Friday, January 26, 2007

‘Autobiography’ by proxy. Or, design.

I happened to buy yesterday at the Strand Bookstall annual exhibition Premchand’s ‘autobiography’ – compiled by the supposedly ‘final’ authority on Munshi Premchand, Madan Gopal. Entitled My Life and Times, it is described on the cover and the front page as “(an autobiographical narrative)”. In other words, a narrative ‘created’ (or ‘recreated’ as Gopal put it unthinkingly) by stringing the stuff that Premchand wrote (some of it in English and the rest translated, letters published and unpublished and so forth, with the gaps filled in by Gopal’s interpolations printed in italics). The outcome is quite riveting. I found myself devouring the narrative greedily just how Premchand by his own admission used to devour gur. Totally guileless and other worldly he seems to be as a person judging from his own words. He is quite open about his own shortcomings, e.g., his utter callousness towards his first wife because she was ugly, his ratting on his cousin in order to save himself for punishment and so forth. In fact, the way he tells his life story totally disarmed me as a reader. Charming and artless. Worth a read.

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