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The Better India


written by Dhimant Parekh on Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Godan by Premchand

The true and vivid picture of India. - The Hindustan Standard Probably the only great novel in Hindi. - The Statesman In this last novel of Premchand is present every personage that has lent its character to traditional rural India. - Thought No Indian should miss this novel, which Premchand wrote with tears. - The Nagpur Times Premchand’s last masterpiece. - The Hindu None of these statements comes remotely close to describing the greatness of this novel - Premchand's Godan. 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.

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16 Comments:

Blogger sudeep said...

Wow ! that was one big, detailed review....But looks like it is set at some other time say probably in the 50s or 60s....

I guess even I should start reading some non-enlish novels....

11:51 AM  
Blogger DhiOnlyOne said...

sudeep>> :-) This is my third Indian book in the past few months and each one of them has left me spellbound. About Godan, I wanted to read the original work which was in Hindi. However, I failed to get a Hindi copy and so had to settle for an English translation.

12:28 PM  
Blogger J said...

u read a translated version and u still loved it? Surpising. Cuz its nothing in comparison to the real one. I read it loooooong back when i was in school,ok thats not too long ago... and when i re-read it sometime back... i realised what i had missed. There's nothing great about the story. Its just the language, the subtle description of lil things that we dont quite notice that makes the difference.

12:59 PM  
Blogger DhiOnlyOne said...

j>> Yes, I read a translated version and still loved it. And I prefectly understand how good the original would be!
I didn't read this book for its story. Neither did I see it as a story. It was an insight into the lives of peasants, lives of the rural folks, lives of what comprises the majority of this country. Beautiful book!

1:53 PM  
Blogger Nals said...

Must be a great book. Will read sometime.

2:37 PM  
Blogger post said...

i am honestly going to try to read this (if i can get my hands on a copy that is). i haven't read much indian literature, but i've loved the little that i've managed to read.

would you have happened to read "the god of small things" by arundhati roy? it's one of my favorites.

6:12 PM  
Blogger DhiOnlyOne said...

keys>> Yep I have read The God of Small Things. I liked it as well. Very descriptive language!!
:-)

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dis is gonna help me so much,i cudnt read the book for my skul activity bt this review hs helped me find answers to many questions....

11:20 PM  
Blogger navdeep said...

brilliant! i think it is so interesting novel,it like a real story .
By reading this, i had got interest in reading novels.

3:27 PM  
Blogger navdeep said...

brilliant! i think it is so interesting novel,it like a real story .
By reading this, i had got interest in reading novels.

3:29 PM  
Blogger parthi said...

This is an amazing novel.....I needed its summary for my 10std. project...I read so many summaries out here but nothing could satisfy my mind..But this served the purpose...THANKS..!!

11:39 PM  
Blogger parthi said...

Now i'll really start reading novels...

11:41 PM  
Anonymous jasnoor said...

thnx a TONN........dis summary REALLY helped me 4 hindi project for d summer vacations! (jst got saved from readng d book!) Totally satisfied wid d short n crisp summary....(hope reading it in near future ;)) thnx 4 d help!!

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

o my god!!! such a big one. i am fed writing book reviews for my school projects. it's soooooooo irritating. teachers should'nt force students to write something which is out of their minds.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the crisp and clear summary. It is the best of the three summaries I just read. I am now going to hunt for the original, whether in Hindi or English. As a kid I read Sevasadan and Niirmala and two collections of short stories. Somehow I missed this one.

8:33 PM  
Blogger US said...

thanks for the summary.... very helpful for my project

3:07 PM  

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