Ten years ago, Vinay Kumar Yadav had no idea that a classroom discussion he had with his students could today be considered as a real example of how love for language and literature could transcend parochial boundaries to preserve for future readers, the house of Munshi Premchand.
In 2004, Dr Vinay Kumar Yadav, now the head of the Hindi department at the Bishop Cotton Women’s Christian College, was comparing William Shakespeare and Premchand in a class of pre-university students at the same college. The author of the book they were referring to had visited his house in Lamhi and described it as a ramshackle one.
Photographs of the house from 2005, when Dr Vinay Kumar Yadav went to Lamhi for the first time
“Premchand was also known as the Indian Shakespeare. He was instrumental in the fight for India’s freedom as well. His book Soz-e-Watan, meant to inspire Indians to fight for their freedom, was banned by the British because of the unrest it had caused. And this is how we are preserving his legacy?” says Yadav.
Inspired by the writer’s life, the students were driven to do something to give the landmark the respect it deserved. “That particular batch was a vibrant one. They asked me, ‘Sir, can’t we do anything about it?” Yadav recalls.
And thus was born the seed of an idea.
In 2005, when the college broke for vacations, the then 37-year-old professor set out for Lamhi for the very first time. “When I got down at the station in Lamhi and asked for directions to Premchand's house, no one seemed to know it,” he says.
On reaching, he saw for himself the decrepit condition the house was in. At a time when cameras were not handy, Yadav hired a local photographer because he wanted to show his students what he had seen.
Over the next few months, their campaign started gaining momentum. Yadav decided to write a letter to the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and his students collected over one lakh signatures from students in other colleges in the city.
With the help of a few bureaucrats in Delhi, Yadav managed to get an appointment with the then CM of UP Mulayam Singh Yadav. In the summer of 2006, armed with around “200 pages of signatures” the professor of Hindi left for Lucknow where he met the SP patriarch.
Yadav, who has been teaching in Bengaluru for the last 18 years, says, “They were pleasantly surprised that people from south India were working to get Premchand’s house renovated.”
The demands, which he put in a letter, were kept straight-forward - renovation of Premchand’s house and to set-up a museum, a library and a research centre on the premises.
Fifteen days later, a fax arrived at the college stating that the CM was convening a meeting on Munshi Premchand's birth anniversary and asked whether Yadav would like to attend it.
“The vacation had just got over and classes had resumed. Also it would take me at least three days to reach Lucknow, and I would not be able to make it in time for the meeting. Our Principal then thought that I should be a part of the meeting and got flight tickets booked for me,” Yadav says.
In the June of 2006, Yadav says, Mulayam Singh sanctioned Rs 1 crore and two-and-a-half acres of land for the project.
Work did begin on the house, but when the government changed the next year, it got stalled. Numerous letters to the new government requesting restoration of work went unanswered, says Yadav.
In 2013, after Akhilesh Yadav had become CM, he came to Mysuru to attend a function. "I went to meet him and he assured me that the work would resume,” Yadav says.
At present, over 90 percent of work on the house is complete, he says, adding that he had been to Lamhi only last year and keeps a regular eye on the progress.
Photographs of the house after renovation
“The central government has also pitched in and an extra building has come up on the premises. Once the construction is complete, the house will be handed over to the government, after which plans to formally launch it will be made,” Yadav says.