Best Books of Mulk Raj Anand
Mulk Raj Anand is a “novelist in a hurry”, whose output includes both fiction and non-fiction writings. He had written some work of general and critical interest before he took to writing novels. As a matter of fact, he had contributed to a number of journals and periodicals like Criterion. In order to appreciate his art and to view it in a correct perspective it is required to have some acquaintance with his most selected novels.
Untouchable is the first great sociological novel of Anand, published in 1935. It gives an account of single day event in the life of Bakha, a sweeper boy, the son of Jamadar of the sweeper in the town of Bulashah. He is inspired by the new influences which cause upheaval with him. He somehow manages to get a pair of old breeches from an English soldier and a pair of old boots from a sepoy, and he aspires to emulate the fashions of the foreigner. He is very efficient in his work of cleaning latrines. His sister Sohini is also dexterous after her fashion. One day she goes to the village well to fetch water. Kalinath, a temple priest shows his kind-heartedness to pull out a bucket of water for the assembled outcastes. He then feels attracted to her youthfulness, and driving away the others, pours the water into her pitchers. He then suggests her to come to his house to clean the courtyard and when she does come to do her duty. the priest tries to seduce her, but she starts screaming. Kalinath equally screams “polluted! polluted”. Meanwhile, Bakha approaches at the spot and gets furious, but he sends Sohini away home. He himself goes to collect the pieces of bread from the houses of the rich. On returning home, he bitterly relates the happening to his father. “They think we are mere dirt because we clean their dirt.”
In the afternoon, after attending the marriage of Ramcharan’s sister, his friend, he along with Ramcharan goes to play hockey in the evening. Bakha is given a hockey stick by Havildar Charat Singh, a man of higher caste. Bakha, playing hockey against the 31st Punjabis scores a goal, which starts a free fight. During the game hour a little boy is injured and Bakha tries to lift him up and thus the boy is polluted. His father rebukes him for idling away all the afternoon, and he is then driven out of the house.
Bakha goes to the Gole Maidan where he listens Gandhi’s speech attentively. He is thrilled by his speech that sweepers are men of God and must keep themselves pure by eating only the right food and refusing the leavings of others. But he is more confused than ever. It seemed to him that if he were to refuse the food thrown to him for cleaning latrin-job he should starve. In the crowd, however, he hears a poet Iqbal saying that the problem of untouchability can be solved if modern flush latrines are introduced, then the sweepers can be free from cleaning dirt. Bakha returns to his home in the outcasts’ quarter thinking about “this is wonderful machine that can remove dung without anyone having to handle it”.
Thus, the novel provides a scathing indictment of the caste system and exposes the cruelty and orthodoxy of the caste Hindus.
Coolie is the second great political novel, published in 1936. It narrates the adventures of Munoo, an orphan hill-boy who is hardly fourteen years of age living with his uncle Dayaram and aunt Gujri, and content in the idyllic surroundings of his native village, Bilaspur, inspite of their ill-treatment. He is forced to go to town to earn his livelihood, and arrives at the house of the sub-accountant of the Imperial Bank, Shamnagar. He is ill-treated by a shrewish and vindictive wife of babu Nathoo Ram, Bibiji, and only Chota Babu, Nathuram’s younger brother is kind to him. Being tortured in the house, he runs away from there and relieves himself at his second employer Prabha Dayal’s house as worker in his pickle factory. But he is also ill-treated by Prabha’s co-partner, Ganpat. But unfortu- nately his master is ruined by the dishonesty of Ganpat. He is again forced to leave Daulatpur forever. He started his work as a coolie, but faced tough competion from other coolies. He reaches the Railway Station to work as a coolie, but he is scared away from there because he has no licence.
From this struggle he is rescued by an elephant-driver, and he is helped by him to reach Bombay. In Bombay he meets with a vagrant family-Hari and his wife Lakshmi, and he becomes a worker in a cotton mill with them. He earns his bread in a worst working condition, living in a dilapidated and insanitary pavement. He grows a good friendship with Ratan who descends him into the Red light district, and witnesses a labour strike and Hindu-Muslim riots which is perhaps engineered by the factory bosses to break an impending strike. Last but not the least, he is knocked down by the car of an Anglo-Indian woman Mrs. Mainswaring who brings him back to Simla from Bombay and he is appointed as a page-cum-rickshaw puller. It has been hinted that she uses him sexually. By and large, overwork brings illness and he dies of tuberculosis.
Munoo is a universal character, symbolizing suffering and misery of the poor and exploited masses of India. Thus, the suffering of Munoo, a coolie, attains epic dimensions, and in fact, a universal significance.
#3 Two Leaves and a Bud
Two Leaves and a Bud is a dramatic novel, published in 1937, in which the novelist describes the wretched plight of workers on the tea-plantations of Assam, workers who have to pluck, “two leaves and a bud”, day in and day out.
Gangu is the central figure in the novel, he is by profession a farmer who is middle aged, working on his field in a village near Hoshiarpur in Punjab. He is tempted by the false promises of a tout, and leaves for Assam with his wife Sajani and his children Leila and Buddhu to work on the Machpherson Tea Estate in Assam leaving his native village. Soon he comes to know that the promises made to him were entirely false, it seemed that the world of a tea- plantation were like a prison house. “I suppose it was in our kismet. But at home it was like a prison and here it is slightly worse…First water, afterwards mire. This prison has no bars, but it is nevertheless an unbreakable jail. The chowkidars keep guard over the plantation, and they bring you back if you should run……”
Sajani dies of Malaria and Gangu like other coolies felt plantation life is but a progression from today’s bad to the worse of tomorrow. There were discontent among the coolies and one day they break into open. Two loose women started quarrelling, and Reggie, the Assistant Manager takes a strict action and some coolies are injured. Croft-Cooke makes an appeal to resolve the matter but of no avail. The coolies decide to agitate, and the plantation splits into two camps, with a few dissidents in both of them. The planters meet with aerial assistance, and the use of force bring the coolie-demonstrators into their senses. And no sympathy is shown towards them.
The governor is to visit, and in his greater glory a tiger-hunt is stage-managed. But Reggie is not at all satisfied within and also hated by the coolies. He, out of mad lent attempts to assault Leila, as she is leisurely plucking tea leaves alone. As she runs away, she is followed by him to her house, and his father intervenes to rescue her, but maddened by frustration and fear, he kills Gangu who is in front of him. A trial follows, the tea-planter is brought to court, but Mr. Justice Mowberley, agreeing to the majority view of the white man, acquits him of the charge of murder.
Thus, we see the injustice of the British Raj, and the misery and suffering of Indian masses in the novel. In the other words, the major theme of the novel is the economic exploitation of the workers by the colonialists, or the capitalists. The novelist is of the view- “It is perhaps better written, and technically, it is more complex than Untouchable or Coolie, because I tried to evoke in it the varying moods of the beautiful Eastern Indian landscape and felt the passions with an intensity which I was writing as thinly veiled fiction. But I confess, that, as I got into the book, I was biased in favour of my Indian characters and tended to caricature the Englishmen and English-women who play such a vital part in this book.”
#4 The Lal Singh Trilogy
(Group of Three Novels)
Mulk Raj Anand wrote a trilogy of novels-Village, Across the Black Water, The Sword and the Sickle-dealing with the life of Lal Singh, published during the years 1939-1942, the period of ongoing second World War and the era of the Gandhian struggle for Independence.
Lal Singh is a boy like Munoo and Bakha, but he belongs to a slightly higher social status. He is the son of Nihal Singh, who is a farmer and living in a village of Punjab. Lal Singh is happy living in an idyllic surroundings of the nature. He is a boy of revolutionary views so he has to face troubles at every step. He gets his hair cut because he eats in a Muslim shop. Later, he is charged with molesting a girl on the eve of his elder brother’s marriage. His face is blackened by the villagers and he is made to parade on a donkey. He, however, manages to escape from the scene to avoid this disgrace, and then joins the army. At the village, an ugly accident took place, his brother is hanged because he had killed the landlord’s son. The family is ruined, and old Nihal Singh, dies of heart failure and as the World War I breaks out, Lal Singh is ordered to go across the seas to fight the German Emperor’s armies.
(b) Across the Black Waters
Across the Black Waters is the second novel in Anand’s triology in which Lal Singh’s experiences in abroad are recounted. He first lands at a French port and proceeds fighting on the side of the Allies armies there. He finds the Allies are not united and the British armies are itself discriminated between the angrezy sahibs and the Indian sepoys. The sepoys themselves are not unified, there are many disrupted members among them. While in France, he befriends with a boy Andre and his sister Marie. He sees the death of many of his friends in the battlefield and also through suicide. However, there is no change in Lal even living in these foreign surroundings, he still remains a son of Indian farmer, and a farmer himself.
(c) The Sword and the Sickle
The Sword and the Sickle is the third novel in Anand’s trilogy in which the last phase of Lal Singh’s life is dealt with. Lal Singh returns to India and takes an active part in India’s struggle for freedom. It is a matter of great shock and frustration for Lal to see the various conflicts, tensions, greed and selfishness characteristic of Indian society, even during the days of Gandhian period. Through these shocks, Lal Singh is eventually educated to wisdom and maturity.
#5 The Big Heart
The Big Heart is a novel of stream of consciousness, like Untouchable which was published in 1945. It deals with the conflict between the hereditary coppersmiths and the capitalists. It records the events of a single day in the life of Ananta, the coppersmith, a man of big heart, who has been to Bombay where he has participated in the Gandhian freedom struggle, returns to Amritsar. He faces unemployment because Gokal Chand-a capitalist, sets up a factory. However, Ananta has full faith in the power of the machine. There is an element of romance in the story through his relationship with his mistress Janki who is consumed by tuberculosis. She is with him not only in Bombay but also in Amritsar inspite of all things that people say against them. In the factory run by Ananta, one of the factory workers named Ralia caught by a sudden frenzy and. begins smashing the machines in the factory. Ananta tries to stop him. In the struggle, his head gets battered against the machine and he dies. And finally it is the machine, the symbol of British Raj that overcomes the man in this tragic novel.
#6 Private Life of an Indian Prince
Private Life of an Indian Prince was published in 1953. It is the study of contemporary political history with the personal history of a few individuals. The novel rightly deals with the collapse of princely India after independence and the sufferings of the Indian Princes. The central character is the Indian Prince named Victor, who is one of the six hundred Indian Rajas or Nawabs.
Victor has all the vices of royalty and he misuses his power. He ill-treats his wives. He passes his days in luxury and sloth. Sardar Patel, the then Home Minister of India summons him at last to Delhi and makes him sign the Instrument of Accession. But the administration of the state is rotten and Victor faces fresh troubles, he leaves for the United Kingdom on an enforced holiday. He is soon called back after being implicated in the murder of a rival in love. On his return to India, Victor becomes mad, and he is then admitted to a mental Asylum. Thus, Anand fails to give his hero a model role as he exposes in those of his Untouchable and Coolie.
#7 Seven Summers
Seven Summers was published in 1951. It is the first volume of Anand’s fictional autobiography in seven volumes. In 1926, Anand wrote a 2000 page confession as a lovelorn lover in England. It deals with the first seven years of the hero’s childhood. The boy (hero) has many friends. Bakha, the son of a sweeper, and the hero of Untouchable, is one of them. The novel ends with the breaking out of the War in 1914; his mother’s comment being, “The end of the Kali-yug has come”. The whole series of Seven Summers has been worked out after Shakespeare’s analysis of life in its seven ages in his play As You Like It.
#8 Morning Face
Morning Face was appeared in 1968. It is the second volume or Anand’s Seven Summers or The Seven Ages of Man. In the first volume, Krishan, the boy lives with his father in the cantonment. Now he goes first to Amritsar and then to Ludhiana where his elder brother is an Assistant Jailor. Krishan has entered into boyhood from childhood, hence he has got a “shining morning face”. Iyengar.says, Krishan is subject to all the visible and invisible stresses and tension in a sprawling family of uncles, aunts, cousins and other relations. At the close of the novel Krishan says “I realized that, perhaps, I seemed mad because of the new kind of poetry in me. But I wanted to sing, from within my chest, to release the vague, incomprehensible lava of song from within me. I wanted to howl from the fullness of my dreams….I wanted to be a God, speaking inspired words, after struggling with myself, working into myself, and awakening to the freedom of the whole universe, with superhuman strength.”
#9 The Old Woman and the Cow
The Old Woman and the Cow was published in 1960. The central character of the novel is a woman named Gauri who suffers not only at the hands of her mother but also at the hands of her mother-in-law and her husband. She happens to meet a city doctor who makes her know the importance of being a woman. However, she is sold to a lusty Sahukar, while staying with him she keeps her honour high. All the same, she returns to the village and is required to prove her chastity. Hence, out of disgust, she goes to the city to lead an independent life bidding farewell to the village.