Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

The Novels of

K. Kurmanadham


The gift of Mulk Raj Anand’s imagination is shown again and again when he writes of crushed humanity. He breathes a sympathy which brings a new tenderness into contemporary writing.
–Montagu Slater

A versatile genius, an optimist, a humanist, a profound thinker, a moving speaker, an able organizer, a politician, a civil servant, a journalist, a great scholar, a patient teacher, a capital storyteller, and a literary architect–all in a unique medley in one is Dr. Mulk Raj Anand. And, as a belletrist, he is a host in himself. Early in life, his intimate contact with the suffering underprivileged and the myriad levels of Indian masses with their differences of caste, creed, and colour seem to have implanted in his mind profound impressions about ‘the still sad music of humanity.’ The premature death of his nine-year-old, beautiful girl cousin, Kausalya, appears to have vibrated his inner strings, as Keat’s brother’s demise did the poet’s, to brood over the mystery of life and death. Prompted by Irene, the charming daughter of a Welsh Professor of science with whom he fell in love at first sight, Anand became a writer. His research in philosophy has immensely contributed to his humanism; and as he admits in his Apology for Heroism, his research was, indeed, ‘search for truth’. He felt that philosophy, should answer the problems posed by human needs.

He has fused, in the crucible of his imagination, the philosophies and the ideals of life of the Orient and the Occident and given his golden message to the world through his works. His ideal is happiness–happiness of mankind in peaceful and harmonious co-existence. He preaches–as Sorokin adovcates in his Reconstruction of Humanity–thatman should acquire spiritual awareness and altruism for the welfare of humanity, and should cease his onslaught of humanity. To expound this philosophy, Anand has aptly opted for fiction as his mouthpiece. In his novels, it is mainly man’s cruelty to man that he describes and vehemently condemns with a Dickensian piquancy’ and candour and effectively evokes our sympathy and compassion. Thus, the problem he tries to face as a writer, as he admits in his Apology for Heroism, is not strictly ‘a private, but a private-public problem’, with Buddhist compassion. With this philanthropic outlook, he defines the general in terms of the particular with a universal appeal.

Untouchable is Anand’s first noteworthy achievement. The theme of man’s inhumanity to man is the mainstream of thought in the novel, depicted in the form of caste-hatred or untouchability. It is a chronicle of a day’s incidents in the life of Bakha, an eighteen-year-old outcaste boy. He experiences the indictment of caste-hatred on him a number of times during a single day: he is abused and slapped for polluting a merchant; he is put to shame when he runs to save his sister, Sohini, while Kalinath, the priest, tries to rape her; he receives a shower of abuses for polluting an injured child in his attempt to help the child; lastly, his father, Lakha, the Head of the sweepers, drives him out of the house for having wasted his time in playing hockey. He walks out frustrated and helpless. Gandhi with his dislike for untouchability, Colonel Hutchinson, the Salvationist, with his shield of casteless society and salvation for all, and Iqbal Nath with his new machine (the flush) raise towering hopes in him. He returns home and to his idle bed. Here Anand shows the impact of man’s evil on man to a limited extent. His art of representing the general in the particular begins here. Bakha, here, is any untouchable; his tale is any untouchable’s. All through the novel, Anand points out the inevitable play of fate, or karma, which is a regular feature of his novels.

Anand’s next novel Coolie is the best and the most ambitious of his works–inasmuch as Of Human Bondage is Maugham’s–transcending the limits of time and space. It describes man’s evil to man with all its poignancy in terms of the fate meted out to the hero. In all aspects it is perfect, unique, and of chiselled excellence–art and plot, events and episodes, characterisation and narration, symbolism and didacticism. Here our interest hovers around the heights and hollows in the life of the protagonist, Munoo, a poor orphan hill-boy, verdant and innocent. Fate in diverse forms overpowers him everywhere, wherever he goes. The first chapter is a brief account of his life at his native village, Bilaspur. His aunt under-feeds and ill-treats him with her frequent maledictions. She wants him to earn, and his uncle Daya Ram–who is indeed devoid of daya–takes him to the town to serve in the house of the Bank sub-accountant Nathoo Ram. In the second chapter, we see Munoo as a boy-servant at Sham Nagar in the house of Nathoo Ram, where he slogs and slogs without rest, from dawn to dusk, sweating in his dirty dublet. To him, his mistress is no less a terror than his aunt, Gujri. Amidst the constant upbraiding of his mistress, Daya Ram’s blows, the teasing of the other boy-servants of the houses hard by, and Nathoo Ram’s nonchalance, the only consolation to him is Prem (Nathoo Ram’s brother) who alone is kind to him. One day, the boy is kicked by his master with his boot for a peccadillo while playing with his master’s daughter. A wild bird cannot be caged easily: Munoo escapes. Decried by the kindhearted Prabha under the bunk in the train, he is taken to Daulatpur. The third chapter is a vivid picture of his life in the Cat Killers’ Lane at Daulatpur. He works in Prabha’s pickle factory, where life is happy for him but for the occasional authority and abuses of Ganpat, Prabha’s partner. Malevolent and demonish, Ganpat adulates Prabha finally. Arrested for debts and beaten by the police, Prabha leaves Daulatpur in adversity with the result that Munoo is left unshielded and helpless. In vain he becomes a coolie. Paralysed by the competition and the cunningness among the coolies, he strives for security; and with the help of an elephant-driver of a circus company he stows away to Bombay. In the fourth chapter, Anand gives a clear picture of Munoo’s life in Bombay, until Munoo gets proof of the elephant-driver’s averment: ‘The bigger a city is, the more cruel it is to the sons of Adam.’ In Bombay he becomes a worker in the Sir George White Cotton Mills; he is one of the many workers exploited by Jimmie Thomas, the foreman. Within and without the factory, life becomes miserable. He lives with Hari, a worker and a fellow-sufferer, in the slums. Wage-cut and hunger, exploitation and the retrenchment of another worker Ratan, lead to labour turmoil and communal riots. In panic, the boy steals out of the pandemonium to Malabar Hills, where he is dashed down to unconsciousness by Mrs. Mainwaring’s Chevrolet. She takes the boy to Simla. The last chapter is a picturesque description of Munoo’s life under the kindly cruel treatment of his mistress. With his double duty as her page and rickshaw-puller, over-work and undernourishment gradually fret away his health until at length he is abed with consumption. He excuses one and all–even his mistress–and attains spiritual sanctity. Death relieves him, relieves from the prison of life. Here Anand’s representation of the myriad in the chosen is at its acme. It is a cosmic painting of the lives of thousands of orphans, coolies, boy-servants, factory-workers, and rickshaw-pullers, their health running down ‘through the hour-glass of Time’. The novel is a treatise on social evil at its sundry levels and phases. Every one of Anand’s other novels is but a kaleidoscopic turn of one phase or other: an event or a chapter, a character or a situation, in isolation, or in juxtaposition, appears shown under a magnifying lens. In other words, it is the microcosm to the macrocosm of Anand’s world of fiction.

Two Leaves and a Bud is the sad tale of Gangu, a worker in the Macpherson Tea Estate, in Assam. Hari and Lakshmi (of Coolie) appear as Gangu and Sajani here; Jimmie Thomas, the foreman of the Cotton Mills at Bombay, is Reggie Hunt, the assistant manager. The evil atmosphere of the Sir George White Cotton Mills–an arena of conflict and exploitation, treason and injustice, derision and devilry–is shown in larger dimensions and with greater intensity in the Tea Estate in this novel. The European bosses pester and exploit the labourers. Gangu and his family suffer much: his wife becomes a prey to malaria; and he himself faces death at the point of Reggie’s gun in his attempt to save his daughter, Leila, from the clutches of the lust-blind Reggie. As in Coolie, to quote Goronway Rees, here also, ‘with great skill and without insistence, Dr. Anand shows the Indian coolies, exploited, starving, cheated, dirty, diseased, as the true heirs of one of the world’s greatest civilizations’.

Next, Anand turns to his ‘familiar earth of Punjab village, Nandapur, and tries to build up an ambitious epical structure’–a trilogy: The Village, Across the Black Waters, and The Sword and the Sickle, These three novels give a picture of the life of a Sikh peasant, Lalu Singh, covering his boyhood, youth, and early manhood. Munoo in Bilaspur is Lalu of The Village. He is constituted counter to the tradition and sentiment of the village. With the enthusiasm of Munoo who goes to the town own with his uncle, Lalu goes to see a fair at the neighbouring town. And without a second thought, he gets his hair shorn away just as Munoo empties his pressing bowels beside the kitchen-wall of Nathoo Ram’s house. The insult caused at home-the abuses and the beatings–and the attempt for a shameful donkey-ride spur him to revolt against the age-old custom and superstition. He leaves the house and joins the army just as Munoo leaves Bilaspur for the riddance of his aunt’s maledictions. The second of the trilogy, Across the Black Waters, is a picture of Lalu’s experiences during the First World War. He is one of those ready for any havoc, ready to fall or fell. The conflict, the fire and fury of action, the frenzy of bullets (the love-messengers between nation and nation as Ruskin ironically puts it)–all place him in a world of embarrassment and dismay no less than the communal disturbances do Munoo at Bombay. After the car-accident, when Munoo opens his eyes from unconsciousness, he finds himself moving in Mrs. Mainwaring’s car; when Lalu regains his consciousness, after his fall in the battle, he finds himself moving–only being dragged by a lion-mustached German. And Lalu’s life as a captive is no better than Munoo’s in the service of the Anglo-Indian lady. After the war, Lalu gets release from the Germans. The third novel, The Sword and the Sickle is a catalogue of Lalu’s activities in India until his incarceration in an Indian gaol. He awaits the fatal day behind the grating, pondering over the fruitless revolution in which he has partaken, as Munoo lies moribund reviewing the past in his mind. But, Lalu does not seem to have attained the spiritual elevation of Munoo at last; his life’s journey remains incomplete; and had Anand extended this novel, or written another making it a grand tetralogy of Lalu, it would have been a splendid achievement with man’s spiritual elevation as its central theme. In this trilogy, Evil shows his vagaries in the guises of religious superstition, war, and revolt. Lalu’s role symbolizes the lives of all detested, disgraced, dejected and duped, youth.

It is the atmosphere of the pickle factory at Daulatpur and the Cotton Mills at Bombay that prevails in Anand’s The Big Heart. The novel shows the evil of tug between the capitalists, Lalla Murli Dhar and Seth Gokal Chand who open a factory, and the dispossessed thathiars, the hereditary coppersmiths. Ananta, the man with a big heart, wedges himself into this industrial dispute and endeavours to bridge harmoniously the abyss of rivalry. But, he meets his tragic death thrown against a broken machine by Ralia, the Samson of the place while the latter is breaking the machine of the factory in sheer bedlam of fury and revolt. “I want to live,” murmurs Munoo at Bombay in the Cotton Mills, “I want to know to work this machine, I shall grow and be a man.” And it appears as though Munoo grew up in Anand’s mind and reappeared in The Big Heart as Ananta with his limitless love for the machine and sympathy for the dispossessed thathiars. The tint of ruthlessness adumbrated in Ratan (in Coolie)reaches its climax in Ralia as seen in the final catastrophe. Ananta, with the tragic death meted out to him, is a symbolic and microcosmic representation of all Mahatmas and Kennedys; and the role of Ralia is a cosmic painting of all the starving stomachs of modern times.

It is fortunate that at least the first of the seven parts of Anand’s personal odyssey (Seven Ages of Man) is published under the appellation Seven Summers which appears to have its foundation in embryo in the first chapter of Coolie. There is a brief account of Munoo recollecting his early childhood in the first chapter. Here, Anand describes in first person his own childhood experiences with great psychological insight. In general, it is ‘the story of Indian childhood’ amid all the incongruities and inherent evils of Indian social set-up described in true colours. No wonder if one finds something of one’s childhood in the book.

The part of Ratan and Piari Jan and the episode of Guy and Mrs. Mainwaring–man in the hands of woman–provide for the central theme of The Private Life of an Indian Prince. Here the hero is a wealthy and powerful Indian Prince, Victor, who lords over many, but is a sad lord over himself. The sex-thirsty Prince becomes a puppet in the folds of a harlot, Ganga Dasi, like Guy in Mrs. Mainwaring’s. She plays havoc with his feelings and the Prince, therefore, suffers so much like Guy or Munoo. He loses his power and wealth with the accession of Estates to the Indian Union. His cup of worries becomes full when he has been suspected in the murder of Bhool Chand, his rival Ganga Dasi’s love. Most opportunely he becomes moon-struck. And his Rani Indira, the embodiment of true love, chooses to attend on him with all the delight of a devout wife. Victor comes a lunatic, just as Munoo falls sick, and dies, because a woman. Ganga Dasi and Mrs. Mainwaring are two prints of the same stamp. They become bitches to all that prowl around them. But, while Mrs. Mainwaring’s sex-thirst is due to sheer fancy, Ganga Dasi, as a prostitute, accmulates money. If Mohan, another rickshaw-puller, at Simla is kind and consoling to Munoo, Dr. Sankar becomes the ‘Sancho Panza to the Prince’s Don Quixote.’ While Rani Indira is a token of all women of true love, Prince Victor is a realistic portrait of all the rich people with lust for power, wealth, and sex.

The Old Woman and the Cow takes us once more to a village, like Nandpur, with its stern classical order obstructing the current changes. The conflict between adherence to superstition and violating it for new values of life forms the fabric of this novel. As Jack Lindsey observes: ‘here the key-pattern lies in the tale of Ramayana of a wife who is banished because she had innocently lived in another man’s house.’ Panchi and Gauri, the young married couple, claim our sympathies as they strive to find happiness and peace in love. Whereas Panchi fails to defy the meaningless ancient system, Gauri, with a stronger will, faces the banishment and rejects the narrow world of sentiment and superstition that enthralled her husband. She leaves the village like Munoo. The frustration of Munoo caused by the evil of social inhumanity finds expression in Panchi though in a different atmosphere and emphasis. Panchi stands for those diffident to defy the age-old senseless tradition; Gauri is a symbol of the courageous modern woman.

In The Road, Anand revives the problem of untouchability of his Untouchable sublimated to its dramatic essentials in the mould of the Prabha-Ganpat-like episode in Coolie. For improving the economic condition of the village by carrying its milk to the nearby town for sale, the outcastes hew stones to lay a road to the town. But the upper classes refuse even to touch the stones touched by the untouchables. Hence the latter undertake the work themselves. Infuriated by their unity and success, the upper classes set fire to their houses and force them to leave the village. We reach the climax when the outcaste Bhikhu encounters vis-a-vis the landlord’s son, once his playmate. Although his lip is cut and is bleeding he controls his fury and withdraws like Munoo when kicked by his master at Sham Nagar. He walks on the road, he has helped to construct, in the direction of Gurgaon to Delhi, where nobody would care to know his caste and pester him. Here Anand has intellectually exploited the image of the ‘road’: as a token of the rich man’s dominance and luxury, as an emblem of the poor man’s strife for betterment and as a symbol of outlet to ‘a new world of greater freedom and hope.’

The evil of communal fanaticism leading to riots adumbrated in Coolie (chapter IV) appears to have been adopted and expanded in Anand’s recent novel, Death of a Hero. Here Anand shows the cruelty of the Pakistani hordes as the sole cause for the tragic as well as heroic death of a dauntless Kashmiri nationalist hero, who dies for the cause of secular India. His tragic death is an indirect plea for international peace and harmony. This novel is Anand’s condemnation of communal fanaticism inasmuch as, The Home and the World is Tagore’s condemnation of political fanaticism.

In all these novels thus Anand exposes the bitter suffering or cruelty of humanity at different levels; superlatively loathes and condemns evil of all its shapes and shades; and greatly succeeds in tuning our hearts to compassion and beauty. The indomitable spirit, the spiritual upsurge of man is the real hero and the plea for universal love is the real theme of his novels. Through the roles of Bhikhu and Gauri, he preaches that man should defy and transgress whatever stands detrimental to new values and human glory. In his Apology for Heroism, he advocates that one should break through ‘the facade of protective egoism around oneself,’ believe in ‘the creative life, which means the discovery, at the deepest levels, of Truth’, and adopt ‘worship of humanity.’ This, in fact, is the keynote of his art. No wonder if E. M. Forster observes: He (Anand) had the right mixture ofinsight and detachment and the fact that he has come to fiction through philosophy has given him depth.’

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: