78/100 of Godaan – Premchand
After reading the entire Harry Potter series (7 books) back to back – I had to pick up something entirely different to change the mood and it had been ages that had read anything from Hindi (Indian) Literature. Premchand or better known as Munshi Premchand (Dhanpat Rai Srivastav in real) was and still is one of my all time favorite writers right from my school days. My mother as well as my school’s Hindi teacher (who happens to be her best pal) both had lots of his books, stories and what not. It isn’t easy in todays time to read Hindi literature especially the kinds I started with – I realized that right after I finished the first few chapters. I have got so much used to English now that had to actually take quite a few pauses, re-read the sentences, even paragraphs and some words again and again to understand the meaning behind them. But once I picked up the momentum – as I usually say – there was no turning back. Although written in 1936 but shockingly even today it made so much sense and I realized we still haven’t come too far from those times at least in our part of the world. Heart warming / wrenching drama of a poor farmer’s family life, who has no land to toil, a family to feed, too many loans to pay off, too many people to report to and with no respite or future in sight. His struggle to acquire a cow at that time (costing mere 80/-) and its repercussions is the rest of the story. Wow! What a journey it had been for me to delve into the life of Hori the village with no life. A poor farmer with a small piece of land (3 beeghas / 1.5 acres) and a family of five to feed on. Two good for nothing brothers who take their own share in ancestral property and never look back at him. One furious wife with a killer attitude who at times do comes to his own rescue when in trouble. A good for nothing son who falls in love with a widow, dumps her on his family as she conceives his child (before marriage) and elopes to town (Lucknow). The Cow that Hori finally buys that too on a loan from a friend is killed by his own brother (jealousy) who too elopes leaving his family to be fed by Hori again. Already in so much debts of the landlords and local sahukaar’s that his life never seems to come on track ever. Other than the village life – the book depicts the life of Bigtowners too from nearby town of Lucknow and shows us a great glimpse of their life and the times. Industrialists, Editors, Doctor and the workers unions, what not. It is actually astounding the way Premchand has crisscrossed so many characters in one story yet in such a convincing way that it is indeed amazing. As he very well justifies their presence and stories too, almost all the characters are supremely developed. Like the Character of Malti the London bred Doctor with a suspicious character and how she turns out to be by the time story ends is heartening. I wasn’t expecting that kind of a treatment to the characters in the story when it merely is 500+ pages. On top of that he kept the suspense going till the very end and kept me hooked to most of it looking for more or some respite for its lead Hori (but that never happens) and how it ends is shockingly / heartbreakingly abrupt. How the “Godan” (Cow Donation) takes place is something you’ve got to read the book for. I had a big big lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I have no idea when they abolished the “Rule of Landlords” in India as this is written in pre-independence era and the life in rural was so much affected by the rule of Landlords and their own set of rules, even the then Govt has no say in it. I am sure literature like this one must have helped a lot in abolishing the same as its unbelievable that this could go unnoticed by the then leaders and taking a cue from it they must have got so much food for their thoughts. Although it did took them a couple of decades to rule it out in reality. Also in parts it was hilarious to read the accounts of bigtowners and their life (and debts), it was such an irony that the villagers were struggling for their every day life yet the bigtowners wanted the peace and tranquil a village offers. Also like Hori’s Son Gobar who runs away to the town in hopes of making it big, save some money, go back and bail his dad out of trouble, what happens with him is an eye opener. The book covers so much and at such a great pace that at times it does feels unbelievable that it all was happening that too in the mid 30s. Premchand’s views on “Live – In” relationship, intercaste marriage, untouchability etc that too at that time are too good, shocking and surprising both. Also one thing that I totally loved about this book was that it has no political connection, preaching or tones. A simple story told in the best possible way which covers so much of the times it is told in and delivers one heck of a message which takes its own sweet time in registering on its readers mind. Mind-blowing – a must must read for all especially because where we are today and where we are heading. I will definitely get couple of his other works and would love to read. Any recommendations?