Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dire Straits!

Dire Straits!

Ever noticed the similarities between Charles Dickens and our very own Munshi Premchand?

Yes, Dickens was English and Premchand was Indian, but they both were prolific writers and have reflected the harsh reality that marked their times in their work. Both have brought up common social issues in their body of work, and have left heart-rending imprints of their characters in the minds of their readers.

Dickens was born in 1812 in Hampshire in England, Premchand was born in a small village called Lamahi near Banaras. Both had relatively carefree childhoods which were rudely disrupted by incidents in the family. Dickens’ family sank into debt sometime after he turned five. Premchand’s childhood came to a sudden end at the age of 8, when his mother died.

Both of them had responsibilities thrust upon them early in life. Dhanpatrai (Premchand’s real name) had to manage his family, which included his wife, his step-mother and 2 step-brothers when his father died. He first took up a job as a private tutor and then became a teacher. Dickens was sent off to a blacking factory even earlier, when his father was taken away to the Marshalsea debtors’ prison. He managed to go to school later, but left at the age of 15 to work as a clerk and then became a reporter.

Both raise social issues that dogged their society. Both effectively use children as protagonists in their work. Both writers now have an iconic presence in the literature of their country.

What made these great writers so prolific? Dire straits I think! Here were great minds yes, but the drive to write came from a much more basic need—material needs that were required to be fulfilled. Most of us today, tapping away on our keyboards, cannot even imagine the compulsions which these authors operated under.

Who would you rate as the better chronicler of his times?

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