Tuesday, August 21

Premchand, Shaani and communalism

Every year on the occasion of Id, I am reminded of Premchand’s heart-rending story “Idgaah” which celebrates a poor child’s love for his grandmother. While we find short stories and even novels — Amritlal Nagar’s “Shatranj Ke Mohre”, for example —focusing on the Muslim elite, Premchand is perhaps the only exception as he depicts the life of a poor Muslim family in this story. A five-year-old boy Hamid, who has lost his parents and is being brought up by his grandmother Ameena, spends whatever little money she had given him to buy sweets and toys in the Id fair, on buying a chimta — a long iron tweezer used for taking out rotis from a choolha (oven). As he used to see Ameena burning her fingers everyday while making rotis, he bought the chimta for her.

This year, when Id was celebrated this past Monday in a rather subdued atmosphere, I recalled another of Premchand’s short story “Mandir-Masjid” (Temple-Mosque) which shows an old Muslim landlord respecting both temple and mosque equally as the “House of God” and willing to make any sacrifice to uphold this principle and safeguard the sanctity of these places of worship. The way this story, published in 1925, portrays the mechanism of the production of communal violence, one feels that it was written very recently.

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