Dhanpat Rai Shrivastava was born on July 31, 1880 in the small village of Lamahi, located near the city of Banaras in India. Although born into the Hindu Kaystha caste, made up of professionals including writers, doctors and lawyers, his family was poor. His father was a low paid postal employee. His mother died when he was only eight years old. His father remarried, but Dhanpat Rai did not like his stepmother. He studied Urdu and Persian, languages used in literature and administration in 19th century North India at a nearby school. He recalles his childhood fondly in one of his stories, so it is fairly safe to assume that he was a happy and well cared for child.
Dhanpat Rai was married at the early age of fifteen. This marriage did not last long, possibly because he was rushed into the marriage by his father. He later remarried a balavidhava, or childhood widow named Shivrani Devi. This marriage was a happy one, and they had several children together. She was said to be very supportive of him throughout their lives together.
Dhanpat Rai graduated from school at the age of eighteen and began to teach around the countryside. He taught for a few years in various North Indian towns while earning a college degree.
Dhanpat Rai began to write when he began teaching school. He took up the pen name Premchand when he began writing. His writing was more than just a past time for him; it was an attempt to change the social structure of India. Premchand died at the age of 56 on October 8, 1936. His causes of death were a gastric ulcer, dropsy and cirrhosis of the liver.
In The Road to Salvation, the author is trying to point out some of the problems in the social structure of India. In this story, two working class men financially and spiritually ruin each other. Premchand is not only trying to point out the unrest between members of the same caste, he is also trying to make people see that as long as they ruin each other, nothing will change in their social structure.
The story line in this piece is quite unfamiliar to me as I have grown up in a completely different society, but I did make connections to my own life. Near the beginning of this story, Buddhu tries to take his sheep through Jhingurs sugar cane field. This sparks a problem with Jhingur as he is worried about what the sheep may do to his crop. Buddhu refuses to take his sheep elsewhere and Jhingur retaliates by brutally beating Buddhus sheep until they find a new path. As a vegetarian and champion of animal as well as human rights, this description brought back thousands of images of abused animals. There were always the horrific images of dogs, cats and other household pets abused by their owners, but the more disturbing pictures were of scientists and other professionals harming animals all in the name of science.
I made another connection after Buddhu had burned Jhingurs fields, and Jhingur had decided to get even with him in one way or another. He began his plan by befriending Buddhu, giving him the impression that he had no idea who had burned his fields. I went through a similar experience when I had my credit card stolen from my purse in an employee bathroom while working at a Chilis in Michigan. The police had called me to watch a surveillance video from a neighborhood store, and I had identified the thief. The detectives were going to come to Chilis to question her later that day, and ironically, I also had to work. I was as friendly as I could be to her, just knowing that she would get what was coming to her. It felt really good at the time, but as I look back, it does seem a bit evil.
Were Buddhu and Jhingur bad people? Were they acting out of their own bad character, or was it simply a manifestation of their upbringing in a feudalist society? This story really makes me wonder if a person can look beyond the restraints of the caste system, or if once born into it, he or she is systematically drained of any hopes and dreams of succeeding in anything other than the work of his or her caste. All of the things that Buddhu and Jhingur did to one another were efforts to raise their standing in their caste. What could they have gained? They certainly could have made more money, but their ultimate standing in society would not have changed. Buddhu would always be a shepherd and Jhingur would always be a farmer. Can their actions be excused simply because of their social standing? No. They were still acting maliciously and were being horrible people and neighbors. A person must always take responsibility for their actions, no matter what the conditions. I dont think that they were evil people, but they were definitely not people I would choose for neighbors or friends.
The title of the story alludes to the fact that all of these events are some type of spiritual path for these two men leading them to salvation. In the end, they are both left with nothing, actually working together. They manage to befriend each other and admit the wrongs they committed against one another. Have they achieved salvation? That is really not for me to say, but they definitely came out of the whole situation as better people.