Yesterday I finished reading a book by Munshi Premchand which I had kept on hold for a long time. Though the original is in Hindi I read the English translation of the book.
A novel which has been described by the The true and vivid picture of India. – The Hindustan Standard Probably the only great novel in Hindi. – The Statesman
My meek attempt at a review of this book is akin to holding a candle to the sun and expecting to shed some light on the sun.
Godan, which means “the gift of a cow”, is a novel that takes you through the lives of Hori and his wife Dhania. A peasant by profession, Hori pays for carrying a noble and pure heart inside him.
Page after page you get the same sinking feeling that Hori gets when his spirit is crushed every waking moment by the machinery comprising of the Zamindari system, the police, the money lenders, the religious zealots, the caste system and prestige.
Godan starts with Hori procuring a cow from Bhola. Already under a debt of 200 rupees, Hori takes a loan of 80 rupees to buy this cow. Possessing a cow is a symbol of prestige in rural India. Additionally, it allows him to sell the milk for a few annas a day. The cow is poisoned by Hori’s jealous brother and the cow dies. And hence dies his source of milk for his family. Yet, Hori does not want his brother to get arrested. For this, he has to bribe the police inspector. Hori takes a loan of 50 rupees for this.
Hori’s son Gobar flirts with a girl from another village. The girl gets pregnant and Gobar runs away. Hori’s wife Dhania gives shelter to the pregnant girl (since her parents disown her). This is considered a blotch on Hori’s village by the Panchayat. Out comes another 300 rupees (loaned) to uphold the honour of the village. He also loses his only pair of bullocks as a punishment.
No bullocks means no ploughing hence no crop and no food to eat. Having two daughters to look after, Hori suffers under the rising debt and diminishing stocks of grain.
One by one, everyone fleeces Hori. His only son, on whom all his hopes rested, refuses to help him out. The son settles down with the girl in the city and refuses to even look at his mother before leaving. The novel brings out the havoc that the political and administration system of the villages wreaks on the poor.
Hori represents that section of rural India which is trampled every day.
That section which is made to pay for every sin and desire of the babus. Interspersed within the story is a beautiful love-hate relationship between Mr. Mehta, a philosopher, and Miss Malti, a doctor. Miss Malti is of the modern school of thought. A Feminist. Believes in equal opportunity for men and women. Believes that women should not be housewives.
Mr. Mehta belongs to the traditional school of thought. The debates between these two make for an interesting read. Mr. Mehta says that women are far more superior than men. By asking for equal rights, they were infact asking for lowering their position in society. He also says that qualities like love, sacrifice etc are qualities that come naturally to women and hence they should be in positions where they can give out such attributes to others.
Walking into the war-zone, along with men, lowers the status of women and goes against nature since nature has made women for higher things in life. Coming back to Hori, his entire life is a struggle. Struggle to make ends meet. Struggle to keep up his prestige. Struggle to provide for his children.
The strong relationship between Hori and his wife keeps him going till the end. Till the end, when Dhania pleadingly asks Datadin, a money lender, to take 3 rupees from her and help save Hori from dying. That one scene has left a scar in my mind.
That one scene brought out tears. That one scene made me reach out to Hori and pay off his debt. A classic of peasant India, the book is much more than what I have written over here. Hope, Struggle and Optimism – You see all this in starved, half-naked souls waiting for their much coveted God to help them out. A heart-wrenching masterpiece is what this book is. And I am in love with it.
Would like to read other novels from Premchand and the hindi original version of GODAN