Pragmatism, a style of writing that gives the impression of recording or ‘reflecting’ faithfully an actual way of life rejects idealization, escapism, and other extravagant qualities of romance in favour of recognizing soberly the actual problems of life. This research seeks social pragmatism in the novel, Untouchable written by Mulk Raj Anand respectively. Untouchable is basically an epic of misery of the individual caught in the net of the age old caste system. Social Pragmatism in Untouchable discusses the suppression and oppression of untouchables in Punjab region in different social, cultural and religious situations as portrayed by Anand. This part discusses in detail the exploitation of untouchables in a male point of view.
Mulk Raj Anand has painted Untouchable with the colours of social pragmatism. This novel is hard core reality of the Indian society of early decades of the twentieth century. This novel describes the sufferings of the protagonist, and record the miseries felt by him. This novel occupied a special place in Indian literature. Untouchable gives a voice to the predicament of the mute humanity in vicious circumstances. The suffering is not caused by fate but by fellow human and the social surroundings from which the sufferers still have great and immortal hopes for betterment of life. Untouchable is the saga of suffering of the protagonist – Bakha. Anand is considered a reformer; he does so because it is one of his aims to disturb his readers’ complacency to shock them out of conventional attitudes, and encourage them to make a fresh approach to experience. In Untouchable it is that of a progressive revolutionary, of a humanist who is all compassion for the working, downtrodden classes, and the social outcastes. Being a realist whose social pragmatism has an unmistakable streak of Marxism in it, he carries his readers along, wins their confidence and establishes a close, harmonious relationship with them as well as with his characters. Anand lays stress on the demands of the present; he refuses to be bound by stale custom and orthodoxy. In fact, his novels convey emotional truths as well as social realities and the beauty of his art of fiction is well realized by way of analysis and interpretation of social problems and of corrupt practices in Coolie, Untouchable, The Big Heart and Two Leaves And A Bud. He combines wide experience with architectonic skill, cosmic vision with objective truth. It is a fact that he never allows idealism to eclipse his vision of social reality. Like Premchand, Anand too is a serious novelist and passionate reformer, a critic of life who traces the roots of social injustice and moral degradation to the disruption based on co-operation and brotherhood and the growth of inequality and tyranny based on caste and class scruples.
Anand garnered a ripe harvest of experience before he assayed his first attempt at storytelling, despite the early age at which he has published Untouchable. True, he did not resort to any literary vivisection by allowing his pragmatism to include every biographical and biological factor, record every breath, and analyse every individual thought of his characters, but none would question the skill with which he observes life in essential detail and describe it with an accuracy rarely exceeded. He was born into an atmosphere redolent with dissatisfaction of things as they were an atmosphere into which he infused his ardent belief that things could be bettered. In practice, therefore, he rejected the theory of art for art’s sake; for there is abundant evidence that he was supremely conscious of a mission and that he definitely started out in many of his novels to reform abuses and right wrongs by means of subtle propaganda. He was democrats with a passion for humanity. Anand appears to be universal in respect of the lower classes only. Just as no writer before Dickens had handled the English people, similarly no Indo-English writer before Anand had devoted so sustained and sympathetic an attention to the poor masses, outcastes and the neglected lot of the society. Anand was born in an age when moralizing was unusually popular and at the same time he had plenty to moralize about, the revolt against. He delights in the painting of those elements of human nature which call forth the common emotions of mankind like tears, anger, joy, sorrow, pity, sympathy, compassion and so on. In Untouchable, Anand reveals the curse of untouchability, exploitation, child labour, social governance, social set up of society, customs, religion belief, prejudices and the theme of the miserable masses is studied in a rural and urban setting where hunger and starvation are caused by the operation of natural forces. This is nothing but a reflection of the society. This novel deals with the theme of untouchability, exploitation, poverty, hunger and the suffering of the Indian masses. The theme of suffering caused by vicious circumstances in life has been realistically depicted, and the heroic struggle of the central figures, against heavy odds, raises the novel to the lofty heights of an epic. Untouchable is called epic of social pragmatism as it has all the qualities of great epic though in different ways. According to the ancient Greeks, the epic is a narrative poem, longer in scope and size, having a divine inspiration. The characters in an epic poem can be partly human and partly divine. In epics, the action should be complete and grand. An epic hero is not an ordinary person. Untouchable has the same qualities of epics. Francis H. Stoddard writes about novel which Sharma quotes as in Premchand’s Godan :
A Critical Analysis: A novel is a narrative of human life under the stress of emotion. It differs from the epic in that. It is a narration of human rather than super human life, under the stress of ordinary rather than of excessive or heroic emotion. (Premchand’s Godan 67) In this sense, modern novel is closer to the epic in its endeavour of portraying modern man’s predicament in a hostile environment. Novel tends to assume the form of an epic of common man in an ordinary everyday life. It realistically describes the various aspects of life. In this sense, Untouchable has epic dimensions as it deals with epic struggle of the Indian untouchable or the social backward class against the established social order. Like Dostoevasky’s The Idiot, Charles Dicken’s David Copperfield and Great Expectations, Premchand’s Godan, Mulk Raj Anand has created a unique protagonist Bakha in Untouchable. In Untouchable, Mulk Raj Anand presents the Indian downtrodden and laborers with their problems – social rejection, poverty, starvation, poor health, misery, death and humiliation. Anand’s immortal creation of the protagonist Bakha represents Indian society. One finds that in Bakha’s life at each stage, tragedy deepens and intensifies, without any respite. Bakha is a poor untouchable, tradition-follower who is an idealist and cannot think of going against society, religion, beliefs and the ‘agents’ of religious institutions. Anand has taken the theme of his novels from real life and so his novel is nothing but social pragmatism. He brought to fictional life Bakha, his boyhood companion, the untouchable sweeper boy, in Untouchable. Anand’s mother abused Bakha for `polluting’ her son when Bakha carried home a bleeding Anand, hurt by a stone. Bakha is reviled by higher caste Hinduss as he cleans latrines; but Anand captures Bakha’s pride in his work: he tackles his odious job with a conscientiousness that invests his movement with beauty. The novel was not only a powerful social tract, but a remarkable technical feat as in a single days’ action the author builds round his hero a spiritual crisis broad enough to embrace the whole of India. Forster wrote in its introduction: “It has gone straight to the heart of its subject and purified it” (Preface, Untouchable 7). The underdog protagonists Bakha and Munoo sail in the same boat as far as personal suffering is concerned.
The central theme in Untouchable – social exploitation, the exploitation of the poor and the under-privileged by the forces of capitalism, industrialism and colonialism. In Anand’s Untouchable, Bakha is denied his fundamental right to life and happiness and is exploited and made to suffer, till he dies of consumption. The novelist makes it quite clear that Bakha is not the only victim of such exploitation. He represents millions of those for whom such exploitation and denial of life and happiness is the lot of everyday life. The lot of the poor is equally wretched and miserable whether in rural or urban India. Whether in a village like Bilaspur or small town like Sham Nagar, the story of suffering is the same. Such painful journey of Bakha is a unique feature for the study of comparative aspects found beautifully woven in this extra ordinary epic of miseries by Anand. Social background of the novel is exploitation by landlords and masters, ill fate created by surroundings, social beliefs, cumulative torture, unfulfilled desires from life. Yet the protagonist makes a constant though painful journey in life with the hope of betterment and at last Bakha is crushed under heavy burdens of life and gets disintegrated into ashes with the so called pure and religious dust of mother India. Mulk Raj Anand has presented the miserable condition of social backward class and coolies in India. This novel has been written with a purpose. This novel is a powerful indictment of modern capitalistic Indian society and feudal system with the shameless and tragic exploitation of the underdog and poor. The protagonist wants to live but the society does not allow him to live. He dies of exploitation, poverty and hunger. If the poor are treated humanely, most of the social problems can be solved easily. Humanism is the only solution to the problems. The theme of the novel – untouchability itself is very realistic. Untouchable is a realistic novel of socially crushed protagonist Bakha. It is a slice from life without any modification. The novel begins with a realistic picture of the outcastes’ colony. The local colour of the novel is evoked with the photographic pragmatism and accuracy. Anand describes: The outcastes’ colony was a group of mudwalled houses that clustered together in two rows, under the shadow both of the town and the cantonment, but outside their boundaries and separate from them. There lived the scavengers, the leather- workers, the washer men, the barbers, the water carriers, the grasscutters and other outcastes from Hindu society.
A brook ran near the lane, once with crystal clear water, now soiled by the dirt and filth of the public latrines situated about it, the odour of the hides and skins of dead carcasses left to dry on its banks, the dung of donkeys, sheep, horses, cows and buffaloes heaped up to be made into fuel cakes. (Untouchable 11) This realistic description is what Anand himself has seen and presented as it is. This mode of realistic description continues throughout the novel. Anand has painted the realistic colony where untouchables and other outcaste people stay and wait to be humiliated by other higher caste Hindus. From the description of the novel, it looks like Anand has spent a day with Bakha and observed it minutely. It seems very real and true. Bakha’s day starts as given: Bakha thought of the uncongeniality of his of his home as he lay half-awake in the morning of an autumn day, covered by a worn-out, greasy blanket, on a faded blue carpet which was spread on the floor in a corner of the cavelike, dingy, dank, one-roomed mud house. His sister slept on a cot next to him and his father and brother snored from under a patched, ocher-colored quilt, on a broken string bed, on the other side. (Untouchable 12) This is the reality that one can see in the hut of an untouchable. Anand observes and presents the real photographic picture. Usually Bakha’s day starts with scolding of his father Lakha, the jamadar of all the sweepers in the town and the cantonment. Bakha dreams to have everything like British people. Anand starts narrating Bakha’s desire to look like British men which is very real to the colonial mind of Indian untouchable.
Mulk Raj Anand was not only a writer but also a social reformist. He has social concerns and humanity for the downtrodden which make him a reformist. He has focused on the social reality of suppressed people. His works make the reader ponder over it. The social reality which Anand has presented in all his major novels made him a socialist and humanist. His first novel – Untouchable (1935) is an account of a day in the life of its protagonist- Bakha, an untouchable sweeper boy. This novel is a suffering saga of Bakha and the social pragmatism presented by Anand is a result of decadent and perverted social and religious orthodoxy in India. This novel shows the realistic picture of society. In this novel Anand has portrayed a picture of an untouchable who is a sweeper boy. This character is representative of all the down trodden living in society in pre-independent India. The protagonist of this novel suffers because of his caste.
With Bakha, the central character, there are other characters who also suffer because of their lower caste. They live in mud-walled cottages, a huddled colony in which people are scavengers, the leather-workers, the washer men, the barbers, the water-carriers, the grass-cutters and other outcastes. The low caste people suffer because they are by birth outcaste. But Mulk Raj Anand had depicted the hypocrisy of the upper caste people like Pundit Kali Nath who enjoys the touch of the Harijan girls. Mulk Raj Anand exposes all this hypocrisy and double standard or double dealing. In this novel Bakha is presented as a universal figure to show the oppression, injustice, humiliation to the whole community of the outcastes in India. Bakha symbolizes the exploitation and oppression which has been the fate of untouchables like him. His anguish and humiliation are not of his alone, but the suffering of whole outcastes and underdogs. Anand reveals the curse of untouchability, exploitation, child labour, social governance, social set up of society, customs, religious belief, prejudices and the theme of the miserable masses studied in a rural and urban setting where hunger and starvation are caused by the operation of natural forces. This is nothing but a reflection of the society. Mulk Raj Anand presents the Indian downtrodden and labourers with their problems – social rejection, poverty, starvation, poor health, misery, death and humiliation. Anand’s immortal creation of the protagonist Bakha represents Indian society.
One finds that in Bakha’s life at each stage, tragedy deepens and intensifies, without any respite. Bakha is a poor untouchable, tradition follower who is an idealist and cannot think of going against society, religion, beliefs and the agents of religious institutions. Anand has taken the theme of his novels from real life and so his novel is nothing but an ideal example of social pragmatism. The novel presents reality with photographic fidelity and arouses our sympathy for the strays and outcastes of society. Anand’s hero is not of the race, not of the time and the place, but exemplifies all humanity caught in contingencies of an antiquated social order that impedes his evaluation into a self-consistent social life. Mulk Raj Anand’s depiction of the practice of untouchability is essentially a matter of pretentious religiosity and exploitation. By a very well worked out technique of dramatic irony and by juxtaposing the plight of Sohini with that of Bakha, the novelist has reinforced the representative character of the figure of the untouchable. Mulk Raj Anand in Untouchable exposed the social pragmatism in contemporary Hindu society. The depiction of social injustice to the untouchables in Hindu society made the work most popular.