Untouchable

“How a round base can be adjusted on a round top, how a sphere can rest on a sphere is a problem which may be of interest to those who think like Euclid or Archimedes. It never occurred to Sohini to ask herself anything like this as she balanced her pitcher on her head and went to and from her one-roomed home to the steps of the caste-well” (Anand 15).

This passage reminded me of the ending of “The Postmaster.” In both of these texts, philosophy is portrayed as a privilege for those who possess the time and resources to indulge it. Women of low classes like Sohini and Ratan do not have this privilege, and must simply defy these philosophical problems as they carry on their daily routines.

Untouchable, Mulk Raj Anand

“‘You lover of your mother,’ his father had once abusively said to him, ‘take a quilt, spread a bedding on a string bed, and throw away that blanket of the gora (white man); you will die of cold in that thin cloth.’ But Bakha was a child of modern India. The clear cut styles of European dress had impressed his naive mind.” (page 4).

I think this is a fascinating way to politicize a blanket. The blanket is not just a blanket, but it is similar to the “fashun” which Bakha identifies with. It is not the Indian quilt which he might use instead and in that way it represents something different to the world which Bakha occupies, one in which the sahib has access to. The last sentence signals at the intersection which Bakha is positioned at as well, being a member of the same community as his father but also being young and impressionable, open to new ways of viewing the world. When thinking of why Bakha might identify with these soldiers, one reason might be that he is trying to emulate a life style which seems similar to his own in it’s ruggedness and basic survival but is occupied by those who are viewed as superior people.

Anand, Untouchable

“He often thought of his mother, the small, dark figure, swathed simply in a tunic, a pair of baggy trousers and an apron, crouching as she went about cooking and cleaning the home, a bit too old-fashioned for his then already growing modern tastes, Indian to the core and sometimes uncomfortably so (as she did not like his affecting European clothes), but so loving, so good, and withal generous, giving, always giving, buying him things, kindness personified” (Anand 7-8).

 

With this being around the third or fourth time Bakha has expressed his focused attention to material items after only a few pages (more specifically, clothes), the reader is able to grasp his deep naïvety. Bakha has clearly grown to believe that tangible items such as clothes are the aspects of life that truly matter/bring people happiness. Although the falsity behind this concept may be obvious to more privileged communities and societies, Bakha’s mind is easily permeated by the luxuries he sees that come with living in an upper class, and associates their “fancy” clothes with true bliss. However, Bakha is certainly not the only Untouchable who thinks this way. In fact, his own mother showcased her love for him by always “giving” and “buying him things”. On the surface, this passage may come across as Bakha simply describing his memories of his mother, but when put under deeper analysis,  it provides a tragic insight on not only the minimalistic lifestyle of untouchables, but also their ignorance in regards to how true happiness is reached and experienced.

 

Untouchable

“Bakha noticed the ardent, enthusiastic look that lightened up the little one’s face. The anxiety of going to school! How beautiful it felt! How nice it must be to be able to read and write!” (30).

I thought the use of the word “anxiety” was interesting here. Anxiety typically isn’t described as being “beautiful” and “nice,” yet, the anxiety of school is something amazing to people like Bakha who aren’t able to have access to education.

Untouchable, Anand

“How queer, the Hindus don’t feed their cows although they call the cow “mother”!’ Bakha thought.”

Thought provoking. To respect something and be unable to provide for it in ways it could provide for you.

Commonplacing: Untouchable

“Bakha broke the tempo of his measured activity to wipe the sweat off his brow with his sleeve. Its woolen texture felt nice and sharp against his skin, but left an irritating warmth behind. It was a pleasant irritation, however, and he went ahead with the renewed vigor that discomfort sometimes gives to the body” (page 11).

Finding joy in pain and discomfort. This moment along with another in the same paragraph in the novel demonstrate Bakha’s masochistic outlook on his work, and in that sense, his life. However, did he develop this attitude because of the constant work, or is a preexisting glutton for punishment is what allows Bakha to continue his hardship?

Untouchable

“Where the lane finished, the heat of the sun seemed to spread as from a bonfire out into the empty space of the grounds beyond the outcastes’ colony. He sniffed at the clean, fresh air around the flat stretch of land before him and vaguely sensed a difference between the odorous, smoky land of refuse and the open, radiant world of the sun.” (25)

I thought this was in interesting way to illustrate the difference between the world in which Bakha lives and the world that exists beyond that. Implying that the sun does not reach Bakha’s world, and that his own is “odorous” and “smoky”, provides descriptive insight into the difference between living as an “outcaste” and living as a “caste”, which, with access to the sun, seems to be a more positive way of life.

Anand, Untouchable

“He just couldn’t summon sorrow to the world he lived in, the world of his English clothes and ‘Red-Lamp’ cigarettes, because it seemed she was not of that world, had no connection with it” (Anand 13).

From the beginning of the story, Anand makes it seems to the audience that Bakha obsesses over English colonialist clothing and culture because those who sport such a style are superior and more well-off. It’s as if his discontent with the stinky village, its poor inhabitants, and freezing nights is channeled into a desire to leave and assimilate with a society he perceives as more well off than what India is capable of affording him. This makes the line quoted above all the more striking, as it is revealed to us that he actually throws himself into Anglo-Indian life as a coping mechanism. I instantly loved Bakha more as a character because he isn’t simply following trends and trying to blend in with the people that had forced themselves upon India, he’s struggling to find a way to survive his bleak day-to-day life.

Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand

“The absence of a drainage system had, through the rains of various seasons, made of the quarter a marsh which gave out the most offensive stink.” (Anand 1).

Even though this quote holds a literal meaning, it also can be making a reference to the caste system itself. The caste system made it so that people were stuck in the class they were in and had no hope of going to a higher class. This was especially true for those classified as “Untouchables”. The only hope for anyone to find themselves in a better class would be in the next life where they were reincarnated. It dashed the hopes of many poor Indians and left them to suffer in a state of despair because of India’s own Caste System.

Anand, “Untouchable”

“You have swallowed all those cheap phrases about inferiority complex and superiority complex at Oxford without understanding what they mean. You slavishly copy the English in everything…” (Anand, Untouchable, (London: Penguin, 1935) 136)

“Slavishly copy” are the crucial terms the poet uses in his point here. It harkens back to Bakha’s imitation of English “fashun”. This imitation is criticized, though it is one he admires. To “copy”, in a sense, is to become under English rule, therefore Bakha is under the control of both his caste and that of the British empire. Being subject to his caste system however is undesirable compared to being influenced by English rule.

Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable

” The toil of the body had built up for him a very fine physique. […] And it seemed to give him a nobility, strangely in contrast with his filthy profession and with the sub-human status to which he was condemned from birth.” (pg. 14)

It feels as though there is irony at play here. Scenes by the latrine focus on the hygienic habits of men of higher class and cast, and how Bakha or people of different cultural perspectives would see these habits as shameful or perverse. Meanwhile, in passage such as the one above, Bakha the latrine cleaner is described as noble. How toil has refined is body is particularly noteworthy, because it implies that his out-caste way of life is indirectly responsible for his improvement of self.
There is almost a role reversal here; the nobles of this society are shown to us in this taboo space, the latrine, at their most vulnerable and immodest, while the out-caste approaches a more ideal state of being.

Untouchable

“The Tommies had treated him as a human being and he had learnt to think of himself as superior to his fellow-outcastes”(9).

I was drawn to the word superior and how it was used here. Bakha is an outcast and yet he feels he is better than his peers because he was treated like a human. The others were treated less than human. One would think because Bakha was shown humanity he would be more sympathetic towards others. This ideology goes with why he is into ‘fashun.’

Untouchable

“Get up, ohe you Bakhya, you son of a pig.” (6)

Bakhya’s father wakes him up in the morning with this greeting. The relationship he (Lakha) has with his children is illustrated right off the bat, with his tone and choice of insults. The line is ironic because not only is he in turn calling himself a pig, but he is also making Bakhya wake up to work while he goes back to sleep. The line perfectly illustrates the way Lakha treats his children, as well as Lakha’s laziness, which is referred to throughout.

Mulk Raj Anand’s “Untouchable”

“…you son of a pig,'” (Anand 6)
“…the prejudice of the ‘twice-born’ high-caste Hindu against stink…” (10)
“…you illegally begotten!'” (8), (18)
“…daughter of a pig!'” (25)

It is very noticeable from the insults used in the book that birth/origins or person play a significant role in the novel. The idea of being born into one’s fate seems very much imbedded into this culture. The higher class are believed to have lived multiple lives and that those of lower class are consistently insulted to be offspring of livestock indicate how much birth/origin matter in the society.  This idea goes along with how Bakha, since the beginning of the novel, is dissatisfied with his people as whole,  as they are “natu” (native), and not “sahib” (Englishmen).

“Untouchable” Mulk Raj Anand

“As a child, Bakha had often expressed a desire to wear rings on his fingers, and liked to look at his mother adorned with silver ornaments. Now that he had been to the British barracks and known that the English didn’t like jewellery, he was full of disgust for the florid, minutely studded designs of the native ornaments.” (pg. 45)

It seems as if Bakha is consistently trying to adjust to the situation he finds himself in. He was impressed earlier in the novel with the European dress and seems to want to be higher in the caste system in India. He attempts to copy their dress and style throughout this story. In reality, he is referred to as “a son of a pig” by his father.

The Postmaster

“the grief-stricken face of a village girl seemed to represent for him the great unspoken pervading grief of Mother Earth herself” pg. 168.

His relation to the Earth is expounded upon here with his intense love and relation for the girl also being explicated.

“The Postmaster” by Sir Rabindranath Tagore

“These words were kindly meant, no doubt: but inscrutable are the ways of a woman’s heart!”

The Postmaster, page 167

It is interesting that in that sentence, the author decided to now call “the girl” a “woman.” Before the sentence, she was always referred to as “the girl”. However, it may be apparent the shift when the postmaster was sick and “Ratan ceased to be a little girl” (164).

Ratan becomes a woman

“He longed to remember the touch on the forehead of soft hands with tinkling bracelets, to imagine the presence of loving womanhood, the nearness of mother and sister. And exile was not dissapointed. Ratan ceased to be a little girl” (9).

Here is a moment in the narrative where the type of work a female does decides her status between girl and woman. There is a connection between responsibility and adulthood.