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Roundabout | Stories to remember

Munshi Premchand’s story ‘God Lives in the Panch’ was solace to the mind in the tricity’s recent troubled waters

columns Updated: Sep 03, 2017 10:54 IST
Munshi Premchand
Munshi Premchand

Stories that are read or heard often come rushing to the mind when one is faced with trying and even not so trying times. Given our strong oral tradition of fables, allegories and parables, the generations that have passed by would have a story almost for every situation to drive home the significance of the passing events.

Tales are not just tales, even though we dismiss a liar or a bluff for spinning yarns, there is a pint to them that becomes more meaningful to a mind not evolved enough to handle the abstract of the fleeting moments of life. A child’s mind is filled with stories as she/he is readied to take on the great advantage of life. Commenting on the power stories American fiction writer and essayist Barry Lopez says, “If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That’s why we put stories in each other’s memories”. These are the stories that would fortify the young against depression unleashed by ‘Blue Whale’ and such other challenges in times when the individuals have been isolated by machines rather than the magic of grandmothers gathering the young for cosy story-telling session that travelled deep into the dark night.

This week it was a story by the famed Hindi-Urdu writer, Munshi Premchand (1880-1936), that came to the mind midst the chaos of ‘Ba-ba Black Sheep’ with annoyed devotees storming in not by the dozen but by the million, police lining up, old people frightened in their havens in the backdrop of the Shivalik hills and many isolated with little flats with little hope coming from anywhere.

Well, we have not forgotten our great writers. We do remember them on birth and death anniversaries but rarely does a story by them come to us in uncertain moments. Premchand we know well for his immense struggle to survive monetarily as a writer, we know also his novels and stories which were turned into memorable films. It was history on the fall of Avadh and abdication to the crown by Wajid Ali Shah, and Premchand wrote a story “Shatranj ke Khiladi’ set in this backdrop and telling of two nawabs and the decadence of the times as they are so engrossed in their game of chess when the kingdom falls.

But it was not this story by the Munshi but another one that came to the mind as amidst all the darkness the judiciary brought hope to the people in the region and the country on the heels of some significant verdicts coming from the Supreme Court. These gave a fresh lease life for people who have by and large become cynical of all systems, judiciary notwithstanding.

The story was ‘Panch Parmeshwar’ translated into ‘God Lives in the Panch’ and prescribed in various text books at the school and college levels. If I am not getting it right, it was a part of by BA Part I course of Panjab University, vintage 1972. This story of two village friends Jumman Sheikh and Alghu Chaudhri are estranged by a verdict which the latter gives against the former in the Panch. When the Jumman’s turn come to settle scores, he is all set to do it with vengeance. But the moment he sits on the Panch’s mat, a change comes over him and he can do only what is just and right thus proving that god or justice do live in the Panch.

The story had given me goose pimples even then for it was written with remarkable understatement by master and this time it gave me faith that all is not lost and let us put the Blue Whales of the ocean of life to rest. Joy also to know that is still part of the CBSE course and no one has thought of banning Premchand and his stories yet.