Anand wrote his Village trilogy: The Village, Across the Black Waters), and The Sword and the Sickle
Throughout his novels and nonfiction writing, Mulk Raj Anand chronicled the life of early - and mid-twentieth-century India and acted as a spokesman not only for the downtrodden, but also for a new social order that would grant equal opportunity to all Embraced Nationalist Beliefs Anand was born in Peshawar, Punjab, India, on December 12, 1905, to Lal Chand (a coppersmith and soldier in the British Indian army) and Ishwar (Kaur) Anand. In India, a caste system had been in place for several thousand years until the beginnings of its demise in the mid-twentieth century. A caste system is a somewhat hierarchical social order with social, economic, and religious distinctions, and a person is born into a particular caste and remains in the caste until death. Anand’s family was part of the Kshatriya caste, second in rank and social prestige only to the highest-ranking Brahmans. Anand attended the University of Punjab, where he graduated with honors in 1924. While a student, he became actively involved in the Indian nationalist concerns, as the country sought its independence from its longtime colonial ruler, Great Britain.
Influenced by European Experiences Anand enrolled at the University of London in 1925 for a doctoral degree in philosophy. By the time he completed his studies in 1935, he had developed intimate relationships with prominent English writers and critics. Anand’s deep immersion in European intellectual thought and his direct involvement in English politics helped him to understand the British mindset, especially in relation to its response to India’s nationalistic desires. Afterward, Anand studied at Cambridge University, then fought against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. He was one of many foreigners who went to Spain to fight the fascists led by General Francisco Franco, but Franco remained in power there for the next four decades. However, Anand’s fight against fascism likely influenced his later work.
Addressed Societal Wrongs in Early Novels Returning to Great Britain after his time in Spain, Anand would remain there for much of the next decade as he launched his writing career. As a writer Anand’s career can be divided into two stages parallel to Indian history: the Anand of the colonial period, who steadily critiqued class exploitation, the caste system, colonialism, imperialism, fascism, and racism; and the Anand of the postindepend-ence era, who spread his energies and interests into several directions that became available with the new aspirations of India as an independent state.
Untouchable (1935) was Anand’s first novel. Someone who is ‘‘untouchable’’ in traditional Indian society is at the bottom of the caste system of social classes and is restricted from interacting with people of higher castes. Anand’s novel portrays Bakha, an untouchable, as a true human being. This novel set the stage for the type of social protest writing for which Anand would become famous. The book stems largely from a childhood incident in which an injured Anand was carried back to his house by an untouchable, only to watch his mother reprimand the untouchable for laying his hands upon her son.
Next came The Coolie (1936), then Two Leaves and a Bud (1937). The former condemned capitalism, while the latter was about exploitation of Indian workers by a British-owned tea company. These novels depicted India’s underclass as Anand witnessed it, without giving them much hope.
Continued Focus on India As Britain became engulfed in World War II, Anand was employed by the BBC’s film division in London from 1939 to 1945. He worked as a broadcaster and scriptwriter, while continuing to work on his own novels, which remained focused on India’s ongoing internal struggles. In 1939, Anand also married his first wife, Kathleen Van Gelder, an actress.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Anand wrote his Village trilogy: The Village (1939), Across the Black Waters (1940), and The Sword and the Sickle (1942). These novels deal with the three stages of growth of Lal Singh, a peasant’s son, as he struggles against the societal forces keeping him pinned at the bottom of Indian society in the midst of the stormy struggle for India’s independence and the various sociopolitical events that faced Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.
Embraced Civil Disobedience In 1942, Anand became enthralled with Mohandas Gandhi’s Quit India movement, a call for mass civil disobedience against the British colonizers and their government. His next novel, The Big Heart (1944), again touched on the tensions in India. It portrays laborers from the community of coppersmiths who are threatened with displacement from their hereditary profession. It also replicates the fierce conflict that took place in Europe between modernity and tradition.
Returned to India After World War II ended, Anand journeyed back to India in 1946 and remained there for several decades. While working on his writing, he also was a lecturer at various Indian universities from 1948 until the late 1960s. Anand wrote Private Life of an Indian Prince in 1948, the year India gained independence from Britain and started a trend. India was one of the first of many Asian and African colonies to gain its independence from European colonizers in the years after World War II. This novel, published in 1953, chronicled one prince’s experience at having his kingdom absorbed into the Indian Union.
Focused on Self in Autobiographical Novels Anand’s personal life was also being transformed as India worked through its early days of independence. He divorced his first wife in 1948 and married Shirin Vajifdar, a classical dancer, in 1949. Anand’s life also became the focus of his writings. The first of a seven-title autobiographical novel series called ‘‘Seven Ages of Man,’’ a novel about Anand’s childhood entitled Seven Summers (1951), was not published in the United States until 1973.Of the planned seven novels, Anand completed four.
Over the years, Anand was lauded for his work as he affected change in India through his writings and employment. Anand died of pneumonia in Pune, India, on September 28, 2004, at the age of ninety-nine.
Rejecting the ideas of disinterestedness and escapism in art and aloofness and alienation of the artist in society, Anand boldly embraced British
poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s idea of the poet as the ‘‘unacknowledged legislator of mankind.’’ Believing in the whole man and in his ability to reconstruct a new, progressive social order, and admiring the humanity of Mohandas Gandhi, poet and musician Rabindranath Tagore, and philosopher and politician Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Anand stressed the recognition of human dignity as a directional force in human relationships as well as the importance of hope and realism in his works.
Humanism One of Anand’s key themes in his work is the idea that all people are deserving of dignity and basic liberties. This reflects the concept of humanism, or the belief that all people—regardless of culture or social class—are capable of operating by a universal moral code in which all are treated equally. This point of view is expressed in his sympathetic portrayal of Bakha in Untouchable, as well as his depiction of coppersmiths in The Big Heart. Anand counted on the humanistic notion that people of all cultures could relate to universal ideas about fairness and equality in his work.
Hope and Realism Hope and realism are elements introduced in Anand’s Village trilogy. The Village is a realistic portrayal of village life. Across the Black Waters is a representation of Lal Singh and his friends’ experiences of fighting against the Germans in France during World War I. The first and only fictional account of the use of Indian troops in World War I, the story raises the moral issue of the deployment of Indian troops in a British war and reflects Anand’s own experiences fighting against fascists in the Spanish Civil War. The Sword and the Sickle is a sociopolitical novel that combines two major concerns: the social problem of the eviction of peasants by landlords, and the political problem of national
freedom. Through his writings, Anand helped establish the basic forms and themes of Indian literature written in English. Because of his subject matter and realism, especially in his early novels, many critics believe that his influence on contemporary South Asian literature is similar to that of nineteenth-century novelists Honore´ de´ Balzac and Emile Zola on European letters of the time.
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