Idgah is a story written by Munshi Premchand. It was published in 1933, when India was still under colonial rule.
The story gives a tele-micro-nanoscopic view of realities of its space and time. While focusing on the interaction of children in the story with the spaces constructed and created by adults (which contained within it the east-west interfacial spaces), the story spectrumises the journey from fasting to feasting; from village to city; from desire to need; from spaces of the colonized to colonized spaces.
In moving from the milieu of village to the milieu of city, the story moves from one way of life to the one implanted with instruments by the colonizer. And in the encounter of children with these instruments in the form of toys (policeman, lawyer, etc.) the story highlights and questions the exclusivity of these implanted institutions. Further, the story also anticipates the dangers of superimposing the elements of one space over the other without taking into consideration the unique language of that space and through the metaphor of chimta (a pair of tongs used for cooking Indian bread) the story presents to the reader an organic and inclusive option.
Actually, the story articulates its way by first engaging with the complexities of celebration by zooming in and out from the innocence and awareness of children. Id-the festival in the story-has at its nucleus the concept of fasting. At the most basic level, it’s a journey from fasting to feasting, where feasting or may be fasting also is married to economics. Children in the story challenge this conventionality by going to idgah without fasting. So basically, children enter into the world of adults by (first and foremost) unstitching the conventionality. This challenging is found nuanced in Hamid who further unstitches the conventionality by fasting against the delicacies on the feast day to ultimately buy a chimta for his grandmother. That is to say, Hamid feasts by controlling his desires and buying a utility, a need of his grandmother.
In the final words of the story, when Hamid gifts this chimta to his grandmother, Premchand adds another frequency to this cultural-economic complexity by writing in the tears of Ameena-the grandmother-silences of love. Khushwant Singh’s translation of the story expresses the same as follows:
And the strangest thing happened— stranger than the part played by the tongs was the role of Hamid the child playing Hamid the old man. And old Granny Ameena became Ameena the little girl. She broke down. She spread her apron and beseeched Allah’s blessings for her grandchild. Big tears fell from her eyes. How was Hamid to understand what was going on inside her!
In other words, at every level the story is trying to access what is not immediately accessible and in doing so, is attempting to collect some light from the shadows.
You can read Khushwant Singh’s English translation of the story here:
The story is also adapted into a short film, written and directed by Gulzar. But I will advise you to read the story because the film does not highlight the section on toys which I think is crucial for the postcolonial reading of the story. In fact according to me it is the most important part of the story which asks important questions related to self of the nation.
Here is the original version of the story photographed from Premchand Rachna Sanchayan published by Sahitya Akademi: