Influence of Gandhism on Mulk Raj Anands Untouchable

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Mulk Raj Anand was arguably the greatest exponent of Indian writing in English, whose literary output was infused with a political commitment that conveyed the lives of India’s poor in a realistic and sympathetic manner. He had been involved in India’s freedom movement, been impressed by Marx’s letters on India and his general political framework and had been a co-founder of India’s greatest literary movement in the 1930s. Born into a family of metal workers with an army background in Peshawar, he witnessed the bloody reality of colonial rule with the Jaillinwalla massacre at Amritsar in 1919. Like most Indians of his generation he threw himself into Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement. to avoid the petty bourgeois ambitions of his soldier father, that Anand came to study at University College London in the autumn of 1925. Unlike most Indian students at the time he had to work in Indian restaurants and later for a publishing firm to earn his keep as his family were not in a position to fully finance his studies or maintenance. But he also became part of the literary crowd known as the ‘Bloomsbury group’. Here he met writers such as T S Eliot, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, E M Forster and John Strachey among many others. This literary elite both impressed him and left him feeling quite perplexed and uncomfortable. London at that time was the centre of the English-speaking intellectual world and Anand had hoped to meet with like-minded individuals who shared his anti-colonial liberal views. To his surprise he discovered that, according to Eliot, Gandhi was an ‘anarchist’ and that Indians should concentrate on cultural aspects of their society and leave the politics of governance to the British! Many of these writers had not visited India and so their impressions were formed by Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, which to Anand was typical of colonial fantasies of India. It was partly in response to these perceptions that he wanted to write.2 As an Indian student in London, Anand found himself popular with the literary set and, fortunately for him, not all writers were as parochial as Eliot. He soon found himself drawn to the Woolfs and, more importantly, E M Forster. Anand held A Passage to India to be the best fictional writing on his homeland, as this went beyond the orientalist conceptions of the ‘natives’ and attempted to depict the complex, often contradictory and mostly confrontational impact of colonial rule in India. He had wanted to write about the ordinary, the mundane, everyday life experiences of Indians who were not kings and gods. James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man impressed Anand greatly as it was a new literature infused with Irish nationalism. In 1927 Anand went to Ireland and enjoyed the writings of Yeats because his works represented the lives of ordinary people in villages and towns. This was to be his model as he set about writing his first novel, Untouchable, published in 1935. It is a story based on the life of the most downtrodden, despised and oppressed section of Indian society, the outcastes – those at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. This story is based on a single day in the life of Bakha, a latrine cleaner and sweeper boy. We follow him round on his daily chores cleaning up the shit of the rich and powerful, who despise him because of strict social rules governing ideas of purity and pollution. When he walks down the streets he has to signal an alarm with his voice as he approaches so that the ‘pure’ are forewarned to avoid even allowing his shadow to be cast upon them. On one occasion he does ‘pollute’ a caste Hindu and is chased, abused and attacked all day long for this defilement. Anand was born into the kshatriya warrior caste, which is placed one below the top caste of the Brahmins priests. He had always befriended and played with the children of sweepers and as a child he had been shocked and disgusted by the suicide of a relative who had been disowned by his family for daring to share...
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