Publisher: Penguin Books India
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Classic Mulk Raj Anand by Penguin India is the compilation of Mulk Raj Anand’s three most popular books Untouchable, Coolie and Private Life of an Indian Prince. With a foreword from Saros Coswajee, this collection is a delight for all Mulk Raj Anand’s fans and admirers.
Mulk Raj Anand was an Indian writer who also worked as journalist. He was noted for his portrayal of the lives of the underprivileged castes in Indian society. He, with the likes of R. K. Narayan, Ahmad Ali and Raja Rao, was one of the first Indian writers to have gained popularity in the international readership.
Untouchable was Anand’s first book. The plot focuses on the eradication of caste system. Written in 1935, this novel follows the life of Bakha, a sweeper, of the lowest level of the outcaste Untouchables. For the most part he accepts this as a part of life. After all, that’s how he was raised. But several instances occur that make him question his existence and the role he plays in the society.
More than half of the book deals with Bakha going to work and doing his job while daydreaming on various ideas. The latter part of the book has a more political tone, with encounters with missionary groups and rallies featuring famous political leaders. Now, granted, the audience for this book during its release was much different and it probably did need to be preachy at the time. However, in modern times it turns into exceptionally tedious reading. But the strong start and charm of Bakha make it worth it.
It’s a short read, and worth the insight on colonial India the plight of the Dalit.
Coolie depicts the life of a young boy who, like any other boy his age, dreams of a life in the hills, a content life, but that is not to happen. Due to compelling circumstances, Munoo travels out of his village looking for jobs to earn his daily bread by living as a domestic help, to working as a porter, factory worker & rickshaw driver. Since the beginning, the book is an unending saga of depression and loss with graphic description of poverty, filth, and abuse. But slowly the beauty of Mulk Raj Anand emerges in the way he covertly heaps scorn on the ruling political class of that time – the Britishers.
As one progresses into the novel, one could gain insight into the tyranny of the caste/class system, exploitation of the poor by rich and the social, moral and economic impact that follows.
This is not a ‘feel-good’ read, but it is fascinating and well-written.
Private Life Of An Indian Prince
An enjoyable tale of the final days of the Maharajahs as the Indian Union is formed encompasses the novel. The important historic events provide the background for the story of one Maharajah’s private life. Raja of Shampur, is a vain character with all kinds of vices including a lusty indulgent nature, sloth and vanity. He has two queens and a permanent mistress. The mistress is able to keep him under her spell and controls and manipulates him. His irrepressible urge to win her over is what eventually leads to his downfall.
First published in 1953, the book is keeping with Anand’s other books which deal with the issue of social and political transformation. This book deals with the abolition of the princely states system in India.
A slightly over rated book, could have been interesting and relatable had the philosophies discussed been consequential.