The year was 2005. It was just another class on Munshi Premchand that Dr. Yadav was teaching. Except it wasn’t. The students’ enthusiasm to preserve Premchand’s heritage was so overwhelming that Dr. Yadav ended up making a trip to UP. To meet the Chief Minister. Here’s what happened.
Dr. Vinay Kumar Yadav has been teaching Hindi at Bishop Cotton Women’s Christian College, Bengaluru, for 18 years now and is head of the Hindi department there. But he clearly remembers the one class he took that ignited the hearts and minds of the students who attended it.
“As a teacher, one sometimes gets a class that is very active and enthusiastic. Back in 2005-06, I got a 2nd pre-university class to teach. One lesson in that class had such a huge impact that it changed everyone’s thought process and had a ripple effect on the field of literature,” says Dr. Yadav.
Dr. Yadav, who loves the work of celebrated Hindi author Munshi Premchand, was teaching Lamhi – Munshi Premchand Ka Gaon (Lamhi, the village of Munshi Premchand). The lesson, which was about Munshi Premchand’s home in Lamhi, a small village in Uttar Pradesh (UP), compared its significance to that of the residence of William Shakespeare in London.
“I was really touched by the comparison, especially since the author had written that Premchand’s house was in a bad condition. In contrast, Shakespeare’s house and heritage are very well preserved by the Britons,” says Dr. Yadav.
The students too were moved by Premchand’s story and suggested that something be done to preserve the home of this great writer.
Dr. Yadav was delighted by their interest and asked them to work on a campaign to get signatures of their classmates and teachers on an application that he would send to the government in UP. He drafted the letter, which had three demands: to convert Premchand’s house into a museum, make a library there, and also create a research centre for Hindi scholars on the premises.
“We got about 2,000 signatures in one day. This was a huge positive development. I thought if we can get so many signatures in just a day, we can get more easily. I also thought 2,000 signatures would not be enough and the government may just ignore the application. If we wanted to get the government’s attention we needed a lot more supporters,” says Dr. Yadav.
So Dr. Yadav asked his students to spread the word about their cause and efforts to friends, family and neighbours and collect more signatures. In the meantime, he decided to visit Lamhi to see Premchand’s house for himself.
Dr. Yadav left for Lamhi as soon as the college vacation started. On reaching the village, he was amazed to find that people there did not even know of the existence of Premchand’s home in their midst. He finally managed to locate the house that was lying in a derelict and abominable condition.
“I was shocked by the condition of the house. The author who had given a new direction to Indian literature, the author whose writing had played a crucial role in India’s freedom by inspiring many freedom fighters, the author who is known as ‘Upanyas Samrat,’ deserved more. His legacy, his house, did not deserve this treatment,” says Dr. Yadav passionately.
He took pictures of Premchand’s home to show his students and went back to Bengaluru. In the meantime, one lakh signatures had been collected on the application letter.
This was a huge achievement and Dr. Yadav was now ready to take the plea to the Chief Minister of UP.
It took some effort to get an appointment with the then CM of UP, Mulayam Singh Yadav. But the latter was impressed by Dr. Yadav’s passion for Hindi literature.
“He said he was impressed that someone had come from all the way down South to ask that the house of an author in UP be preserved. He immediately sanctioned an amount of Rs. 1 crore and allocated 2.5 acres of land for the project,” Dr. Yadav says.
The renovation work started soon after but was stopped when the government changed in UP. Dr. Yadav wrote several letters to the new government but did not receive any response.
It was in 2013, when Akhilesh Yadav came to power, that Dr. Yadav saw the opportunity to get the project restarted. He spoke to the CM, who agreed that the work should continue.
Today, 90 percent of the renovation work is finished and Dr. Yadav keeps an eye on its progress. “I have visited the place a few times now. It is looking great and the house will soon be ready,” he says.
Dr. Yadav has suggested to the UP government that Premchand’s house be placed under the tourism department so that it can attract more visitors. “Even if a small amount like Rs. 10 is charged from the visitors, it can generate huge monthly revenues for its upkeep,” he says.
Thanks to this teacher and his incredible students, an iconic house, which otherwise would have just faded away into oblivion, will now be preserved to inspire generations of writers to come.
“Premchand was not an ordinary writer. His stories were real and depicted the misery of the common man who was exploited by the rich. They really touch one’s heart,” he concludes.