Munshi Premchand (Urdu: منشی پریم چند), (July 31, 1880– October 8, 1936) was a famous writer of modern Hindi-Urdu literature. He is generally recognized in India as the foremost Hindi-Urdu writer of the early twentieth century.
Premchand was born on July 31, 1880 in the village Lamhi near Varanasi to Munshi Ajaib Lal, a postal clerk, and his wife Anandi. His parents named him Dhanpat Rai ("master of wealth") while his uncle, Mahabir, a rich landowner, called him Nawab (Prince), the name Premchand first chose to write under. His early education was at a local madarsa under a maulvi, where he studied Urdu. Premchand's parents died young - his mother when he was seven and his father when he was sixteen or seventeen and still a student. Premchand was left responsible for his stepmother and step-siblings.
Premchand was married at fifteen years to a girl from a neighboring village but the marriage was a failure and when he left the village in 1899, the girl returned to her village. Several years later, in 1909, he married a young widow named Shivrani Devi. This step was considered to be revolutionary at that time and Premchand had to face a lot of opposition.
The main characteristic of Premchand's writings is his interesting story-telling and use of simple language. His novels describe the problems of the rural peasant classes. He avoided the use of highly Sanskritized Hindi (as was the common practice among Hindi writers), but rather he used the dialect of the common people.
Premchand called literature a work that expresses the truths and experiences of life impressively. Presiding over the Progressive Writers' Conference in Lucknow in 1936, he said that attaching the word "Progressive" to writer was redundant, because "A writer or an artist is progressive by nature, if this was not his/her nature, he/she would not be a writer at all."
Before Premchand, Hindi literature was largely confined to raja-rani (king and queen) tales, stories of magical powers and other such escapist fantasies. It was flying in the sky of fantasy until Premchand brought it to the ground of reality. Premchand wrote on the realistic issues of the day - communalism, corruption, zamindari, debt, poverty, colonialism etc.
Godaan (The Gift of a Cow), his last novel, is considered one of the finest Hindi novels. The protagonist, Hori, a poor peasant, desperately longs for a cow, a symbol of wealth and prestige in rural India. The story depicts the human beings' deep-rooted beliefs, and their ability to survive and uphold these beliefs despite great misery.
In Kafan (Shroud), a poor man collects money for the funeral rites of his dead wife, but spends it on food and drink.
Premchand wrote about 300 short stories and several novels as well as many essays and letters. He also wrote plays and did some translations. Many of Premchand's stories have been translated into English and Russian.
Some criticize Premchand's writings as full of too many deaths and too much misery. They believe Premchand does not stand anywhere near the contemporary literary giants of India, Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay and Rabindranath Tagore. But many of Premchand's stories were influenced by his own experiences with poverty and misery. His stories represented the ordinary Indian people as they were, without any embellishments. Unlike many other contemporary writers, his works did not have any "hero" or "Mr. Nice" - they described people as they were.
Premchand was a contemporary of some other literary giants of that era like Acharya Ram Chandra Shukla and Jaishankar Prasad.