I have read a number of books in English and Hindi. Most of them have been to my liking and I have spent many an hour reading them. But one which has pleased me most is Munshi Prem Chand’s ‘Godaan’.
‘Godaan’, is Prem Chand’s master-piece and ranks very high in the world of fiction. The book portrays the life of the poor villagers – Hari, Dhania and tohers. The author felt the problems of the villagers and placed them before us honestly. Closely connected with their lives is the picture of the town people – Meassrs Khanna and Mehta and ladies. Like Gobindi, Malti and others. They are a contrast to the lives of these simple villagers.
The poor work like slaves. They work the whole year round but cannot enjoy the fruit of their labour. They are superstitious. They are heavily in debt. They are robbed by the money-lenders and the rich zamindars. The town people, on the other hand, live on the labour of villagers. They enjoy life their feasts, picnics and merry-makings.
This is not all. The town people have their own problems. Khanna and Gobindi do not lead a happy domestic life. Khanna is the owner of a sugar mill. Gobindi, his wife is a good lady but the couple is not happy. In spite of wealth, Mrs. Khanna is a specimen of ideal Indian lady.
She is disregarded by her husband; yet like a true and devoted1 wife, she considers it her duty to serve him. She knows what her husband is about but she has not a word of complaint. On the other hand, there is Malti. She is full of the spirit of the West. She has a love affair with Mr. Mehta. Even the wealthy Mr. Khanna falls in her trap.
The author is not against the education of women but he does not want ladies to be flirts. Like the great English philosopher Ruskin, he believes that woman’s right place is in the house — to be the mistress10 of the house and not the rival of men in the field of their activities.
Prem Chand is a master of characterisation. It is because of this that there is in the pages of this novel a masterly portrayal of characters. Hori, the hero of the novel, is not a mere individual; he is the very picture of the Indian villager. He faces hardships and sorrows with patience. His wife Dhania, his son Gobar and all others whom we come across in the novel are life-like.
Prem Chand is also a master of wit and humour. The whole book abounds in situations which are humorous in the extreme. There is both tragedy and pathos and plenty of satire. Prem Ghand is, indeed, at his best in this novel.