Holy cow! Premchand’s Godaan thrown out of curriculum

At the centre of the novel’s plot is the cow, which is considered a holy animal in Hindu religion

Photo courtesy: YouTube
Photo courtesy: YouTube

Ashutosh Sharma

Munshi Premchand’s Godaan, which is considered as a classic in Indian literature, has been removed from the curriculum by Kendriya Hindi Sansthan (KHS), an educational arm of the HRD Ministry which promotes Hindi globally.

Set in rural milieu, Godaan—which was first published in 1936—reflects issues such as farm distress, caste segregation, feudalism and challenges of capitalism, which remain relevant in the country till date. Premchand, in his incisive account, portrays poor peasants trapped in debt trap, hopelessly suffering at the hands of greedy landlords and money lenders.

But at the centre of the novel’s plot is the cow, which is considered a holy animal in Hindu religion. As the title of the novel suggests, the act of a cow’s donation supposedly absolves one of all sins and begets divine blessings. But Premchand’s portrayal of cow in his epic novel is quite contrary to the worldview of the present regime, critics feel.

Talking to National Herald, registrar of the institute Prof Veena Sharma said that Godaan would no longer be a part of the syllabus in Hindi Bhasha Sanatakottar course (a postgraduate diploma)—which has 100 seats each at its Agra and Delhi centres for foreign students and researchers. “There were persistent complaints from the students and teachers that Godaan is too long and it becomes a challenge to complete it within one year. The novel is also replete with colloquial language, Awadhi, which is difficult for foreign students to comprehend. Now, the students will have a choice to read either Panchavati, a poem by Maithili Sharan Gupt or Premchand’s another novel Nirmala along with five short-stories,” she stated, adding that the decision was taken by a committee comprising five members.

Several Hindi writers and critics, however, view the KHS decision as an attempt at Sanskritisation of Hindi. “Going by the logic that Godaan has Awadhi words, it means you won’t teach the work of Phanishwar Nath Renu and several other classical poets who wrote in Khariboli (that includes Braj bhasa, Bhojpuri and Awadhi),” wondered noted Hindi writer and poet Mangalesh Dabral. “Godaan is a guiding light in Indian literature. A film was made on the novel (in 1963) and later a serial too was made in 2004. So the novel can be taught through creative and innovative ways,” he added.

Classified as eastern Hindi, Awadhi is spoken primarily in the Awadh region of Uttar Pradesh and the Terai belt of Nepal.

“When Panchavati was written, Hindi poetry was still in its embryonic stage. And it doesn’t represent the socio-economic realities of those times. The narrative poem is just rhyming of mythical recreation but Godaan talks about existential problems of the poor and marginalised people. It makes a powerful political statement,” argued another critic who did not wish to be named.

Godaan was a part of the 26-episode TV series, Tehreer.... Munshi Premchand Ki, which was directed by Gulzar and broadcast by Doordarshan. It can be viewed here:

Established in 1960, the KHS conducts training programmes for teachers and researchers at the national and international levels. It claims to have trained over 5,000 students from over 30 countries in the last four decades.

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Published: 16 Sep 2017, 8:12 PM