Summary of Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand
Table of Contents
The Outcastes’ Colony
The outcastes’ colony was a group of mud walled houses situated outside the town and was inhabited by washermen, the leather workers and the scavengers of Bulandshahr. The houses are cluster together in two rows, under the shadow of the town and the cantonment, but outside their boundaries and separate from them. A brook ran near the lane with crystal clear waters now soiled by the dirt and filth of the public latrines situated about it, the odour of the hides and skins of the dead carcasses left to dry on its banks, dung of donkeys, sheep, horses, cows and buffaloes heaped up to be made into fuel cakes.
The absence of a drainage system had, through the rains of various seasons, made a quarter of marsh which gave out the most offensive smell and hardly fit for human dwelling. Bakha, who inhabits one of the one roomed houses is a scavenger and is, therefore, subjected to clean three rows of latrines which lined the extreme end of the colony, by the brook-side. Bakha is distinguished from typical scavengers because of longer association with the army barracks and it has acquainted him with the way the British Tommies live. Bakha becomes an anglophile. His passion for the English fashion is outstanding and a rare phenomenon amongst the untouchables. He sleeps on the floor and covers himself with a blanket because he considers it his insult to use an Indian quilt. He nurses and cherishes his every desire for exotic English articles and English dress.
A Morning with Bakha
“Ohe, Bakhya ! Ohe Bakhya ! Ohe scoundrel of a sweeper’s son! Come and clean a latrine for me!” Bakha is rudely awakened the morning to resume his routine work. He is sincere and punctual his work though his father, Lakha is always scolding him. He treats with least affection and after his mother’s demise his father become more ego-centric and egoist, Bakha’s mother used to be compassionate, over-indulging. During his mother’s life Bakha never realizes any of his wishes unfulfilled.
Havildar Charat Singh complains, “Why aren’t the latrines clean, Ohe rogue of a Bakha ? There is not one fit to go near. I have walked all round. Do you know you are responsible for my piles ! I caught the contagion sitting on one of those dirty latrines !” He is generous, magnanimous and easy to placate.
Bakha is very efficient and proficient at his work. Anand says “He looked intelligent, even sensitive with a sort of dignity that does not belong to the ordinary scavenger who is a rule uncouth and unclean.” Further Anand appreciates, “It was perhaps his absorption in his task that gave him that look of distinction, or his exotic dress however loose and ill-fitting, that lifted him above his odorous world.” Charat Singh gives a brand new hockey stick to Bakha. It comes as an unexpected boon and renders him elated. Bakha does not like Hindu rituals and noisy ablution for they appear superficial and hackneyed. The Tommies detest them. Bakha feels the warmth and comfort in the exotic woollen clothes he was wearing. Although he insists to remain in bed but he cannot resist work that is his first priority.
The Well and the Thirsty Untouchables
Bakha finishes his morning shift of work and comes back home. He is hungry and thirsty for he has not eaten anything since morning. Sohini tries hard to lit the fire but the wet fuel fails her. She realises that there is no water. She balances the pitcher and goes to the well of the caste Hindus where she counts on the chance of some gentleman taking pity on her and giving her the water she needed. The untouchables crowd round the well. They are in desperate need of water. But they can’t dare drawing water from the well because they can foresee the consequences of this act of pollution. Anand writes,
“So the outcastes had to wait for chance to bring some caste Hindu to the well, for luck to decide that he was kind, for Fate to ordain that he had time to get their pitchers filled with water. They crowded round the well, congested the space below its high brick platform, morning, noon and night, joining their hands in servile humility to every passer-by; cursing their fate, and bemoaning their lot, if they were refused the help they wanted; praying, beseeching, and blessing, if some generous soul condescended to listen them, or to help them.”
Fortunately a caste Hindu priest approach He is suffering from chronic constipation. He wants to himself of this trouble by drawing water from the well. He draws water and pours it into Sohini’s pitcher because her sylph-like form, well-rounded hips and globular breasts appeal to his prurient a Sohini comes back with water. Lakha scolds her for being lot pays no heed to her father’s invectives. She prepares to breakfast and serves to her insistent brothers, Bakha and Rakha and her father who has least resistance to hunger. Bakha leaves to do the work which his father instructs him to do in his stead.
Bakha Proceeds to the Town
Bakha comes out of his house and proceeds to the town out of his colony. He is in playful mood and rather jovial. He begins to sing to himself. He stops when he realises that he is being watched by Ram Charan and Chota. He felt abashed at being seen absorbed in singing to himself. They always made a butt of him, ridiculing the weight of his body, the shape of his clothes, his gait, which was a bit like an elephant’s, on account of his heavy, swaying buttocks, a bit like a tiger’s, lithe and supple’. Bakha is informed that Ram Charan’s sister is going to be married. Chota persuades him to work. But he declines making an excuse that he has a lot of work to do and that his father is ill. He is then asked to participate in a game of hockey the afternoon and he concedes. The two sons of burra babu are to bring extra hockey sticks. But the outcaste children do not have any hockey sticks of their own.
Bakha shows a strong yearning for learning alphabets of English and in order to learn alphabets he makes a bargain with the elder son of the burra babu. He agrees to pay him an anna. Bakha proceeds and buys a packet of cigarettes from the betel shop. But Bakha is much humiliated by the shop owner. He joins his hand and begs to know where he could put a coin to pay for a packet of ‘Red Lamp’. The shopkeeper points a spot on the board near him. Reaching the main street, Bakha looks at the various articles displayed in shop’s windows. He buys some cheap sweets because he cannot afford expensive ones. He is relishing sweets and munching playfully, moves on, carefree and absorbed his fancy about English lesson. But very soon his fancy prove be short-lived, unreal and illusion as caste Hindu begins to him and accuses him of polluting, Bakha apologizes but the callous caste Hindu does not melt. He slaps Bakha and spoils his rendering unfit to eat.
Bakha tends to be angry but he soon to realize that he is an outcaste therefore he has to shout and announce his approach when he moves on a public road. Dan his turban again and proceeds announcing his approach. Bakha comes across a bull. The Hindus are touching the animal reverently. The bull is emitting foul smell and excreting dung on the road. Bakha thinks and he is puzzled over the hypocrisy of the Hindu tradition that is more generous to an animal than to an outcaste.
The Massive Temple
Bakha now reaches the temple, a colossal, huge turreted structure of massive stone and carved masonry, the florid exuberance of whose detailed and intricate decorations strikes a strong kind of awe into his being ‘Ram, Ram, Sri, Sri Hari, Narayan, Sri Krishna,’ many people chant the names of various deities and enter the temple. He has a strong desire to view inside the temple but he is not allowed entrance because his presence is believed to defile it. He begins to sweep the courtyard. The work of cleaning or sweeping the courtyard is strenuous but it is less tiring and contemptuous. He collects the rubbish and puts them aside and set them on fire. His temptation to view the deities grows intense and stronger. He is unable to resist it. He moves on and stumbles for a moment, regains his balance but soon he is close enough to peer inside the temple. He sees two priests performing Hindu rituals. The awe is overwhelming. Anand portrays,
“Bakha was profoundly moved. He was affected by rhythm of the song. His blood coursed along the balanced melodic line to the final note of strength with such vigour that his hands joined unconsciously, and his head hung in the worship of the unknown god.”
An outcry and hullabaloo raise, “polluted ! polluted ! polluted !”. The commotion renders him completely unnerved. His eyes are covered with darkness. He cannot see anything. His tongue and throat are parched. He wants to utter a cry, a cry of fear, but his – falls him. He opens his mouth wide to speak. It is of no use. Beads of sweat covered his forehead. He tries to raise himself me awkward attitude of prostration but his limbs have no strength left in them. For a second he was as if dead.
Sohin is molested by Pundit Kali Nath as Sohini herself reports, “He-e- e- just teased me. And then when I was bending down to work he came and held me by my breast”. Bakha becomes angry like storm to punish the Brahmin dog but in the mean time Sohini arrests his progress by dragging hard at the lapel of his overcoat. His eyes flared wild and red, and his teeth ground o the challenge ‘I could show you what that Brahmin dog has done!’ But relaxes when he is assured by his sister that her modesty is not ravished. He offers himself to go in stead of Sohini to collect bread.
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Bakha does not realize the work of collecting bread an congenial; he realises it rather hostile. One generous old-lady him a chapati but another proves to be hostile and heaps affronts and invectives on him for trespassing the prohibited zone. Balch is tired. He takes a brief nap, leaving against a door. But he is scolded for exploiting a luxury of a caste Hindu door. He is asked to vacate the place immediately. On the other hand the lady is too generous to an overfed Sadhu. Bakha, being frustrated and disappointed returned home. Bakha’s father turns indifferent to his agonizing experience of collecting bread. Bakha gets a fresh task of collecting bread.
Bakha and His Apathetic Father
Bakha narrates everything to his father. He tells him about the humiliating experiences of collecting bread. But his apathetic father does not sympathise with him. Lakha holds him responsible for Bakha’s being slapped by a caste Hindu for alleged pollution. He suggests Bakha that an outcaste is obliged to announce his approach Although Lakha’s advice is bitter to Bakha, but he is pragmatic. He narrates the callousness of a caste-Hindu physician who once refuses to give medicine to Rakha while he is in critical condition. Bakha vicariously feels the trauma of a father whose son is dying because of a physician’s apathy.
Rakha and His Family at Meals
The insufficient food Bakha brings is supplemented by a basketful of scraps of bread and other articles of food which Rakha fetches from English mess. They share them together as opposed to caste Hindu’s may of eating from separate plates. The soggy bread left by some sepoy is nauseating. Bakha feels vomiting. Anyhow he controls. Bakha quits from meal very quickly and it is surprising to Lakha. Bakha makes an excuse that he is going to Ram Charan’s house where he has been invited to his sister’s wedding:
Ram Charan’s Sister & Her Wedding
Bakha, punctuated by a profound reason, is going to Ram Charan’s house although he is unwanted and uninvited guest at his sister’s wedding. Bakha once shared a juvenile game of marriage with the bride. Later she grows into a voluptuous young beauty that renders Bakha erotic. He is desperate to have a glance of the bride. Ram Charan calls Bakha to condescend sweets but he does not show much interest in sweet as it is expected by Ram Charan. Bakha quits the wedding party and along with his friend he moves towards the hills. Later, he segregates from them because he loves to be alone at the moment. He needs none’s company. He becomes nostalgic and reminiscent of his childhood and his distinguished character in mock battles. Ultimately he lays flat on the bank of a pool to relieve himself of the persistent nostalgia. There he is traced by his friends. His friends read his melancholy manifest from his face and insist to share his distress and tragedy with them. He narrates heart-rending attempt of sexual assault made on his sister by a hypocrite priest Pundit Kali Nath. They sympathise with him and pledge to abide by him.
Much Coveted and Promised Gift
Bakha has now to go to the quarter of the Havildar who has promised to give the much coveted hockey-stick. He goes by the side of the regimental quarter guard. The typical hat of Havildar hangs on the wall. The hat seems to be an exotic element and all boys are craving to possess it. But its significance still remains a mystery for them. Bakha knocks at the door and call the man out. Bakha takes a little liberty with Havildar because he is well aware of his sympathy and generosity. He responds to Bakha very politely and asks him to fetch some live charcoals for his hookah. Bakha deems it as a sign of honour because he does not show any touchability complex. So he does obey cheerfully. The Havildar gives him tea in his own pot. It is a rare example of generosity and magnanimity among the caste Hindus.
Bakha is overwhelmed and makes a pledge to serve him whenever the man requires him. Bakha receives a brand new hockey stick from Charat Singh with an immense sense of gratitude. Lakha does also try the hockey stick, Bakha, with his Trends, arrives, Babu’s son do arrive too. Teams are selected. They play with enthusiasm and display talents precociously. The game upsets and a chaos emerges Bakha scores a goal but the rival goal keeper gets frustrated and out of frustration hits Bakha on the leg. Soon there is anarchy in the playground. Babu’s younger son sets injured. Bakha gathers the child in his arm and rushes to his house.
To his dismay, Bakha is abused and accused of polluting a caste Hindu child in stead of showing his gratefulness. It is an excruciating experience because Bakha does help the child for he considers it his human obligation. He has no lust for material rewards. He is always misunderstood, underestimated and discarded by the caste Hindus except Havildar Charat Singh who admires his essence.
The Ultimate Affliction
There is no end to Bakha’s miseries yet. He rebukes him for his insincerity and carelessness in duty. Rakha, in his brother’s absence, goes to clean latrines. He feels elated and self-righteous arrogance. Bakha inclines to work but Rakha refuses to give the broom to him and the father commands Bakha not to touch the broom. He compels to leave the house instantly. Bakha is quite unable to manage the situation. He is disheartened. He cannot tolerate this fresh humiliation and at once quits the house. It is not a new experience for him. He is used to such humiliations. Bakha becomes cynical about Rakha for he might have poisoned his father’s ear.