In fact, Munshi Premchand was the first major writer, writing about the common man. – Gulzar
Translation simply means to me, transferring the cultural ethos from one language to another. -Saba Mahmood Bashir
Recently, I finished reading the translated version of Manzarnama by Gulzar based on Munshi Premchand’s classic Hindi novel Godaan. It was first released by Doordarshan under the TV series titled, “Tehreer…Munshi Premchand Ki” in 2004.
It was my curiosity about Premchand’s masterpiece coupled with the fact that the translator is a known fellow – writer/translator that encouraged me to procure the book when it was released last year. However, I could get down to reading it only this year. My review, as is clear from above, is completely based on the English translation of Manzarnamma which is itself an adaptation of Godaan.
The title of the novel gives the readers a fair idea about the story. Godaan (donating a cow) is a ritual followed by Hindus and is believed to absolve a person from all his sins. The novel has dealt with multiple socio – cultural themes but its main focus was clearly showing how in India the poor, vulnerable and illiterate have always been exploited by the rich in the name of caste, religion, honour and duty.
What starts off as a mere wish of a poor farmer Hori to own a cow; takes the readers to a jagged journey leading to a small Indian village where the rich are busy fleecing money from farmers one way or the other and exploiting women; while the poor farmers are completely submerged in debts and somehow trying to pay off the heavy dues they owe to their rich landlords and satisfying the greed of the high – cast Brahmins. This is the story of an honest, duty – bound but aspirational farmer who suffers misfortunes one after the other. He faces the various challenges bravely and to the best of his capabilities with the support of his wife Dhaniya, a fierce, dutiful and outspoken woman. However, an unequal society and caste segregation makes it extremely difficult for him to come out of his debts. And yet instead of begrudging his circumstances, he tries to fulfil his duties towards his family and even gives shelter to other lesser – fortunate beings without thinking of the consequences. The setting of the novel is the colonial period and although there’s not much mention about the freedom struggle; the author has successfully managed to give his readers a glimpse of how the struggle for independence had severely impacted the socio – economic condition of people living in the cities and even in remote villages.
I found the language simple and endearing. One of Gulzar ji’s main thought to adapt Godaan as a screenplay was to make the rich Indian Literature available to the new generation. The translation of the book has also been equally successful in achieving the necessary objective. However, what I enjoyed the most in the novel was the strong bond between the two lead protagonists Hori and Dhaniya who always stood by each other even at times when they did not approve of the other’s opinions or actions. I give the translator full points for the simple (and beautiful) translation that kept me engaged to the story till the very end.
Author(s): Munshi Premchand, Gulzar, Saba Mahmood Bashir
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