City Library – Premchand’s Archives, Premchand Archives & Literary Center
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Dainty and dense, and tidy enough to be decipherable. This is his hastlipi (handwriting) in Hindi.
And his likhai (handwriting) in Urdu, ditto.
The writing of Premchand (1880-1936) is a sangam (confluence) of these two languages of his homeland, UP. Naturally, the best way to feel close to the writer is to be intimate with his 300 afsane (short stories), 14 upanyas (novels), and hundreds of tanqeedi mazameen (literary criticisms), nibandh (essays), tehreerien (speeches) and khutut (letters).
The next best way is to head to Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia. The university harbours an abhilekhagar (archives) of Premchand’s extensive writings in Hindi and Urdu, as well as a gosha (collection) of critical writings on his entire oeuvre by others. The handwritten manuscripts and rarely seen photos have been sourced from various places, including Premchand’s descendants, and are accessible to visitors in digital format. A most evocative item is an edition of Premchand’s arguably most famous novel, Godaan. (Also, look out for shelves stacked with rare issues of Zamana and Vishal Bharat magazines, where many of Premchand’s stories first appeared.)
Nestled in a former wing of Jamia’s library, the Premchand Archives & Literary Center is home to the Premchand records, as well as to the papers of many other writers including Devendra Satyarthi, Banarsidas Chaturvedi, Qurratulain Hyder, Krishna Sobti and British scholar Ralph Russell, the celebrated English translator of Ghalib’s Urdu verses. In fact, Ghalib’s murti (statue) stands close by, and is the only statue in Delhi of Delhi’s greatest poet.
Before settling into his posthumous home in Jamia, Premchand had two profound trysts with the university. His first visit in 1932 led to the publication of Dilli ki Jamia Millia ki Report in Hans, the magazine that Premchand edited. During his next stay in the campus, three years later, Premchand wrote one of his most popular stories—Kafan. It first appeared in Jamia Risala, the university journal, still in existence.
This afternoon, students are flitting in and out of the Center (outsiders may visit with prior appointment). Even so, the place is grave-like quiet, as such sanitised places tend to be. But inside these shelves and protective glass cases, between the covers of these bound volumes, breathes a literature that resonates universally while being centered around the UP cities of Gorakhpur, Benares, Allahabad, and Kanpur. This was the Premchand country, his karma bhoomi, the world of his words. Today, it all is within these walls.
PS: Center’s personnel seen in the group photo below, from left: professor Sabiha A. Zaidi, conservationist Noorjahan, archivist Snigdha Roy, hony. director Shohini Ghosh, archivist Syed Mohd. Amir, assistant archivist Shradha Shankar.
A writer’s world