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Book Review: Gaban by Munshi Premchand

Munshi Premchand’s novels and short stories are known for having socio-economic themes in them. Probably, he is the only writer from the pre-independence era who wrote explicitly about lower and middle-class issues which troubled the lives of Indians. Basically, he depicts that how a person or family gets in the vicious circle to free themselves from many delusional gripping aspects like poverty, status quo, pride and so on. However, little did they realize that their situation in the vicious circle is very unlikely to be improved? As a human, seldom people realize their mistake, until they reach the point of no return.

Gaban is one such story of a couple who for the sake of vanity and greed run over their own peace – little to their realization. As the story opens it is clear that Ramanath is living a simple and happy life in his village. And soon he is married off to Jalpa. The marriage expenses were arranged by his father on loan money. To pay off the debts, he sells the jewelry brought by his wife in the marriage. Next, to hide his family’s pathetic financial status, he lies to his wife that the jewelry brought by her was stolen. To handle the situation positively and also to fulfill Jalpa’s unending desire of having jewelry and gemstones, he takes up a job, as a clerk, in an Octroi office in Allahabad.

On one side Ramanath is morally corrupt, while on the other hand Jalpa is obsessed with jewelry and hedonistic desires. This combination sets an uncanny subaudition between them. To increase his source of income in order to satiate his wife’s materialistic desires, Rama starts exploring ways of accepting bribes in his work and also begins buying gold from jewelers on credit.

One day, a rich friend of Jalpa - Ratan - gives some money to Rama so that he can bring the same gold bracelet, as sported by Jalpa, for her. Rama pays off his past dues to the jewelers with that money instead of buying the gold bracelet for Ratan. When Ratan pressurizes him for the return of the money, he used his office’s money to pay her. To avoid the consequences of embezzlement, he runs away to Calcutta without informing anyone, including Jalpa.

When the matter goes out of hand and turns worst, Jalpa, as a last resort, pays his office dues and charges by selling off her jewelry. She thinks that it was her desire for hedonistic things that have pushed her husband into such bog. Soon, she begins hunting him. With the help of police and his office members, she tracks his whereabouts. Showing a sign of womanly bravado, she arrives in Calcutta and rightly saves him from the grip of corrupt police that were trying to use him as a fake witness in a case against some non-violent activists.

In the end, they are united. They both take oath not to indulge into unwanted matters for the sake of materialism so as to lead a happy and peaceful life. The story shows that in married life satisfaction should never be overlooked, otherwise problems pour in involuntarily.


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