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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. 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.
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 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."
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," wrote 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." 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. In Two Leaves and a Bud (1937) 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 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."
For further reading: 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); 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); Mulk Raj Anand by M. Berry (1971); Mulk Raj Anand by M.KL. Naik (1968); The Elephant and the Lotus by J. Lindsay (1965)