Book Review: Playground – Rangbhoomi by Premchand


Title:
Playground: Rangbhoomi
Author: Premchand
Translator: Manju Jain
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143102113
Extent: 692pp
Format: Paperback (Demy)
Source: Publisher
Price:  Rs. 500

I had not read a single book by Premchand (or Munshi Premchand, as he was known) till I read Rangbhoomi. I had read a one-off story in school (since we had a story by him as a part of the syllabus) and that was that. Nothing more than that as he never sparked my interest when it came to either Basha Literature or the fact that I found his works too depressing and rustic. I was at a stage in my life when probably the world literature influences were heavier than the Indian ones. Till lately, my interest varied and I wanted to read something by him. I have read a lot of Indian Literature; however we belong to the generation sadly of translations and must make do with them. Here, I would like to give full-credit to the translator of this work, Manju Jain for providing us with this gem of a work.

Translating a work is not easy. There are times when maybe you miss out on the finer details that the original work intended to communicate to its readers. However, thankfully so that is not the case with this translation, owing to the fact that the translator is also an Indian. Rangbhoomi as a novel is complex – it has many layers to it which take time to unfold and come to the surface. The title itself means, “The arena of life” – which is so apt to the entire book. It is life playing itself in its arena and in many shapes, forms and emotions.

At over 700 pages, Rangbhoomi is a big book and yet it satisfies the reader in ways one cannot even begin to fathom. The plot of the book is simple as the case is in most Premchand’s works: Oppression of the working classes, namely in Rural India, which would mean – the farmers. We encounter the blind Surdas and his chronicle from life to death and the hardships he suffers on the account of his place in the society – that of a farmer.

Munshiji has been the hallmark of Indian Literature. Right from Godan (The Gift of a Cow) to the short story Kafan (Shroud), his penmanship skills have been brilliant and long-lasting in the memory of his readers. The narrative of Premchand is biting – it makes you think and wonder about the caste system that still exists in our country in hamlets and villages. May be a change will come someday. It ought to.

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