Resonating a Moral Demand
Rakhshanda Jalil
SEVASADAN by Prem Chand Oxford University Press, 2006, 275 pp., 325
March 2006, volume 30, No 3

Delivering the Presidential Address at the First Progressive Writers’ Conference in Lucknow on 9 April 1936, Premchand said, “There have been many definitions of literature, but in my opinion the best definition of it is – ‘the criticism of life’. Whether in the form of an essay or a poem, literature should criticise and explain life.” Entitled Sahitya ka Uddeshya (The Aim of Literature), his speech makes a powerful and eloquent appeal for Indian literature to “mirror the truths of life” and to “develop a new sense of beauty”. Socially and politically engaged literature, he believed, must contain “high thinking, a sense of freedom, the essence of beauty, the soul of creativity and the light that emanates from the truths of life.” Completely in sync with the ideology of the Progressives who had adopted him as their patron saint, Premchand was, in many ways, a man ahead of his times. All through the 20s and the 30s, in story after story, he had taken up issues that not many had dealt with till then — untouchability, widow remarriage, women’s rights and women’s education, and most significantly, the position of women in ‘civilized’ society.

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