In this recording from 2000, Anand (then seventy-five years old) says a little about the international movement of progressive writing in the 1930s and reads (starting at 4:29) from Untouchable, pp. 49 (very bottom)–52. The recording is from the Library of Congress South Asian Literary Recordings Project. The quality of the recording is poor, but it is well worth hearing Anand’s voice and considering why he has chosen this passage to represent the novel.
“He shivered as he turned on his side. But he didn’t mind the cold very much, suffering it willingly because he could sacrifice a good many comforts for the sake of what he called ‘fashun’, by which he understood the art of wearing trousers, breeches, coat, puttees, boots, etc., as worn by the British and Indian soldiers in India….But Bakha was a child of modern India.The clearcut styles of European dress had impressed his naive mind. This stark simplicity had furrowed his old Indian consciousness and cut deep new lines where all the considerations which made India evolve a skirty costume as best fitted for the human body, lay dormant.” (4)
Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. New York: Penguin Publishers, 2014.
Perhaps it is suspect to pick a passage so near the beginning of the novel, but I do believe there is much to unpack here. Firstly, it introduces the narration as not being without sentiment towards the traditional ways of India. Perhaps the phonetic spelling of the word ‘fashion’ is meant to convey a sort of ridiculousness at chasing after the ways of the foreign British, something the rest of the passage seems also to do. Of course, despite the political implications of the passage, it is also worth noting the familiarity of this in terms of youthful aspiration and fashion chasing. Also, whereas Tagore’s stories had colonialism in the subtext, clearly this is a novel with the British colonization front and center.
“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.