In Premchand’s classic, Godaan, the sugar mill owner, who also runs a bank and speculates in stocks, silver, cotton, and wheat, is called Mr Khanna.1 Like all great writers, Premchand had a tactile sense of the ground beneath his feet as well as a capacity to transcend the immediate and the obvious. Khanna happens to be a Khatri surname; in 1936, when Godaan was published, there were hardly any big industrialists from this community. The only two famous Khatri names then were Karamchand Thapar (who had just about floated his first colliery and a couple of paper mills) and the sugar baron Gokul Chand Narang. The fact that Premchand consciously chose Mr Khanna as his mill owner, rather than a Mr Jhunjhunwala, a Mr Dalmia or a Mr Kanoria, only shows that the Khatris were an emergent force in Indian industry by the 1930s.
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