Early Life, Education, Marriage, Career and Life at Kanpur of Premchand

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Early Life, Education, Marriage, Career and Life at Kanpur of Premchand

Early Life and Education

My life is simple and rough.

Munshi Premchand was born on 31 July 1880 in Lemhi, a village located near Varanasi (Banaras). His ancestors came from a large Kayastha family, which owned six bighas of land. His grandfather Guru Sahai Rai was a patwari (village land record-keeper), and his father Ajayab Rai was a post office clerk. His mother was Anandi Devi of Karauni village, who could have been the inspiration for the character Anandi in his Bade Ghar Ki Beti.

Premchand was the fourth child of Ajayab Rai and Anandi; the first two were girls who died as infants, and the third one also was a girl named Suggi. His parents named him Dhanpat Rai (the master of wealth), while his uncle, Mahabir, a rich landowner, nicknamed him “Nawab” (Prince). “Nawab Rai” was the first pen name chosen by Premchand.

Premchand began his education at a madrasa in Lalpur, located near Lamhi when he was 7 years old. He learnt Urdu and Persian from a maulvi in the madrasa. When he was 8, his mother died after a long illness. His grandmother, who took the responsibility of raising him, also died soon after. Premchand felt isolated, as his elder sister had already been married, and his father was always busy with work. His father, who was then posted at Gorkhapur, remarried, but Premchand received little affection from his step-mother. The step-mother later became a recurring theme in Premchand’s many works.

Premchand, as a child, sought solace in fiction, and developed a fascination for books. He heard the stories from the Persian-language fantasy epic Tilism-e-Hoshrubo at a tobacconist’s shop. He took the job of selling books for a book wholesaler, thus getting the opportunity to read a lot of books. He learnt English at a missionary school, and studied several works of fiction including George W. M. Reynolds’s eight- volume The Mysteries of the Court of London.

Premchand composed his first literary work at Gorakhpur, which was never published and is now lost. It was a farce on a bachelor, who falls in love with a low-caste woman. The character was based on Premchand’s uncle, who used to scold him for being obsessed with reading fiction; the farce was probably written as a revenge for that.

Marriage and Career

The First condition of marriage between a man and a woman is that both must belong to each other totally.

When after his father was posted to Jamniya in the mid- 1890s, Premchand enrolled at the Queen’s College at Benares as a day scholar. He was, in 1895, married at the age of 15, while still studying in the 9th grade. The match was arranged by his maternal step-grandfather. The girl was from a rich landlord family and was older than Premchand, who found her quite quarrelsome and not good-looking.

Premchand’s father died in 1897 after a long illness. Premchand managed to pass the matriculation exam with second division. However, only the students with first division were given fee concession at the Queen’s College. Premchand then sought admission at the Central Hindu College, but was unsuccessful because of his poor arithmetic skills. Thus, he had to discontinue his studies.

Premchand then got an assignment to tutor an advocate’s son in Benares at a monthly salary of five rupees. He used to reside in a mud-cell over the advocate’s stables, and used to send a big part of his salary back home.

Premchand read a lot during these days. After racking up several debts, in 1899, he once went to a book shop to sell one of his collected books. There, he met the headmaster of a missionary school at Chunar, who offered him a job as a teacher, at a monthly salary of ₹ 18.

Premchand, in 1900, secured a job as an assistant teacher at the Government District School, Bahraich, at a monthly salary of ₹ 20. Three months later, he was transferred to the District School in Pratapgarh, where he stayed in an administrator’s bungalow and tutored his son.

He first wrote under the pseudonym “Nawab Rai”. His first short novel was Asrar-e-Ma’abid (The Secrets of God’s Abode), which explores corruption among the temple priests and their sexual exploitation of poor women. The novel was published in a series in the Benares-based Urdu weekly Awaz- e-Khalk from 8 October 1903 to February 1905.

Life at Kanpur

Beauty doesn’t need ornaments. Softness can’t bear the weight of ornaments.

Premchand was relocated from Pratapgarh to Allahabad for training, and subsequently posted at Kanpur in 1905. He stayed in Kanpur for around four years, from May 1905 to June 1909. There he met Daya Narain Nigam, the editor of the magazine Zomana, in which he later published several articles and stories.

During the summer vacation, Premchand visited his village Lamhi but did not find the stay enjoyable because of a number of reasons. He did not find the weather of the atmosphere conducive for writing. Also, he faced domestic trouble due to quarrels between his wife and his step-mother.

Once his wife unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide by hanging. Later, she left home and went to her father’s house, and never returned.

Premchand, in 1906, married a child widow Shivrani Devi, who was the daughter of a landlord from a village near Fatehpur. The step was considered to be revolutionary at that time, and Premchand faced a lot of social opposition.
Early Life, Education, Marriage, Career and Life at Kanpur of Premchand 1
Inspired by the nationalist activism, in 1905 Premchand published an article on the Indian National Congress leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale in Zamana. He criticized Gokhale’s methods for achieving political freedom, and instead recommended the adoption of more revo¬lutionary measures adopted by Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

Premchand’s first published story was Duniya Ka Sabse Anmol Ratan (The Most Precious Jewel in the World), which appeared in Zamana in 1907. According to this story, the most precious ‘jewel’ was the last drop of blood necessary to attain independence. Many of Premchand’s early short stories had patriotic overtones, influenced by the Indian independence movement.

His second short novel Hamkhurma-o-Hamsavab (Prema in Hindi), published in 1907, was penned under the name “Babu Nawab Rai Banarsi”. It explores the issue of widow remarriage in contemporary conservative society: the protagonist Amrit Rai overcomes social opposition to marry the young widow Poorna, giving up his rich and beautiful fiance Prema.

Another of Premchand’s short novels, Kishna was published by the Medical Hall Press of Benares. This 142- page work, which satirises women’s fondness for jewellery, is now lost.

Premchand’s story Roothi Rani was published in serial form in Zamana during April-August 1907. The publishers of Zamana published Premchand’s first short story collection, titled Soz-e-Watan also in 1907. The collection, which was later banned, contained four stories which sought to inspire the Indians in their struggle for political freedom.