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Indian Lit. in English - Untouchable

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The Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand

Mulk Raj Anand, one of the most highly regarded Indian novelists writing in English, was born in Peshawar in 1905. He was educated at the universities of Lahore, London and Cambridge, and lived in England for many years, finally settling in a village in Western India after the war. His main concern has always been for "the creatures in the lower depths of Indian society who once were men and women: the rejected, who has no way to articulate their anguish against the oppressors'. His novels works have been translated into several world languages.

Untouchable (1935)

Coolie (1936)

Two Leaves and a Bud (1937)

The Village (1939)

Across the Black Waters (1940)

The Sword and the Sickle (1942)

Private Life of an Indian Prince (1953)

The Indelible Problem: Mulk Raj Anand and the Plight of Untouchability

Andrew M. Stracuzzi The University of Western Ontario

Mulk Raj Anand, speaking about the real test of the novelist, once said:

It may lie in the transformation of words into prophesy. Because, what is writer if he is not the fiery voice of the people, who, through his own torments, urges and exaltations, by realizing the pains, frustrations and aspirations of others, and by cultivating his incipient powers of expression, transmutes in art all feeling, all thought, all experience - thus becoming the seer of a new vision in any given situation. (qtd. in Dhawn, 14)

There is no question that Mulk Raj Anand has fashioned with Untouchable a novel that articulates the abuses of an exploited class through sheer sympathy in the traditionalist manner of the realist novel He is, indeed, the "fiery voice" of those people who form the Untouchable caste. Yet if the goal of the writer, as Anand himself states, is to transform "words into prophecy," then the reader's struggle for meaning in the closing scenes of the novel become problematic and contestatory. It is reasonable to assume -- and as I would argue, it is implied -- that Anand has ventured to address a specific question with writing Untouchable; this is, how to alleviate the exploitation of the untouchable class in India? He then proceeds to address this question through the dramatization of Bahka, the novel's central character. Having said this -- and taking into account Anand's notion of the novel as prophesy -- I will argue that the author has failed to fully answer the question he has set before him. In fact, by posing such a question, the possibility of an altruistic solution becomes blurred. Furthermore, the three "prophecies" or solutions posited by the novel -- the rhetoric of the Christian Missionary, Mahatma Gandhi, and the poet Iqbal Nath Sarshar -- fail to present a prescription for freedom accessible to the untouchable community.

In order to articulate the meaning of the last section of Untouchable fully, it is important to analyze the construction of Bahka, the protagonist, since his own distinct and honest, though often confusing, gaze objectifies his society. The last passage in the novel is an appropriate place to begin:

he began to move. His virtues lay in his close-knit sinews and in his long breath sense. He was thinking of everything he had heard though he could not understand it all. He was calm as he walked along, though the conflict in his soul was not over, though he was torn between his enthusiasm for Gandhi and the difficulties in his own awkward naФve self"(Untouchable).

Anand chooses to close the final scene of his novel by appropriating the inner conflict of Bakha and juxtaposing "enthusiasm" with "naivetй." There seems to be an inherent, even subtle, irony in describing Bahka in this manner. On one hand, it carries a strong sense of hope, of self-awareness, of self-appropriation of the individual within the greater scheme of Hindu society There is a strong indication that what Bahka has endured throughout his day's journey has had an enormous effect on the way he appropriates himself within his own culture The novel thus ends on a somewhat positive note, with the image of Bahka going home and telling -- actually vocalizing -- his story in the hopes that some sort of resolution, or at the very least, some emergence of understanding will occur.

Conversely, though, Anand chooses to show him as naive. This is, perhaps, where the inherent problem lies within the text, the construction of Bahka himself.

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