|A Winter’s Night By Premchand
Puffin Classics, Rs. 150
A Winter’s Night and Other Stories is a collection of stories by Premchand, translated from Hindi by Rakhshanda Jalil. It also has an introduction by Gulzar where he talks fondly about his association with Premchand’s works.
The book has a fair share of stories on exam phobia, as in Big Brother and also stories like A Winter’s Night. The latter is about how a farmer, forced to sleep out in the cold every night to watch over his field, finally lets the wild animals ruin it one night while he stays awake, soaking in the warmth of a bonfire.
The stories are uncomfortably honest because of their painful realism. There is Jokhu, in The Thakur’s Well, who falls sick after drinking dirty water. His wife tries to get clean water from the only other well in the village. But it belongs to the Thakur and so is out-of-bounds for the lower castes, in this case, for the likes of Jokhu. The wife fails to get water from the Thakur’s well and comes home to see Jokhu drinking more of the dirty water. We may have grown up far away from the villages that Premchand writes about, but we all know that in some parts of our country this is a reality even now.
Those of you who are acquainted with Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s story Mahesh will find The Tale of Two Oxen familiar. It talks about the bond between man and animal. Jhuri, a poor farmer, is forced to lend his favourite pair of oxen to a relative. But the animals return to their master after a series of misadventures.
Chattopadhyay and Premchand were contemporaries (they were born and died within a few years of each other). Perhaps that has something to do with the similarities in these stories.
Another story, Kaki, is about an old woman forced to live with her nephew and her kind- hearted but stern daughter-in-law and her grand niece, Ladli. The latter saves her share of food for her blind aunt and here the story has echoes of Apu and Durga’s fondness for Indir Thakrun in Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s Pather Panchali, yet another of Premchand’s contemporaries.
Jalil has used Hindi and Urdu where necessary, but has thoughtfully added footnotes and a glossary at the end.
Though the stories in this book are from a bygone world, they are about human values and they touch all that is fine and unspoilt in us.