‘PARIKSHA GURU’ by Lala Srinivas Das is considered to be the first proper novel in Hindi. It was published in 1882. It talks about the extravagance of modern bankers and traders of India. The distinct characteristic of Parikshaguru is that for the first time it presents the realistic issues of life. It depicts the milieu of the traditional hindu elites, wealthy traders and bankers in the 19th century. It presents the story of a money-lender from Delhi, Madanmohan, who falls into the company of selfish and flattering friends, who desert him during distress and how then Madanmohan is helped by his only true friend, Brajkishor.
Lala srinivas das himself belonged to the same contemporary society of trading class, the class that played a crucial role in the transition of society. His father worked as an accountant for Mathura’s famous money-lender- Lakshmichand, and he lived in the bungalow provided by Lakshmichand in Delhi. Srinivas das was born there only. He started learning the work of trading and money-lending from his father and thus was appointed as manager in the same firm at an early of 18. As the author himself belong to the merchant class. So this emphasizes the possibility of the events in the novel to be based on real incidents.
Arrival of Britishers in India marked the arrival of mechanic age in India, which gave rise to industrialism. In colonial India of 19th century, the rule of law became important. Britishers were not only rulers, but also traders; hence merchant community in India came into power and according to the rules formulated by the new legal institutions, “merchants could alter their own modes of operation”. In this novel, merchants like Mr. Bright and Mr. Russell have been talked about, who used to have trade relations with Indian merchants.
The novel, very well, focuses on the merchant milieu of the 19th century colonial India. The protagonist of the novel, Madanmohan, belongs to the merchant’s class of wealthy middle class society of India. He is always surrounded by a group of big and small traders, travels in modern carriages, maintains gardens in the outskirts if the city, visits courtesan’s house to watch their dance etc. His father was an old fashioned, practical man of values who had acquired much wealth, but Madanmohan could not treasure it well. He wastes it in buying expensive but useless fripperies, only on the recommendation of his selfish friends, who gain commission from the merchants like Mr. Bright. These groups of selfish and flattering friends include Munshi Chunnilal, Master Shimbhudayal, Pt. Purshottam Das, Babu Paijnath and others.
Like in 17th century, reputation in the market was linked with one’s standard of living and connection with temples and charitable works. Madanmohan, like other merchants of that period, believes in the same theory and hence buys expensive articles only to show off. He has a good collection of imported articles like furniture, chairs and tables, clock, western musical instruments etc.
He has subscription to many different newspapers and journals, but they are not used to read news, instead to read advertisements about new fripperies and items, so that he could be the first one to buy them. He has to maintain that so-called ‘merchant sakh’ in the society and as Vasudha Dalmia says in her essay- “If a merchant had a social and commercial ‘sakh’, his hundis or promissory notes, would be honored without further ado in the bazaar”; and since, Madanmohan had great reputation in the market, his words of mouth were enough and hence, most of the items were brought on credit from the market, which meant piling of debts over Madanmohan’s head.
Merchant group is also known to be the selfish group of people. It is said that they are nobody’s friends or relatives. Madanmohan’s friends belong to this section of society. They were just Madanmohan’s money’s friends, who always urged him to buy useless things, as they would gain commission in return from the shopkeepers and money-lenders. They even keep him away from the good company of Brajkishor, but desert him as soon as they see him in distress.
One incident which depicts the selfishness of Madanmohan’s friends is when Hargobind tells about the caps newly arrived in the market, which originally
cost 25 rupees, but offers to get them at 20, and actually manages to get them at Rs. 18 each. Madanmohan has full faith on him and buys those caps, though he does not need them. Just then, another merchant Harkishor, enters and tells Madanmohan that actual price of those caps is rs.12 each, to which he is ridiculed by Madanmohan.
This is the clear case where we find Madanmohan blindly trusting on his friends and his friends, in return, use him for their selfish needs. They have so much influence over him that when Mr. Russell asks for money, they urge Madanmohan to help him anyhow, and when Harkishor, asks for his own money, they ridicule him and refuse to give him any money. And it is when, the problems in Madanmohan’s life begin. Harkishor warns them to file a suit against Madanmohan and even spreads the rumour about Madanmohan’s insolvency in the market, which creates a fear among the shopkeepers and creditors about their money.
With the arrival of modern means of communication, like the telegraph and newspaper, the news of somebody’s good or bad reputation would travel very fast. That is why, the news of Madanmohan’s state of insolvency spreads so fast that all his friends refuse to lend him money at the time of need and hence, he is driven to court by his creditors and hence, towards the end of the novel, he finds himself in jail.
In the court trial also, we find that Nihalchand is reluctant to show his account books as merchants used to be secretive about their transactions and revealing it in law courts meant loss of their credit in the market.
The novel also depicts the new, modernized and “mechanized” sense of time. In the very first chapter of the novel, Chunnilal talks about the guaranteed precision of his modern watch, in which time could be forwarded accordingly, as he does to take Madanmohan away from Brajkishor.
The theme of the novel is to prove that the trial is real guru. Only the trial during adversity differentiates the good people from the bad and fair weather friends. And the only friend who proves to be the “friend indeed” of Madanmohan is Brajkishor, who makes all special efforts to reform Madanmohan, takes him out of his adversity, helps him to clear off his debts, and come out of jail. Unlike Madanmohan’s other friends, he is not selfish; though modernized in his attitude, he is proud of his culture.
Thus, we see that Srinivasdas, through his “Parikshaguru”, desires to modernize the nation but gives a message that the western culture should not be emulated blindly.