Okay,before even attempting to write about Munshi Premchand who is quite rightly dubbed as “The Shakespeare of Indian Literature” , let me just put it out there that i sometimes,during this gem of a novel, struggled with my mother tongue . There!, I said it, there were oh so many words which gave me pause, which i looked up as I rekindled my relationship with Hindi in these past 2 weeks.Or wait, i should say ‘Hindustani’ rather than ‘Hindi’ because Premchand wrote ‘Karmabhoomi’ in 1930, What’s Hindustani ? You wonder, well i did too, It is ‘Hindi’ & ‘Urdu’, this novel used so many Urdu words so flawlessly with Hindi that it was an absolutely amazing albeit mind boggling experience.
One of the main reasons for my pathetic command of my own language aside from my blatant disregard for even attempting to read its literature in my foolhardy childhood days , is ironically enough, the very education system which the novel critics in its beginning. Premchand would have been absolutely horrified if they could see the state of the Indian readers today,specially people like me, and i consider myself well versed in Hindi as compared to my friends ,Go Figure!, ‘Angreezi’ ki gulami , i tell you..Uff..!
And now on with the show.
Every Indian in one way or the other has read at least one of Munshi Premchand’s stories, for me it was in School, his stories were part of the curriculum, just like Shakespeare is for the Europeans i imagine. My favorite among them were “Heera and Moti” the story of two Bulls and “Panch Parmeshwar” ,both of these short stories were absolutely marvelous.My first serious Premchand novel was “Godaan” (NO, not Goddamn, its GODAAN), which to this day remains my favorite Hindi novel.
And though “Karmabhoomi” can’t replace ‘Godaan’ from it’s place which it doesn’t need to, it stands apart in a class of its own. The novel has very complicated characters, and though the ‘Realistic’,’Day to day social life and norms’ and ‘Authentic’ feel which is Premchand’s signature aspects in writing are present, the ‘simplicity’ is absent.This is truly a magna carta of Indian literature, not because of its size but due to the wide range of issues social ,Religious and the Human psyche conundrums covered in the book. Again , this was written in 1930’s,to write about these topics (like Untouchability, Hypocritical religious practices, Inter faith love interests,Women empowerment,corruption among the ruling classes) then would have been like living in a kerosene soaked house and attempting to cook.That too under British Raj, oh so many times i wondered why has the author not named names when it came down to assign responsibility for the pain caused to the people, specially the farmers, but of course he didn’t name names, they would never have allowed it to be published.So, Premchand had cleverly used other tools at his disposal, linking greed, hypocritical laws and lawmakers and pointed in the general direction.
The story had a lot to it,’Amarkant’ our main character is a son of a well to do Brahman father, married to a beautiful wife and has a loving sister.But not everything is working in this garden of Eden, Amarkant has different views on how a man should go about his life than his father, these philosophical differences between the two are source of great tension, this was the time of ‘Revolution’ in the Indian subcontinent ,Amarkant,wanted to live a selfless life serving the greater good , where as his father and his wife want him to take more interest in the family business,earning and behaving as per his station in life.
Premchand , has highlighted the age old dilemma ‘Self preservation’ vs ‘The right thing to do’,every character in the novel be it ‘Salim’ Amarkant’s fun loving best friend who just wants to have a good life or his teacher ‘Shashikant’ who has dedicated his life to the service of the underprivileged or ‘Smarkant’ Amarkant’s father representing the status quo and justifying every hypocritical decision a man has to take as a householder,goes through life altering experiences which transforms them from something to something absolutely different. Unlike, every other novel that has a ‘Hero’s Arc’ for the main character, in this book every character has a ‘Hero’s Arc’.
Premchand’s stories are always a window into the life of the common man, in 1930’s the life of the farmers was specially dreadful but all of them had a heart of gold, the people who have absolutely nothing were the most generous in this story, they followed the real ‘Dharma’ and not those pretentious asswipes who had taken it upon themselves to subjugate and belittle others in the name of Religion.Love has been defined and portrayed in such a ‘Sufi’ way, unadulterated and clear hearted approach that i wondered if this line of thinking is ever possible now or even if it was possible then, whether all of this isn’t just an optimistic take on human psyche by Munshi ji. Women, were the recurring theme in this novel, Sukhda, Naina, Munni,Sakina, all represent different aspects of being a woman in the pre independence era at the start of the novel, with different stations in life,different situations,perspectives and options,and everyone of them comes out of the whole deal as a true ‘Goddess’ , which is how Premchand revers them as well. This novel was a great tribute to the sacrifices women make in the service of others.
All in all, this novel was the amalgamation of every aspect of the Gandhian ways, a family’s struggle to finally finding in each other the very comfort that they had craved all their lives, a true companionship and sense of peace brought by the services of others.As always it was a pleasure reading one of the most celebrated authors in all his glory. A must read for any Indian lit enthusiast.