Ok by now,all of you know about my lazy nature.I am quiet lazy while picking up any book,but when I do….i read them wholeheartedly.I believe in good books and they should be small in number.I am a voracious reader,but few have left any mark on my cognitive texture.I will be speaking about one such book today.
People say don’t judge a book by its cover, but I say there is an effect at least by its cover page.While visiting a reputed book shop in Bengluru near Majestic Bus Terminus,I came across a Penguin book with an image of dark skinned Indian teen dressed in traditional Indian apparel.That sort of cover picture was unusual..not at all attractive.Well the book talks about a single day in a life of a sweeper boy..(quiet unusual for a novel narrative).
Yes I am speaking about UNTOUCHABLE by Mulk Raj Anand.Written during pre independenceera..the novel is so hardhitting that you wonder whether it is a fiction or a real life documentary.WellAnand is himself a social crusader and his work is a treatise against social evil.The protagonist is Bakha , a sweeper boy cleaning human dirt.Anand focusses on a single day of his dark life,whole lives in the pre independence era, as a Bhangi (one who clean toilets). Bakha is not weak, where he is
strong and able-bodied. He is all enthusiastic and has his own set of dreams. His dreams vary from to dress like a ‘Tommie’ (Englishmen) in ‘fashun’ to play Hockey.He is deprived of social rights,he is deprived of basic human rights. The novel also deals with an incident where his sister Sohini, is molested by a Purohit..a priest. Bakha protest strongly. He is young but he is so matured.But even lower class Dalit like him should not protest,because they were mere dirt.
They were subhumans.. The ‘dirty’ nature of their work pulls down‘bhangi’s to the last of the table of casts. They were not permitted even to take water from a well and had to wait for hours for the mercy of the upper caste. The food will be given to them by throwing and if they touch anybody by accident they will be punished. Even if they are ready to pay, nobody will teach them. The upper class however doesn’t find this untouchability when they molest their teen girls. It is a typical day in the life of the Bhangi, mixed with hunger, hope, small pleasures, insults and set backs. Add to all the problems, they have no right to protest or express their emotions!! Anand is so real ,that I could literally see Bakha’s plight in front of me. The Cover picture is surely of some one like Bakha,so much of pain,so much of physical and mental labour,yet the determined JAWS makes you feel,he is a real HERO.His statement shows so much of anger and the wiilingness to rebel.
“They think we are mere dirt, because
We clean their dirt.”…..(Bakha)
The novel describes some similar incidents,the relationship between Bakha and his father has been well painted.His relationship with Muslim,with Barrack people,gives the novel a different dimension.
The time belonged to Gandhiji,he is a non fictional character in this novel,who appears in the end. He addresses a crowd about ‘Harijans’. Bakha seemed to be attracted towards Gandhi’s speech.
Not only that Anand touches upon the theme of religious conversions in a subtle manner.Anand showcased the evils of Caste system in Hinduism.He have dealt brilliantly with the postcolonial concepts like ‘Other’, ‘Subaltern’ , Exploitation, Resistance, Mimicry.
Mulk Raj Anand considers that the caste system can only prevail with the job one carries and the easy way to remove it is to upgrade the work environment and bring dignity to each work. We have no right to downgrade any work.
The novel simply shook our conscience. The author criticizes the social injustice with his powerful words. He rips apart the hypocrisy of the powerful. Meaninglessness of worship and its uselessness when it is not practiced is stressed. The book is also a small reminder of ignorance of strength by the lower caste and the need for moral rejuvenation. Above all, ‘any social revolution should be practical’ is another message the book manages to convey.
There is another strong message I felt from the novel. Most of the problems of India were self created. The British could rule India only because the masses were not seriously disturbed by their presence. In the novel, the protagonist is not fearful of the British. This view only reiterates the conclusion that political freedom alone will not solve human misery.
The novel is an example of social weapon against social evil,this is one of the classics in Indian English Literature.The theme of Untouchabilty is age long,and still prevailing. I strongly recommend this book,a simple narrative but a brilliant depiction of the Subaltern Hindu community.