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Mulk Raj Anand (1905-2004)


Indian novelist, short-story writer, and art critic, who was among the first writers to render Punjabi and Hindustani idioms into English. Called the Zola or Balzac of India, Mulk Raj Anand drew a realistic and sympathetic portrait of the poor of his country. Anand, who was the founding member of the Indian Progressive Writers' Association, has been regarded with Raja Rao and R.K. Narayan as one the "founding fathers" of the Indian English novel.

"And he had soon become possessed with an overwhelming desire to live their life. He had been told they were sahibs, superior people. He had felt that to put on their clothes made one sahib too. So he tried to copy them as well as he could in the exigencies of his peculiarly Indian circumstances." (in Untouchable, 1935)

Mulk Raj Anand was born in Peshawar, the son of Lal Chand, a coppersmith and soldier, and Ishwar Kaur. While playing with other children he was hit on his head by a stone, which caused him to feel physically weak and oversensitive throughout his boyhood and adolescence.

From early on Anand rebelled against his father's subservience to the British authorities. His first texts were born as a reaction to the trauma of the suicide of an aunt, who had been excommunicated for dining with a Muslim woman. An unhappy love for a Muslim girl, who was married, inspired some of his poetry. Anand attended Khalsa College, Amritsar, and entered the University of Punjab in 1921, graduating with honors in 1924. Thereafter Anand did his additional studies at Cambridge and at London University, receiving his Ph.D. in 1929. He studied-and later lectured-at League of Nations School of Intellectual Cooperation in Geneva.

Anand started to write at an early age. Although Punjabi and Hindustani were Anand's mother tongues, he wrote in English, because English language publisher did not reject his books due to their themes. Anand began his career in England by publishing short reviewes in T.S. Eliot's magazine Criterion. His acquaintances from this time included such authors as E.M. Forster, Herbert Read, Henry Miller, and George Orwell, who tried to get Anad a full-time post at the BBC. The most important influence upon Anand was Gandhi, who shaped his social conscience. "I consider creative art and literature to be the weapons of humanism," he once said. "The individual cannot grow without a world in which social justice has been more or less achieved." ('Anand, Mulk Raj,' in World Authors 1950-1970, edited by John Wakeman, 1975, p. 52)

Between 1932 and 1945 Anand lectured, on and off, at Workers Educational Association in London. His first wife, the actress Kathleen van Gelder, Anand met in London, where he represented India in the International Writers Conference against Fascism. Anand and Gelder married in 1939 and had one daughter.

In the early 1930s Anand focused on books on art history. It was not until the appearance of the novels Untouchable (1935) and Coolie (1936), the story of a fifteen year-old child-labourer who dies of tuberculosis, that Anand gained a wide recognition. Untouchable was selected in Defining Moments in Books: The Greatest Books, Writers, Characters, Passages and Events That Shook the Literary World (2007), edited by  Lucy Daniel.  The novel narrates a day in the life of Bakha, an unclean outcaste, who suffers a number of humiliations in the course of his day. Bakha is eighteen, proud, "strong and able-bodied", a child of modern India, who has started to think himself as superior to his fellow-outcastes. The "touching" occurs in the morning, and subsequently shadows the rest of the day. Due to his low birth, Bakha's fate is to work as a latrine sweeper. A symbolic figure, Baksha stands for all untouchables and their sufferings. The powerful critique of the Indian caste system suggested that British colonial domination of India has actually increased the suffering of outcastes, such as Bakha, who feels that there is a "moral barrier" between human beings. Anand later recalled, that the book "poured out like hot lava from the volcano of my crazed imagination during a long weekend. I remember that I had to finger exercise in order to ease the strain on my right hand. And I must have slept only six hours in three nights, while writing this drama." ('The Literary Style of Mulk Raj Anand' by Smruti Ranjan Behera, in The Novels of Mulk Raj Anand: A Critical Study, edited by Manmohan Krishna Bhatnagar, M. Rajeshwar, 2000, p. 95)

After 19 rejection slips from various British publishing houses, Anand contacted Wishart Books, a small avant-garde publisher. Edgell Rickword, editor at Wishart, agreed to publish the book on condition that E.M. Forster provide a preface. "Untouchable could only have been written by an Indian and by an Indian who observed from the outside," stated Forster. "No European, however sympathetic, could have created the character of Bakha, because he would not have known enough about his troubles. And no Untouchable could have written the book, because he would have been involved in indignation and self-pity." (Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity, and Belief by Gauri Viswanathan, 1998, p. 222) The 1970 edition of the book was dedicated to reformist writer K.S. Shelvankar and M.K. Gandhi; the latter also figures as a character within the story. Originally the manuscript comprised about 1,000 pages, and was rooted in the social conscience of Maxim's Gorky's story Creatures that Once were Men, and the aesthetics of James Joyce's Ulysses.

Along with the novelista and short story writer Munshi Premchand (1880-1936), Anand was involved in forming dalit literature, used to refer to the "untouchable", casteless sects of India. His first three novels were banned by the government of Indian. Being denounced as a "Bolshevik" – at that time all communist activities were banned in India – he become a target for harassment.

In Two Leaves and a Bud (1937), which was withdrawn from the circulation in England too, Anand continued his exploration of the Indian society. The story told about a poor Punjabi peasant. He is brutally exploited in a tea plantation and killed by a British official, who tries to rape his daughter. The socially conscious work shared much with the proletarian novels published in Britain and the United States during the 1930s.

Anand's famous trilogy, The Village (1939), Across the Black Waters (1940), and The Sword and the Sickle (1942), was a strong protest against social injustices. The story follows the life of Lai Sing from adolescent rebellion through his experiences in World War I, to his return home and revolutionary activities. In Anand's early novels his social and political analysis of oppression grows clearly from his involvement with the Left in England.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Anand divided his time between literary London and Gandhi's India, but he also fought with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, where he met George Orwell. Anand associated himself with the British Labour Party and the Indian National Congress. Joining the struggle for independence, he became an activist of India League organized by Krishna Menon, who later served as high commissioner for India. During World War II, Anand worked as a broadcaster and scriptwriter in the film division of the BBC in London. At that time Orwell served in the BBC's Far Eastern Service. Orwell had a remarkably good memory and Anand once said, that he used to quote lenghty passages from the Book of Common Prayer. After their day was done, the BBC broadcasters, Orwell, Anand, Herbert Read, and others used to go to a pub in Great Portland Street.

After the war Anand returned to India, partly because his marriage was ending and partly due to the new future in the Independent India. He stayed in Lahore for a year, and made then Bombay his permanent hometown and center of activity. In 1946 he founded the fine-arts magazine Marg at the advice of Anil de Silva, a young journalist from Bangalore. Anil was also a founder member of the Indian People's Theatre Association. Breaking her promise to marry him and marrying a Frenchman, with whom she went to Paris, Anand suffered a nervous breakdown and was nursed back to healt by a Greek dancer. From her suggestion Anand wrote Private Life of an Indian Prince (1953), in which he focused more on human psyche and personal struggles than on class conflicts. The story had its origins in the betrayal.

From 1948 to 1966 Anand taught at Indian universities. He became a director of Kutub Publishers and was busy in attending or organizing many national and international conferences. In the 1960s he served as Tagore Professor of Literature and Fine Art at the University of Punjab and visiting professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Simla (1967-68). Between the years 1965 and 1970 Anand was fine art chairman at Lalit Kala Akademi (National Academy of Arts). In 1970 he was appointed president of Lokayata Trust, for creating a community and cultural center in the village of Hauz Khas, New Delhi.

After divorce in 1948, Anand married Shirin Vajibdar, a distinguished dancer. Anand's daughter Sushila from his first marriage became a writer, too. Since the 1950s, Anand intermittently worked on a projected seven-volume autobiography, entitled Seven Ages of Man, in which he appeared under the name Krishan Chander. The work was inspired by lines from Shakespeare's play As You Like It: "All the world's a stage / And all the men and women merely players: / They have their exits and their entrances; / And one man in his time plays many parts, / His acts being Seven ages." From the project appeared Seven Summers (1951), set in Punjab, Morning Face (1968), dealing with the period from the beginning of WW I to the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in 1919,  Confessions of a Lover (1976), about Krishan's years at Khalsa College, and The Bubble (1984), in which Krishan encounters an art student named Irene Rhys. The fifth part, entitled as And So He Plays His Part, was planned to be seven novels in one. The first was Little Plays of Mahatma Gandhi (1991), in which Krishan lives in Gandhi's ashram at Sabarmati and works on a novel.

Anand also published books on subjects as diverse as Marx and Engels in India, Tagore, Nehru, Aesop's fables, the Kama Sutra, erotic sculpture, and Indian ivories. Mulk Raj Anand died in Pune on September 28, 2004. He was cremated with full state honours. Some years before his death, Anand wrote his own obituary, saying self-mockingly that the "fellow cannot be denied a certain amount of virtuosity. But it was this very flair for turning his hand to philosophy, politics, writing, stage, film, dance choreography, cookery as well as poetry, that was the most dangerous thing about him." (Mulk Raj Anand: A Reader: Selections from His Fictional and Non-Fictional Writings, edited with an introduction by Atma Ram, 2005, p. xxxi.")

For further reading: 'The End of Empire: Mulk Raj Anand's Comparative Modernisms,' in Radio Empire: the BBC's Eastern Service and the Emergence of the Global Anglophone Novel by Daniel Ryan Morse (2020); 'Revisiting Class in Mulk Raj Anand's Untouchable: Postmodern Reflections' by Golam Gaus Al-Quaderi and Sheikh Nahid Neazy, in Multicultural and Marginalized Voices of 'Postcolonial Literature, edited by Varun Gulati and Garima Dalal; foreword by Shirley R. Samuels (2017); Indian English and the Fiction of National Literature by Rosemary Marangoly George (2013); Mulk Raj Anand and Dalits by P.K. Singh (2012); Mulk Raj Anand: From Literary Naturalism to Hopeful Humanism by J.C. Marak (2010); Exploitation of Downtrodden: Mulk Raj Anand's Coolie & Untouchable by Kiran Kamboj (2009); Indian Legendary Writers in English: Mulk Raj Anand, R.K. Narayan and Raja Rao, ed. by Jaydeep Sarangi (2009); The Novels of Mulk Raj Anand: A Critical Study, edited by Manmohan Krishna Bhatnagar, M. Rajeshwar (2000); Mulk Raj Anand: A Revaluation by P. Rajan (1994); Mulk Raj Anand, His Art and Concerns: A Study of His Non-Autobiographical Novels by C.S. George (1994); Studies in Indian and Anglo-Indian Fiction by Saros Cowasjee (1993); The Novels of Mulk Raj Anand, ed. by R.K. Dhawan (1992); The Wisdom of the Heart by M. Fisher (1985); Mulk Raj Anand by by G. Packham (1979); The Yoke of Pity by A. Niven (1978); So Many Freedoms by S. Cowasjee (1977); Coolie: An Assessment by S. Cowasjee (1976); 'Anand, Mulk Raj,' in World Authors 1950-1970, edited by John Wakeman (1975); Mulk Raj Anand by M. Berry (1971); Mulk Raj Anand by M.KL. Naik (1968); The Elephant and the Lotus by J. Lindsay (1965)

Selected works:

  • Persian Painting, 1930
  • Curries, and Other Indian Dishes, 1932
  • The Hindu View of Art, 1933
  • The Golden Breath, 1933
  • The Lost Child, and Other Stories, 1934
  • Untouchable, 1935
  • Coolie, 1936
  • Two Leaves and a Bud, 1937
  • Lament on the Death of a Master of the Arts, 1938
  • Marx and Engels on India, 1939
  • The Village, 1939
  • Across the Black Waters, 1940
  • Letters on India, 1942
  • The Sword and the Sickle, 1942
  • India Speaks, 1943 (play)
  • The Barber's Trade Union, and Other Stories, 1944
  • The Big Heart, 1945
  • Apology for Heroism: An Essay in Search of Faith, 1946
  • Homageto Tagore, 1946
  • Indian Fairy Tales, 1946 (retold by M.R.A.)
  • Indian Short Stories, 1946  (selected and edited by Mulk Raj Anand and Iqbal Singh)
  • The Tractor and the Corn Goddess, and Other Stories, 1947
  • The Bride's Book of Beauty, 1947 (with Krishna Hutheesing)
  • On Education, 1947
  • The King-Emperor's English: or, the Role of the English Language in the Free India, 1948 (afterword by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad)
  • The Story of India, 1948
  • Lines Written to an Indian Air. Essays, 1949
  • The Indian Theatre, 1950 (illustrated by Usha Rani)
  • Seven Summers. The Story of an Indian Childhood 1951
  • The Story of Man, 1952 (illustrated by S. Chavda)
  • The Private Life of an Indian Prince, 1953 (rev.ed., 1970)
  • Reflections on the Golden Bud and Other Stories, 1954
  • Selected Stories, 1954  
  • Hindustana ki kahani, 1956
  • Insana ki kahani, 1956
  • The Dancing Foot, 1957
  • The Hindu View of Art, 1957
  • India in Colour, 1958
  • Kama Kala. Some Notes on the Philosophical Basis of Hindu Erotic Sculpture, 1958
  • The Power of Darkness, and Other Stories, 1959
  • Aesop's Fables, 1960 (retold by M.R.A.)
  • The Old Woman and the Cow, 1960 (as Gauri, 1976)
  • Homage to Khajuraho, 1960 (with Stella Kramrisch)
  • The Road, 1961
  • More Indian Fairy Tales, 1961 (retold by M.R.A.)
  • Homage to Khajuraho, 1962
  • Is There a Contemporary Indian Civilization?, 1963
  • Death of a Hero, 1963
  • The Third Eye: A Lecture on the Appreciation of Art, 1963
  • Amarth Sehgal, 1964 (introductory essay M.R.A.)
  • Chintamoni Kar, 1965 (introduction)
  • The Story of Chacha Nehru, 1965 (illustrations by D.G. Kulkarni)
  • Bombay, 1965
  • Indian Fairy Tales, 1966 (illustrated by P.S. Goray)
  • Lajwanti and Other Stories, 1966
  • The Volcano: Some Comments on the Development of Rabindranath Tagore's Aesthetic Theories and Art Practice, 1967
  • The Humanism of M.K. Gandhi, 1967
  • Morning Face, 1968
  • Annals of Childhood, 1968 (ed.)
  • Contemporary World Sculpture, 1968 (editor)
  • Experiments: Contemporary Indian Short Stories, 1968 (editor)
  • Grassroots: Selected Short Stories, 1968 (editor)
  • Delhi, Agra, Sikri, 1968
  • Konorak, 1968 (with others)
  • Indian Ivories, 1970
  • Ajanta, 1970 (photographs by R.R. Bhardwaj)
  • Roots and Flowers: Two Lectures on the Metamorphosis of Technique and Content in the Indian-English Novel, 1972
  • Author to Critic: The Letters of Mulk Raj Anand to Saros Cowasjee, 1973 (edited by Saros Cowasjee)
  • Between Tears and Laughter, 1973
  • Album of Indian Paintings, 1973
  • Folk Tales of Punjab, 1974 (editor)
  • Apology for Heroism: A Brief Autobiography of Ideas, 1975
  • Gauri, 1975
  • Confessions of a Lover, 1976
  • Homage to Amritsar, 1977 (editor)
  • Homage to Jaipur, 1977 (editor)
  • Persian Painting, Fifteenth Century, 1977 (with others)
  • Persian Painting, Fourteenth Century, 1977 (introduction)
  • Selected Short Stories, 1977 (edited by M.K. Naik)
  • Alampur, 1978 (ed.)
  • Seven Little Known Birds of the Inner Eye, 1978
  • Tales from Tolstoy, 1978 (editor)
  • Tantra Magic, 1978 (with A. Mookerjee)
  • The Humanism of Rabindranath Tagore: Three Lectures, 1978
  • The Humanism of Jawaharlal Nehru, 1978
  • Only Connect: Letters to Indian Friends - E.M. Forster, a Profile, 1979 (ed. Syed Hamid Husain)
  • Homage to Kalamkari, 1979 (editor)  
  • Golden Goa, 1980 (editor)
  • Splendours of Tamil Nadu, 1980 (editor)
  • Splendours of the Vijayanagara, 1980 (editor)
  • Maya of Mohenjo-Daro, 1980
  • Conversations in Bloomsbury, 1981
  • Maharaga Ranit Singh as Patron of the Arts, 1981 (editor)
  • Treasures of Everyday Art, 1981 (editor)
  • Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana, 1982 (editor, with Lance Dane)
  • Narasundara Samiti, 1983
  • Ellora: A Guide to Ellora Caves, 1984
  • Madhubani Painting, 1984
  • The Bubble, 1984
  • Autobiography, 1985
  • Pilpali Sahib: The Story of a Childhood under the Raj, 1985
  • Poet-Painter: Paintings by Rabindranath Tagore, 1985
  • Panorama: An Anthology of Modern Indian Short Stories, 1986 (editor, with S. Balu Rao)
  • Lepaksi, 1987
  • Ajanta: A Guide to Ajanta Caves, 1988
  • Confession of a Lover, 1988
  • Caca Neharu, 1988
  • Three Eminent Personalities on the Ram Janambhoomi, 1989
  • Amrita Sher-Gil, 1989
  • Pilpali Sahib: The Story of a Big Ego in a Small Body, 1990
  • Between Tears and Laughter, 1991
  • Old Myth and New Myth: Letters from Mulk Raj Anand to K.V.S. Murti Anand, 1991
  • Little Plays of Mahatma Gandhi, 1991
  • Caliban and Gandhi: Letters to "Bapu" from Bombay, 1991
  • An Anthology of Dalit Literature, 1992 (editor, with Eleanor Zelliot)
  • Indian Women's Autobiographies, 1993 (afterword)
  • Anad to Alma: Letters of Mulk Raj Anad, 1994 (edited by Atma Ram)
  • Death of a Hero: Epitaph for Maqbool Sherwani, 1995
  • The Lost Child and Two Lyrical Stories, 1995
  • Sati: A Writeup of Raja Ram Mohan Roy about Burning of Widows Alive (edited by M.R.A.)
  • The Panorama of Jaipur Paintings, 1996 (afterword)
  • Splendours of Himachal Heritage, 1997 (editor)
  • "Things Have a Way of Working Out..." and Other Stories, 1998
  • Nine Moods of Bharata: A Novel of a Pilgrimage, 1998
  • Tales Told by an Idiot: Selected Short Stories, 1999
  • Of Power and Pity, 2001
  • Reflections on a White Elephant, 2002
  • Mulk Raj Anand Omnibus, 2004 (edited by Saros Cowasjee)
  • Mulk Raj Anand: A Reader: Selections from His Fictional and Non-Fictional Writings, 2005 (edited with an introduction by Atma Ram)
  • The Hindu View of Art, 2019  (London: Routledge, 1st edition; originally published in 1933)

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