Who was Mulk Raj Anand?
One of the first Indian writers in the English language to make a mark on the international scenario, Mulk Raj Anand was an author with hundreds of novels, short stories and essays to his name. Considered a pioneer of the anglo-Indian fiction, he is best remembered for his depiction of the poorer classes of people in India and their plight. His writings are rich with the realistic and touching portrayal of the problems of the common man, often written with heart wrenching clarity. Mulk Raj Anand was much too familiar with the problems of the poorer sections himself. The son of a coppersmith, he had witnessed cruelties of unimaginable horrors unfold before his own eyes—all that stemmed from the caste system that loomed over India like a malignant curse. He was an avid learner and went to Cambridge for higher education where he became actively involved in politics. He later returned to India to campaign for the cause of India’s independence. A bold and outspoken writer, he exposed several of India’s evil practices through his writings. He was a prolific writer and authored a great number of works, most of them were a commentary on the social structure of his time.
Childhood & Early Life
He was the born in Peshawar to Lal Chand—a coppersmith and soldier—and Ishwar Kaur. From an early age, Mulk Raj was pained by the problems of Indian society that stemmed from the issues of religion and caste.
He began to write from a young age; some of his early works were inspired by the love he had for a Muslim girl who was unfortunately already married. He was also angered by the suicide of a relative who had been ostracized for sharing food with a Muslim. These events inspired him to vent his frustration through words
He went to Khalsa College, Amritsar, and then to the University of Punjab from where he graduated in 1924. While at the college, he became involved in the Non Co-operation Movement in 1921 and was imprisoned for a short while.
Thereafter he went to University College, London on a scholarship before enrolling at the Cambridge University. He earned his PhD in 1929. In England, he actively became involved in left wing politics.
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He became a writer in English language as English language publishers were more open to publish the kind of themes he wrote on. His writing career began in England where he used to publish short reviews in T. S. Eliot’s magazine, ‘Criterion’.
During the 1930s and 1940s he was very active in politics and spoke regularly at the meetings of India League which was founded by Krishna Menon.
Over this period he became acquainted with the likes of intellectuals, such as, Bertrand Russell and Michael Foot, and authors like Henry Miller and George Orwell. He was deeply influenced by M.K. Gandhi.
His first novel, “Untouchable’ was published by the British firm, Wishart in 1935. The story was about a day in the life of Bakha, a boy who has to become a toilet cleaner just because he belongs to the untouchable caste. The novel was seen as a poignant reminder of the atrocities of the caste system in India.
In 1935, he played an important role in the founding of the Progressive Writers’ Association in London along with the writers Sajjad Zaheer and Ahmed Ali.
His heart wrenching novel ‘Two Leaves and a Bud’ (1937) again dealt with the way the lower caste people are exploited in India. It was the story of a poor peasant who is brutally killed by a British officer who tries to rape his daughter.
He joined the International Brigade in the Spanish civil war in 1937. As a socialist, he wrote numerous articles and essays on Marxism, Fascism, Indian independence and other political issues.
In 1939 he began lecturing in literature and philosophy at the London County Council Adult Educational Schools and the Workers’ Educational Association where he taught till 1942.
In 1939 he wrote ‘The Village’, which was the first part of the trilogy that would include the novels ‘Across the Black Waters’ (1940) and ‘The Sword and the Sickle’ (1942). The trilogy was about was about a rebellious adolescent and his experiences in the World War I.
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Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, he divided his time between London and India. At both places he was involved in politics—he was associated with the British Labour Party as well as the Indian National Congress.
Anand worked as a broadcaster and scriptwriter in the film division of the BBC in London during the World War II. He returned to India after the war. He founded the fine-arts magazine, ‘Marg’ in 1946.
He spent the next several years from 1948 to 1966 teaching at various universities. During the 1960s he served as Tagore Professor of Literature and Fine Art at the University of Punjab.
He served as the fine art chairman at Lalit Kala Akademi from 1965 to 1970. He also became the president of Lokayata Trust in 1970.
His best known work was the novel ‘Untouchable’ which tells of the story of a boy, Bakha, who is destined to become a toilet cleaner just because of his caste. The plot revolves around what happens when he meet an upper caste man and encounters atrocities.
Awards & Achievements
He was honored with the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian award in 1967 for his vast contributions towards the field of Literature & Education.
He won the Sahitya Academy Award for his novel ‘The Morning Face’ (1968).
Personal Life & Legacy
He met actress Kathleen van Gelder in London and the couple married in 1938. Their union produced a daughter. The marriage however unraveled and the couple divorced in 1948.
In 1950, he married Shirin Vajibdar, a classical dancer
He died in 2004 at the age of 98.