Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Coolie by Mulk Raj Anand: Pathos and subtlety

Describing Mulk Raj Anand as a free radical, India Today in its list of sixty greatest Indians goes on to say, “Anand’s novels lent voice to the voiceless…”

Reading his ‘Coolie’, one can’t agree more. We may have read stories set in pre-independent times but this one is different in that the focus is not on the struggle for collective freedom but on an individual’s. Almost with the belief that he was born to serve his masters, the hero of Anand’s story if one may hazard and call him so is moved to happiness when his masters show him the least kindness.

The language and style employed moves the reader to contemplate on some facets of life then, when sections of Indians were in awe of their English rulers and did anything to ingratiate themselves into their good books. As the story starts, the carefree village life of ‘Munoo’ ends abruptly one day as he travels with his uncle to work for his master. The young boy seldom loses his vitality even as he is at the receiving end of the whims and fancies of his masters.

“He laughed, sang, danced, shouted, leaped, somersaulted, with the irrepressible impetuosity of life itself, sweeping aside the barriers that separated him from his superiors by the utter humanness of his impulses, by the sheer wantonness of his unconscious life force.”

As destiny takes him from Shamnagar to Daulatpur to Bombay and finally Shimla, he takes life as it comes at him even pausing to thank God for his good fortune. Even offering glimpses of communal discord, Anand chronicles through Munoo what the book’s cover describes as “a fight for survival that illuminates, with raw immediacy, the grim fate of the masses in pre-partition India.

Certainly one book that will leave the reader sad but at the same time marveling at the resistance and innocence of the human spirit!!

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