In 1936, about ten years before Indian independence, Premchand, who is also known as the Shakespeare of India, produced us Godaan (The Gift of a Cow). It is an epic novel which has been acclaimed by many notable literary critics on international platform. And in India, this novel is considered the greatest milestone in the era of ‘New Stories’. The study of Hindi literature wouldn’t be considered complete without the study of Godaan; or it can also be said that no one can do his/her PhD in Hindi literature without the study of Godaan.
In brief, this novel tells us an epic story about a miserable peasant who desires to buy a pair of cows so that he can maintain his social and economic status in the conservative society. He also wishes to shower his love and affection on his family by showing his strength of character. By now you would have understood that buying a pair of cows must be a big deal for a poor peasant in that time.
Well, this is not it! You also come to know about meek and loyal yet strong character of Hori (the protagonist), turbulent Dhaniy (Hori’s wife), obedient yet rebellious Gobar (their son), Datadin (a cunning priest), Rai Sahab (the face of old Zamindari system), Mirza Khurshid (a benign Muslim Businessman, though drunkard) and many other interesting characters. The innocent love affair of Gobar with a widow is also a very significant part of the novel. And those moments when kith and kin open their hearts in the miserable times leave you choked with emotions.
Critics also claim that Godaan is a timeless novel of India, thus it becomes a very important book for one who wants to be acquainted with the history of this county. It is very surprising or rather unfortunate that even today India is suffering from those social and economic struggles which have been exposed in the novel written about eighty years ago. Of course, the level of economic misery mentioned in the novel is not prevalent in today’s society but the helplessness, hopelessness, corruption, exploitation, social norms & restrictions, and the fragile happiness of middle class remain almost similar. It seems as though this novel has united this county with its social thread common in every province. The condition of farmers in the North was not much different from that in the South.
The translation of this book into English and other foreign languages faced much difficulty due to linguistic and philosophic barriers. Fortunately, today we have various promising translations of this novel. A translation by Gordon C. Roadarmel in 1968 is very popular and it is considered a ‘Classic’. Surely, even today Godaan is one of the best-selling books, and considered a ‘hot-pick’ in book stores and on e-commerce websites. Obviously, people are curious to know what and how we were in the past.
Today readers pick Godaan when they want to read a quality Indian novel. It has also been adapted into a Hindi film in 1963. This black & white film was not very successful but tried very hard to do justice to the book. It has also been adapted into a TV mini-series produced by famous poet and lyricist Gulzar in 2004. And this adaption, packed with notable theater artists, has really got some very positive reviews from critics as well as from general audience.