The legendary writer and author Munshi Premchand is known for his path-breaking stories that show the mirror to the society. Through his novels, short stories and writings, he brought various social evils to light.
But it would come as a surprise to many to know that Premchand not only took interest in cricket but also wrote extensively about it. The late artiste used to write editorials in the newspaper Jagran back then and some of them were about cricket.
Premchand was born in 1880 and passed away in 1934. Hence, he wrote on cricket at a time when the game was in its infantry stage in India. This makes it all the more pleasantly surprising to know about his passion for the game back then.
This facet about the writer is brought to light by author Ramachandra Guha in his acclaimed book A Corner of a Foreign Field: The Indian History of a British Sport. But I came to know about this through the Instagram user Debjit Lahiri on his famous cricket page @forgottencricketmemories.
Guha’s book tells us that Premchand also wrote on India’s famous tour of England in 1932. The team was led by the Maharaja of Porbandar and it had some talented players, including CK Nayudu. But one needs to understand that these were very early days for the Indian team and one couldn’t expect them to perform like a strong team.
As per an excerpt from the book produced by Scroll.in, Premchand wrote, “The Indian cricket team returned home. Although it did not achieve such spectacular success, it showed England that India cannot be neglected even in the field of play. The truth is that the people of India can beat the world if they get opportunities in every sphere of life. The people of England take pride in cricket. This pride must have received a big shock this time. It is a matter of joy that the Viceroy honoured the Indian team and introduced himself as a gentleman.”
But Premchand was largely known for fearlessly jotting down issues that harmed the country. Hence, in his cricket columns, he also criticized the idea of spending a large amount on the sport when the country was reeling with economic issues.
He wrote, as reproduced by Scroll.in, “For the cricket matches, railways gave concessions, express trains were put into service, entertainers are moving to Kolkata with their luggage in tow. And here it is being said that there is recession and lethargy to reduce wages, to cut the salary of servants but there is always a boom in such occasions (cricket matches).”
In one of the columns, Premchand compared the situation with the French revolution. He wrote, “It is said that before the French Revolution, people used to die of hunger and their rulers and zamindars and mahajans would enjoy drama and dance. We are witnessing the same scene in India today. There is an outcry in the countryside. In the cities, they are having a ball. In the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) extravaganza, there are aeroplane exhibitions on display and money is being spent with great cruelty.”
In one of the matches in Varanasi, Rs 25 thousand was collected from five thousand tickets sold. Questioning the flow of money at such a time, Premchand wrote, “At least twenty-five thousand rupees were collected from tickets. And where did all this money come from? It came from the same babus and rich people who might not offer a dime for any national work.”
But that’s not all. Premchand also criticized the inclusion of influential people in the Indian team just because of their rich background, rather than merit. This instantly brings to mind the nepotism debate going on among the Hindi film lovers since recent years.
He wrote, “Any player the administrators like is the one who finds himself in the XI. The only player certain of a place in the XI is the one who is nominated by the officials. On behalf of India, the Viceroy sends the congratulations. The representation of India is in the hands of these officials. So why shouldn’t the power to select players be in their hands too?”
Interestingly, Premchand also wrote fiction pieces on cricket in his novel Vardan and the short story titled Cricket Match.