lavish life of the city folks who are great talkers of social reform and greater misers who exploit farmers, labourers, and at times, even helpless women. Life at its best and life at its worst...all shades and all walks of life.

I guess at its time, the novel would have been quite forward in its thoughts. It shows a lady doctor, Miss Malti, who has come back from England and who falls in love with a philosopher, Mr. Mehta. In the end they both accept their love for each other but decide not to get married but still stay together and love each other. I think this was an unknown thing at that time...staying together without marrying (although in a city) was not much heard of. Moreover, they might have been ostracised by the society. But Premchand was ahead of his times and had the courage to show this, especially because the lady suggests this option which the philosopher readily accepts.

Premchand also has shown widow-remarriage. Interestingly, Jhunia, who is a widow starts loving Gobar and becomes pregnant. Gobar too loves her truly, but is apprehensive about his mother's reaction. He abandons her at his parents doorstep and flees when he is sure that his mother has taken Jhunia under her wings. Till the end, Jhunia and Gobar are together as husband-wife, yet they are never shown as actually married. I found that amazing.

Matadin, the son of the local pundit ensnares a low-caste chamarin Siliya, impregnates her, and then disowns her when her family force him to eat meat. Siliya really loves Matadin and prefers to raise the child with a quiet determination of loving Matadin forever. She believes that Matadin will come back to her and ultimately he does.

In all this, Premchand shows the hypocrisy of religious men, of men in power, of wealth, of social norms, of principles, of ideals.

Premchand's characters are full of life and three dimensional. Most of the landlords and loan-sharks behave just as they should, just as they have been doing all these generations. And so do the villagers. They come to wish luck for good tidings and thwart the miserables when in dire conditions. That's what everyone does. It's human after all to be there with people when they are going through a good patch and desert them when life turns bad for them. Life's like that!

Dhania is a very strong woman. She is (in)famous for her acrid tongue. She does not take a single abuse, injustice lying down, especially against her own self, or her husband, who is rather a simpleton and god-fearing. She is ready to fight the ridiculous and unjust social laws, yet is held back every time by Horiram. In spite of that, she respects Horiram and supports him. I admire her character especially in two situations...one is when Jhuniya, five-months pregnant, lands at her door. Dhania was aware of Jhunia and Gobar's affair, and had vehemently talked of never letting Jhunia step into the house if Gobar married her. Yet, when she is at the doorstep, Dhania complains initially but ultimately does not turn her out. She welcomes her in house as her own bahu and loves her all the more. She never mistreats Jhunia and showers her love on Jhunia and her son.

The second incident is when Siliya is outcast by the village. Dhania gives shelter to Siliya and allows her to stay at her place fully knowing that the whole village was angry with Siliya. She did not care about the whole world but stood by Siliya although she was a low-caste woman. Dhania's strength, struggles, a modern outlook towards life, pride in her family and kids, heart-wrenching pitiable state, yet her will power make her an outstanding character. I liked her the best in the novel.

When I started the novel, I was only sceptical about it. But slowly I got interested, so much so that I could barely put down the book. When I got up in the morning, I was wondering what all was to happen to Horiram, Dhania, Gobar, Jhuniya, Siliya, Mr. Mehta, Miss Malti, and the other characters.

A social documentary, Godaan is a charismatic tale of Horiram and his life, interlinked with so many others, going through the same hell or heaven at that time. Times have changed. But I guess the society is still the same. The only difference is that Horiram toiled hard to return his loan of Rs. 250. Now farmers have to toil hard to return their loans of Rs. 25000. Sort of déjà vu, isn't it?


  1. At least now I know what Godaan is about.

  2. "I may not be able to tell a lot about the book."
    You liar, you did tell it all! :P

  3. A very touching and beautiful story. Nitya Sharma

  4. Respect. I read the Hindi version of it, and then Roadarmel's, and must say, he's done a helluva job at translation. So have you.