When Premchand penned Kafan in Delhi

- August 9, 2023

The celebrated writer wrote the famous story in Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia campus

CAMPUS WORK: Munshi Premchand wrote Kafan in Jamia Millia Islamia

Premchand, one of Hindi literature’s iconic writers, visited Delhi twice in 1936, the year he died. The second of those visits was on April 4 when he landed at Delhi Junction from Bombay (now Mumbai). 

It was back-to-back visit after the one in March that year when he had come to inaugurate the Hindustani Sabha. 

While in Delhi to inaugurate the Hindustani Sabha, he spent the morning of Holi festival at noted author Jainendra Kumar Jain’s house in Daryaganj. 

Amrit Rai, his son, writes in ‘Premchand: Kalam Ka Sipahi,’ “He was drenched by the people playing Holi on March 8, 1936. He even told his host meekly, ‘Have mercy on me. I am your guest’.”

He would have visited Jamia Millia Islamia campus on a tonga for the function for which he was visiting Delhi. The Jamia campus was in Karol Bagh during those days.

After a hectic couple of days’ stay here in Delhi, he left for Bombay. It was sheer chance that he stopped over in Delhi again after leaving Bombay once and for all on April 4, 1936. 

Himanshu Roy, the founder of Bombay Talkies, tried convincing Premchand to stay back, but did not succeed. Premchand had gone there to make a career as a writer in Bollywood.

Instead of returning to Banaras straightaway, he stayed back in Delhi. This time, he was the guest of Professor Aqeel, the editor of Jamia Millia Islamia’s in-house magazine, Risala.  Aqeel sahab also taught Urdu. 

Of course, Premchand was already a formidable name in literary circles despite his not very successful tryst with the Bollywood. He had already authored classics like Godan, Gaban, Nirmala, Rangboomi, Eidgah and several other brilliant novels and stories.

It is said that the Jamia community was ecstatic that Premchand is staying in Jamia campus. According to Aashish Kochhar, who has done extensive research on the early days of Jamia in Delhi, “Jamia campus was there in Latif Manzil near Tibbiya College in Karol Bagh. In Latif Manzil, the hostel, staff quarters, praying room and dining hall were on the first floor. Near it, two plots of land were also purchased. In one, they put up the school building; they earmarked the other for children’s vegetable gardening. Moreover, four more houses were rented around it. Located close by, two of them were turned into classrooms, one was converted into a library, and the other into an office.” 

Premchand 1980 stamp of India

It was the Jamia Karol Bagh campus, where the likes of Gandhiji, Vithalbhai Patel, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Sarojini Naidu, Maulana Azad, Allama Iqbal had visited.

In Jamia, Premchand met teachers, students and others. On the second day, a ‘Meet the Author’ kind of programme was organised. Premchand was happy to see many people taking interest in his literary journey. The mood was upbeat and electric in the campus.

While he was meeting some writers, Aqeel saheb requested Premchand to write a story in Jamia campus for posterity before leaving for Banaras. Perhaps that was not a big deal for the wordsmith par excellence. 

He did not disappoint his host. He authored heart-wrenching story Kafan there only. Perhaps, it was for the first time that Premchand had written a story on ‘request’.

Remember Kafan was originally written in Urdu. It is supposed to be the last story he wrote before his death on October 8, 1936. Kafan was read in Jamia campus in the presence of Jamia community. It was liked and debated there at length. Later, Kafan was published in the December, 1935 issue of the quarterly Risala magazine.

“While the original story of Kafan remained intact in Urdu, the name of an important character was changed when it came out in Hindi. The central character Madho became Madhav in Hindi,” informs Professor Abdul Bismillah, who taught Hindi in Jamia Millia Islamia for several decades.

Kafan is a poignant story. It revolves mainly around two characters Ghisu and Madhav, the father and son, who are poor and but not keen on working to earn on a regular basis. Both just want to relax and rest all the time. Despite not working, they yearn for good food and booze. This habit of theirs proved very costly when Bhudhiya, the wife of Madhav was on way to starting a family. Sadly enough, the pregnant lady developed some serious complications and medical attention was required immediately.

However, the heartless Ghishu and Madhav did nothing to ensure her urgent medical attention. As both father and son were rank parasites, there was no money in their house. The poor lady died due to lack of proper medical care.

Despite the abject poverty they were facing, Ghishu and Madhav did virtually nothing to earn. They lived on the mercy of villagers. Both were idlers. They had a notorious reputation in their village as well. Everybody knew about them. After the death of Bhudhiya, Ghisu and Madhav begged for some money from the rich and powerful people of their village. 

Even though they were disliked, people gave them money for the funeral of the poor lady. But the father-son duo bought liquor instead of kafan (shroud) for the final rites. They fully enjoyed their booze session. That is heart wrenching. 

THE WORKS: Premchand wrote popular novels like Godan, Gaban, Nirmala, Rangboomi and Eidgah

Meanwhile, the original manuscript of Kafan in Urdu is now preserved in Jamia’s library. Kafan in Hindi was first published in a magazine called Chaand in 1936, barely a few months before Premchand died.

Kafan apart, it seems that Premchand had high hopes from Jamia’s contribution in the field of education as early as 1932. One can see a plaque outside the Jamia’s Premchand Archives & Literary Centre. On this plaque, Premchand’s thoughts on Jamia are inscribed. 

“Jamia Millia is among those Muslim institutions that have been doing yeoman service in the field of imparting education.”

Premchand and Kafan apart, Jamia has to serve India as it has the blessings of none other than Mahatma Gandhi.