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Nov 29, 2014

Mulk Raj Anand's Passage through Bloomsbury

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Mulk Raj Anand's Passage through Bloomsbury
Kristin Bluemel

In the midst of Gandhi's satyagraha (nonviolent noncooperation) campaigns of the 1930s, Britain tried to impose a series of 'reforms' on its rebellious Indian colony in a last-ditch attempt to preserve the borders of its decaying empire.  These reforms, which futilely rearranged boundaries of land and distributions of power, were symbolized by two universally-despised British publications: the 1933 White Paper and its Constitutional variation, the 1935 Government of India Act.  The negative reception in India of the two publications of British political discourse stands in marked contrast to the positive reception in England of Mulk Raj Anand's works of Indian political fiction.  Untouchable, Anand's first novel, was published in London with a Preface by E. M. Forster in 1935.  It is about one day in the life of 18-year-old Bakha, a sweeper who cleans the public latrines in the morning and by evening has begun to question the necessity of his caste exclusion after hearing a speech by Gandhi.  This novel, along with two others Anand published in the 1930s, Coolie and Two Leaves and a Bud, earned him reviews in The SpectatorLife and Letters To-DayLondon Mercury, and New Statesman, and leftist publications like the Left Review and Congress Socialist, establishing him as the best Indian novelist practicing in English, superior even to R. K. Narayan.  They also earned him a reputation as the most revolutionary of India's writers working in English.  The ambiguous legacy of this dual reputation—as a fine novelist and outspoken revolutionary—has determined Anand's position in twentieth-century English literary history. [1]
On the one hand, Anand’s 1930s novels have been regarded as productions of late modernist Bloomsbury.  This categorization is encouraged by Anand's connections with several of Bloomsbury’s foremost writers: in addition to Forster he was supported by Leonard and Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, and Edith Sitwell (Cowasjee, So Many 27).  On the other hand, his Marxist commitment, tutoring by Gandhi, and experience in Republican Spain paint a portrait of the paradigmatic Thirties writer.  He seems the perfect representative of artists who created the literature of the Red (or Pink) Decade, including his friends and correspondents Herbert Read, Aldous Huxley, Cyril Connolly, George Orwell, Stephen Spender, Henry Miller, Montagu Slater, V. S. Pritchett, Victor Gollancz, Louis MacNeice, C. Day Lewis, Dylan Thomas, Naomi Mitchison, Stevie Smith and Eric Gill. [2]   Despite this impressive list of associates, Anand's name is rarely mentioned in critical analyses or histories of London’s literary culture in the 1930s.  To account for the critical silence about Anand's years in Bloomsbury, this paper analyzes the relationship between the revolutions created in and by Anand's fictional worlds of the 1930s and his reinvention and reinterpretation of those revolutions in his nonfictional narratives of the 1940s, most importantly his propagandistic Letters on India (1942) and his autobiography Apology for Heroism (1946). [3]   It argues that Anand's nonfiction writing of the 1940s provides more daring and concrete visions of his revolutionary socialist ideals than his more famous novels of the 1930s. 
Having achieved a literary form adequate to the content of his politics, Anand promptly lost the support of those English leftists who had been the strongest supporters of his earlier work.  Sticking to his politics, Anand risked social alienation from his literary peers rather than suffer modification of his views on the necessity of India's immediate freedom from colonial status or his belief that Stalin's betrayal of Britain was no reason for Indians to give up on Communism (Cowasjee, So Many 30).  Ultimately, he paid a high literary price for his commitment, losing not only a place in Thirties memoirs, but also a place in English literary history. [4]   His contributions to English literature of the 1930s most likely became the causalities of local, literary politics of anticolonial protest and colonial backlash.
My analysis of the gap between the reception in leftist circles of Anand's radical fiction and his radical nonfiction suggests that Anand’s diminishing reputation among leftists had less to do with any failures of the literary imagination, and more to do with many English leftists' allegiance to England's imperial identity and specifically its right to ruleIndia.
I conclude that the construction of the 1930s as a 'dishonest' decade is in part a consequence of the exclusion of “true” radicals like Anand—uncompromising Indian nationalist and unrepentant Marxist--from the textual record valued by dominant English intellectuals and in part a consequence of the arbitrary designation of the 1930s, rather than 1940s, as the only radical decade of the early twentieth-century. [5] I treat Anand’s more complete achievement of the radical political-literary goals of the 1930s in his writings of the 1940s as a case study that supports my more ambitious project of introducing a new literary category, 'intermodernism', into critical discourse.  Adoption of the category of intermodernism solves some of the problems resulting from the unfortunate, sticky label 'dishonest decade' in part because it diminishes conceptual walls between somewhat arbitrarily defined periods:  the Thirties, the Forties.  Although I will use the traditional period categories in my discussions of Anand’s work, my larger argument is indebted to thinking across boundaries between genres and periods, of recognizing Anand’s writings as part of one intermodern movement or discourse sustained, in various forms and with differing social-political effects, throughout the 1930s and 1940s.  Regarding Anand as an intermodernist rather than or in addition to a late Bloomsbury modernist, Thirties radical, or Indo-Anglian (post)colonialist, encourages critics to read and value his less famous texts, providing new rationale for including his name and writings in discussions of literary London. [6]
The term intermodernism, which I treat as an analytical tool rather than a label for a literary-historical period, describes the literary efforts of Anand and other writers like him. In contrast to modernist writers, for example, intermodern writers tend to have their origins in or maintain contacts with working- or lower-middle-class cultures.  As young people, they do not fit into the Oxbridge networks or values that shaped the dominant English literary culture of their time because they have the 'wrong' sex, class, or colonial status.  As adults they remain on the margins of celebrated literary groups.  Intermodern writers tend to hold down regular jobs (soldier, secretary, journalist, factory worker, teacher) to supplement their income from writing.  Perhaps as a result, they often write about work.  When intermodernists experiment with style or form, their narratives are still within a recognizably realist tradition.  They do not often demonstrate that archetypal modernist impulse toward mystic epiphany (Lawrence) or mythic allusion (Joyce or Eliot).  This realist bias may be a symptom of the journalist’s skills many intermodernists developed while writing their more memorable novels, stories, or radio dramas.  The intermodernists' social marginalization, financial dependence on jobs and free-lance journalism, and debts to realism often resulted in writing that attends to politics, especially politics that may improve working conditions.  Salvation or redemption in intermodern texts tends to be pursued through narrative strategies or symbolic influences that are intellectually and culturally available to ordinary, non-elite, working men and women.  Intermodernism contributes to what F. R. Leavis famously called England’s minority culture, but it also cheerfully partakes of and contributes to the mass culture Leavis distrusted.
Without the category of intermodernism it is almost impossible to convey the sense of non-modernist cultural activity that endured throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s to which Anand contributed.  The critical discussions that have grown up around study of other twentieth-century literary movements, including those signaled by the phrases Bloomsbury, the Auden Generation, the Thirties, the Forties, interwar and war literature, are certainly still relevant for studies like this one, but the addition of intermodernism to these preexisting discussions promises to bring exciting new materials and approaches to scholarship on the period.  As much as critics will bemoan introduction of yet another label into critical discourse, I still advocate against the odds for widespread adoption of the category of intermodernism because we need more subtle tools than those provided by the vocabularies of modernism and postmodernism to assess the vast transformations of British interwar and wartime culture. 
We need look no further than Anand's friend and BBC colleague, George Orwell, to understand the advantages intermodernism offers scholars of twentieth-century English literature.  A survey of criticism on Orwell shows that few scholars choose to describe his literary work in terms of the dominant cultural movements of his time.  He is rarely 'Orwell, of the Auden Generation' or 'Orwell, the World War II writer' (and never, thank goodness, 'Orwell, the modernist' or 'Orwell, the postmodernist').  With a literary career extending roughly from 1933 to 1949, and with books and essays that discuss things like the Spanish Civil War to freedom of speech or anti-Semitism in wartime, Orwell is of course of the Thirties and equally of the Forties.  But Orwell scholars resist describing him in these terms, either because they do not want to encourage a view of the literary-historical Orwell as a divided man, 'of' two separate decades, or because they want to encourage a view of Orwell as a uniquely autonomous writer, 'saint' George Orwell, the 'wintry conscience of a generation.'  Both these approaches to Orwell provide no solution to the problem of naming Orwell's place in English literary history.  And if critics can not name Orwell's place, imagine the trouble they have with Anand.  The category of intermodernism provides one way out of that trouble.  With it, we have new language for locating and navigating the still-unnamed place in literary history occupied by Orwell, Anand, and their undervalued contemporaries of the 1930s and 1940s. Without that category, without that name, scholars will do what they have always done: construct syllabi that accommodate the categories recognized by staid, affordable textbooks while writing densely theoretical papers that play postmodern language games with the very notion of naming.  Neither of these approaches adequately highlights the continuities between various forms of 1930s and 1940s writing or the relations between these intermodern forms and the forms of modernist and postmodernist movements that dominate critical discussion about the period.
Intermodernism helps us see how Anand's nonfictional 1940s texts draw their rhetorical, ideological power from the contradictory experiences and identifications that arose from his move to England in the 1920s.  On the one hand, he was a highly-educated, high-caste Indian, on the other he was committed to Marxism and international socialism. He advocated Indian independence, but chose to do so in London, the center of imperial power.  Productive as these conflicting allegiances were for his autobiographical heroes and first-person narrators, his fictional low-caste heroes of the 1930s do not benefit in the same way from their experiences with social and ideological contradiction. None of these heroes is able to envision a less oppressive, postimperial future for himself or India.  Bakha returns to his family and work with little more than the first glimmerings of hope for a better future for untouchables.  Munoo, the hero of Coolie, is a fourteen year old orphan boy from the hills who is propelled from one deplorable job to another in a variety of Indian cities.  The novel ends with his death from consumption while he is employed as a personal servant and rickshaw driver of a degenerate Anglo-Indian woman.  Even Two Leaves and a Bud, which more concretely represents Anand’s socialist belief in the possibilities of collective action, ends with the defeat of a group of workers seeking better working conditions on a tea plantation and the murder of the novel's protagonist, Gangu, by the Assistant Planter, a vicious, drunken, power-hungry sexual predator who is absolved by the English of any wrongdoing.
While it is true that Anand was influenced by many of the same intellectual and political texts that other modernists and intermodernists read, his 1930s fictions struck most readers of the time as radically different for the following reasons:  they are exclusively about India and Indians, are the first examples of Indo-Anglian fiction to adopt outcastes or social pariahs as their heroes, they use English in a new way to communicate Indian idiom, and they integrate the political speeches of the period’s most prominent Indian political figures, Gandhi and Nehru.  More generally, Anand's fiction is regarded as a cornerstone of the first generation of Indo-Anglian writers who came to represent independent and postcolonial India.
In his controversial Introduction to The Vintage Book of Indian Writing, 1947-1997 Salman Rushdie writes, "it was the generation of independence, 'midnight's parents', one might call them, who were the true architects of this new [Indo-Anglian] tradition" (xvii).  Rushdie’s comparison of writers in Anand's generation to "true architects"--the real builders or creators of modern India's enduring English prose tradition, encourages us to see Anand's novels as doing something importantly new and innovative.  More than thirty years before Rushdie made this judgment, Srinivasa Iyengar made a similar argument in his 1962 Indian Writing in English. [7]   Like Rushdie, Iyengar defends the legitimacy of Indo-Anglian writers despite their hybrid linguistic, cultural genealogies and places a similar emphasis on the newness of their enterprise.  With less confidence but equal insight he makes a plea for critical open-mindedness since "an experimental literature would thus need an experimental critical approach for its proper evaluation" (Iyengar 20).  With the invention of 'new modernisms' at the end of the twentieth-century, the theoretical and critical climate has changed enough to allow recognition of Anand's different kind of 'modernist' experiment, as well as the necessity of a new critical approach to his revolutionary literary work.
By the phrase "Anand's revolutionary literary work", I mean his texts'challenges to the norms of mainstream English and Indian cultures and institutions through their promotion of an anti-elitist vision of social relations and political institutions.  The threat that Anand's fictions posed to contemporary readers can be measured in a variety of ways.  First, as Forster notes in his Preface to Untouchable, the contents of Anand’s book will make "some readers, especially those who consider themselves all-white, . . . go purple with rage before they have finished a dozen pages" (v).  Forster comes to this conclusion after recalling how one reference to the sweepers and commodes of Chandrapur in Passage to India inspired an English Colonel to pen in the margins of his book, "Burn when done" and "Has a dirty mind".  More than ten years after his Indian novel scandalized readers, Forster still had to mount an attack on the moral equation of goodness and cleanliness in order to defend Anand's novel about an untouchable cleaner of latrines.
A second way to measure the revolutionary potential of Anand's fiction of the 1930s is through the reaction of the governments in England and India.  According to Iyengar,UntouchableCoolie, and Two Leaves and a Bud were banned by the Government of India (261).  Thirdly, Anand's early novels would have been perceived as revolutionary by any readers who knew of his political activism.  As a college student in India, Anand had participated in the 1921 Civil Disobedience campaigns against the British, which earned him a brief jail term.  He was jailed again after joining a student strike against the British Government's tacit support of the Sikh grandees.  In 1926, shortly after his arrival in England, Anand was manhandled outside the Euston Square Station for refusing to blackleg against the General Strikers.  Witnessing the British Government's treatment of English strikers taught him a powerful lesson: that "Britain was organized and run in the interests of a small minority which could suppress the majority as violently at home as it did in the Empire" (Apology 36).  This experience convinced him that international socialism was the only viable political means for addressing world problems (Cowasjee, So Many 12).
Anand became a dedicated Marxist in 1932 upon reading Marx's "Letters on India" (Cowasjee 12).   The importance of Anand's in-depth engagement with Marx's writings is evident from his memoir, Apology for Heroism, in which he writes:  "A whole new world was opened to me.  All the threads of my past reading, which had got tied up in knots, seemed suddenly to straighten out, and I began to see not only the history of India but the whole history of human society in some sort of inter-connection" (67-68).  In 1936 he joined the International Brigade in the University Trenches in Spain, though he, along with other writers, was recalled by the Communist Party and put in a safer journalistic post which he held for three months.  Two years later he returned to India, campaigning across the country for the Republican cause.  He also worked for the Indian National Congress and the Kisan Sabha (Farmers' Union), and helped organize the Second All India Progressive Writers' Conference in Calcutta  (Cowasjee, So Many 20-21).
For anyone fascinated by the literary culture of 1930s London, a fourth meaningful way of measuring the revolutionary potential of Anand's words is through his loss in the early 1940s of his 1930s friendships with many of the prominent modernists and what I would call intermodernists.  Saros Cowasjee, one of Anand's most insightful critics, speculates that this loss partly explains why Anand is rarely mentioned in the memoirs of his contemporaries (So Many 27).  Cowasjee points out that "Anand's attitude toward his contemporaries was chiefly determined by their stand on the question of Indian freedom" and that he tested the limits of their revolutionary commitments most pointedly in his 1942 Letters on India (So Many 29).  This 'test' followed his unpopular 1940 novel, Across the Black Waters, which is about the misadventures of a group of Indian mercenaries in British Army during World War I.  As Graham Parry points out in a rare essay on this novel, Anand's timing could not have been worse.  Published at a low point of English morale during World War II, Across the Black Waters is an undisguised attack on a British Government at war (Parry 32-33).
The same Bloomsbury writers who in the 1940s rejected Anand along with his literature, had, several years before, received Untouchable as an important novel by one of their own.  They welcomed its attacks on caste and class discrimination and took pleasure in its offense to people they perceived as antagonists, Anglo-Indian loyalists and committed British imperialists.  They would not have predicted that, many years later, it would prove equally offensive to Arun P. Mukherjee, a postcolonial critic who shares postmodern versions of Anand's professed goals and commitments.  Mukherjee’s essay, entitled "The Exclusions of Postcolonial Theory and Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable: A Case study," places analysis of Anand’s work at its center as a means of criticizing the homogenizing tendencies of postcolonial theory.  Mukherjee claims that postcolonial theory’s most influential spokespersons—Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin, Benita Parry, Fredric Jameson, and even Rushdie—flatten out the 'Indianness' of India's literature because their theoretical writing "thematizes India’s literary texts only in terms of search for identity and resistance to the colonizer, entirely overlooking collaboration" (32).
It is this last objection about collaboration that leads Mukherjee into his critical case study of Untouchable.  He sees Anand as a writer with a "radical cognitive intentionality" whose fiction is not, finally, radical or subversive and whose literature requires from leftist critics a "hermeneutic of suspicion. . . like any other text" (35).  Among other things, Mukherjee recounts the political history of activist untouchables whose leaders articulated demands that often ran counter to the Indian National Congress Party positions that Anand echoes.  Mukherjee finds it "absolutely astounding" that "Anand does not refer at all either to the oppositional acts or the oppositional discourses produced by untouchables at this time period all across India" (46). [8]   Although the Government of India found Untouchable threatening enough to ban it, Mukherjee concludes that Anand's Untouchable "successfully contains the realities of the volatile social order at this period of Indian history" (42).  He asserts that "It reassures its bourgeois readers, both in India and in Britain where it was originally published, that the simmering unrest among the untouchables would not lead to a violent destabilization of the status quo"(42). 
It is this mention of Untouchable's reception, and particularly its reception in Britain, that inspires the next part of my argument.  Taking as my starting point the idea that Anand's 1930s fiction is divided between a radical intentionality and collaborationist effects, I examine the political and aesthetic implications of Anand's (ambiguously) non-hegemonic position in two of his nonfiction texts of the 1940s, Apology for Heroism and Letters on India, in order to complicate Mukherjee's reading and advance Anand’s reputation as an intermodern radical writer. [9]
Anand's many autobiographical writings document his divided position in India—a division that is evident on the micro-level of family politics as well as the macro-level of caste allegiance. Born into a Hindu family of Kshatriya, the second highest caste of the old four-fold scheme, Anand grew up in the cantonments of northern India. His father had given up the traditional coppersmithing trade of his ancestors and had devoted himself to secular advancement in the British-Indian army (Apology 29-31).  Anand characterizes his mother as a simple, silly woman of peasant origins whose vague pantheistic religious practices were a source of mockery and amusement for him and his male relatives.  The divide between father and mother symbolizes Anand's larger social, political divisions as an Indian and a writer.  This divide is more dramatically illustrated by Anand's description of his immigration to England. He writes in Apology for Heroism, "The immediate cause of my impetuous decision [to leave for England] was that my father hit my mother in an argument about my having gone to jail in the Gandhi movement and having fallen in love with a Muslim girl from Lahore" (45). This is a painful but perfect example of the way family politics introduced Anand to the contradictory claims of his social position even before he left India. He was nearly torn apart by divided loyalties to masculine power and feminine nurturing, collaborationist advantage and revolutionary practice, Hindu social privilege and Hindu religious oppression.
If we consider Anand's situation in England in the mid-1930s, the time Untouchable was published, it is obvious that his flight westward merely allowed him to exchange one set of contradictory social and political experiences for another.  By earning a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of London, he demonstrated his intensive training in the ideological foundations of the idealized imperial center.Yet devoted study of these foundations facilitated his move toward an anti-imperialist Marxist commitment.  Trying to launch a career as novelist, he found himself similarly divided between commitments to more and less powerful forces.  By the early 1930s, he was convinced that he needed to use his writing to advance leftist political goals.  Yet he began his writing career by working on the Criterion for the conservative T. S. Eliot.
In a volume of essays entitled Conversations in Bloomsbury that Anand published decades after he had returned to India, he makes the most of his English connections in order to demonstrate his own importance to the Empire's intellectual center.  Yet in Apology for Heroism, which he wrote while working as a propagandizing voice of English imperial defense in the BBC's Eastern Services Division, he emphasizes his distance from his English colleagues and peers. Written two years before Indian independence, this document accuses almost all the intellectuals of the 1930s of lacking a centrality of vision.  Anand, in contrast, was trying to find a comprehensive theory that would allow him to understand 'human values' in terms of the "problem of politics and economics, particularly the wretchedness of the human beings in India" (82-3). [10]   His reflections on this period of his intellectual and spiritual life lead him to confess to feeling "a considerable gap" in his relations with English writers (83).  While he admits to being grateful for their loyal friendships, he also admits to "a certain kind of self-consciousness in [his] . . . discussions [with them] about India" due, in part, to his own "inferiority complex" but also certainly due to what he calls "the acquiescence (conscious or unconscious. . . ) by most British writers I knew at that time, with the status quo and with the arguments used even by the most obtuse of publicists against the advancement of the under-privileged both in Britain and the Empire" (83).
Curiously, Anand here accuses British writers of doing precisely the same thing Mukherjee criticizes Anand of doing: maintaining a cowardly allegiance to the status quo.  In each case, the good, liberal intentions of the accused only intensify the critic's accusations.  Although Anand writes, "I don’t want to exaggerate the significance of such differences of opinion [between himself and English writers]", in the next breath he declares,
I was also firmly convinced that there could be no dignity in the personal relations of British and Indian intellectuals unless British writers realized that the freedom of speech and opinion which they took for granted was denied to their friends in [India], and unless they saw to it that intellectuals everywhere enjoyed equal rights of citizenship. (84)
The phrase,"no dignity in the personal relations of British and Indian intellectuals", throws into question the reality of the friendships Anand confirms elsewhere in Apology for Heroism.  This is an important declaration of difference, his confession in the 1940s that the friendships of the 1930s were, all along, only pseudo-friendships.  By the time he published his Apology, Anand regarded favorably only Bertrand Russell, Leonard Woolf, H. N. Brailsford, Lowes Dickinson, E. M. Forster, and Edward Thompson (85). [11]
Given the high moral tone of the autobiography and its strikingly unapologetic critique of English intellectuals as "selfish","petty", and "egotistical" betrayers of the ideals of European culture (87), one must wonder about the real contents of the apology.   Suspicions that Anand is offering nothing but the forms of apology are confirmed by the end of the sixth and central chapter of the book.  Here Anand writes,
If it is not a simplification, I may say, generally, that the youth of India during the last quarter of a century had been going through a kind of heroic age.  All our gestures, all our thoughts, all our talk—everything that we did—had been inspired by the belief that we must create a new India, build a new world. (96)
Asserting nothing less heroic than building a new world, Anand here offers only the appearance of apology for thinking too boldly or crudely about the artist's political role.
Given the strength of Anand’s belief in his generation’s heroism, his choice of Apology for Heroism as a title for his autobiography seems odd.  Perhaps it is a concession to the book’s initial readership: members of a leftist English literary community who, despite their socialist leanings, could not separate themselves from the fate of a nation shaken by years of economic crisis, class division, Blitz bombings, and the ongoing and very real loss of Empire.  In this English context, in which Anand is both insider and outsider, privileged spokesperson for the intellectual elite and disempowered representative of Britain's colonial subjects, trusted friend and contentious revolutionary, the contradictory nature of his 'apology' is understandable.  
Another cause for the contradictions of Anand's Apology is its status as autobiography, a genre which affirms individualism no matter how much autobiographers wish to advance revolutionary collectivist causes.  Anand's readers are entirely justified in asking how far, really, he moves from the "egotistical", "selfish," nonheroic performances he associates with the majority of English 'radical' writers of the period given his celebration of self in Apology.  For precisely this reason, Letters on India is an important text to read in conjunction with Anand’s more famous texts.  In contrast to Anand's other, possibly 'collaborationist' fictions of the 1930s or egotistical nonfiction of the 1940s, Letters on India heroically takes up an unpopular, minority stance on behalf of poor and oppressed Indians, announcing his radical departure from the politics of mainstream English culture, and the liberal, leftist politics of his Bloomsbury friends. 
Letters on India is a remarkable book to read in the context of British wartime activity since it vigorously accuses the British government of many of the crimes the British were levying at enemy Fascists.  The epistolary form Anand adopts to mount this criticism is calculated to earn the sympathies of activist workers in England.  It announces itself as the edited version of an exchange of eighteen letters from one Tom Brown, factory hand, and Anand, local expert on the “India problem,” that followed from Anand’s first public letter on India to The Fortnightly in June, 1942.
Published by the Labour Book Service, the Letters are preceded by Leonard Woolf's introduction to the book.  Woolf, famous in Bloomsbury for his socialist and literary credentials, must have been asked to write the introduction because of his service in Ceylon from 1908-1911.  Although Woolf begins with the affectionate salutation, "Dear Anand," he ignores the conventions of the introduction genre and springs into an argument against the very book he has agreed to support.  Woolf defends his iconoclastic departure from the conventions of introductions by noting,
It will not be the usual kind of introduction, which seems to me nearly always impertinent, in both senses of the word, for in it a distinguished or undistinguished person irrelevantly pats the author on the back.  Even if I wanted to—which I do not—I would not dare to pat you or any member of the Indian Congress Party on the back. (vii)
He goes on to characterize his "friend" as an untrustworthy advocate of the "extreme Congress case" who has produced a book that is "dangerously biased" and full of "a lot of nonsense" (vii).  Woolf's objections boil down to one thing;  he believes Anand is not fair to the British.  He complains, "[The British] record in India is not as black as you make out, black though it may be" (viii).
Anand's reply to Woolf's introduction only hints at what must have been his profound astonishment upon reading the hostile beginning to his book.  After modestly noting that he was "rather disturbed" by the introductory letter, he objects,
That a socialist publicist of your experience, and a person whom I respect, should, in spite of my obvious socialist analysis, accuse me of being a prejudiced extremist, made me say to myself: "Either I have failed to convey my real point of view, or Woolf is showing his own particular prejudices in warning people against my alleged bias".  On reflection I am convinced that in your zeal to warn Tom Brown against my one-sidedness you have almost gone to the Amery extreme. (x) [12]
Fortunately for scholars of the end of Empire, Anand gets the last word in this battle between leftists.  His defense against Woolf's attack is sure, specific, and unapologetic, as is his extended and persuasive critique of British imperialism in the rest of the book.
I hope it is clear from Anand's response to Woolf that Letters on India provides the kind of uncompromising Indian hero that Mukherjee finds missing from Anand’s most famous novel, Untouchable.  I also hope that my analysis of the relation between Anand’s (ambiguously) non-hegemonic social positions and his literary productions modifies Mukherjee’s accusations against Anand for collaboration with bourgeois imperialist agendas.  Mukherjee warns that if we take at face value the versions of nationalist historiography advanced by Anand's Untouchable, "we run the risk of being caught off guard by history" (43).  Fair enough.  But we can be caught off guard by literature too. This paper is intended to demonstrate that Mukherjee’s case study of Anand is impoverished by an inattention to literature—specifically literature by Anand.  Two of his nonfictional texts of the 1940s, Apology for Heroism and Letters on India, illustrate better than his fictional texts of the 1930s the importance of literary form for analyses of authors’ social positioning and their writings’ ideological effects. 
Anand's 1940s nonfiction presents more thoroughly, consistently radical heroes than his 1930s fiction because his autobiographical narratives are freed from the constraints of modernism.  Instead of depending like Untouchable on the tradition of the stream-of-consciousness novel, with its debt to the alienated, romantic hero of bourgeois realism, Anand’s nonfiction heroes are, ironically, empowered by the nonfictional constraints of their narratives.  The implications of this conclusion are that critics must ask questions not only about Anand’s ambiguous positioning in various social contexts and the 'real' history of India, as Mukherjee would insist, but also about the traditional materials and methods of literary study.
Examination of Anand's changing reception and reputation in England—typical literary concerns—leads to the following, more general question about mid-century English literature:  How should we categorize and interpret stories of that whole awkward expanse of 1940s, and before it, 1930s English literature that remains opaque and inadequate when analyzed in terms of modernism or postmodernism, Marxist revolution or capitalist reaction, Eliot, Auden, or Waugh?  My answer to this question, intermodernism, deserves more extensive treatment than is possible here, but in what follows I sketch out how my study of Anand’s Bloomsbury experience supports my more general argument about the need for intermodernism in any discussion about 'The Thirties Now!'
My term, intermodernism, is intended to help readers see relationships between writers and writings that are typically divided, to make it easier to understand the political-aesthetic productions of those who consulted with and sometimes depended on more established modernist figures like Forster or the Woolfs, but who defined their artistic missions according to distinctive, nonmodernist social and political contexts. [13]   While the literature of the 1930s and 1940s has always been read in terms of the political events signified by the chilling words Depression, Appeasement, World War, and Recovery, the art of the 1930s is usually seen as too leftist or too na├»ve to be understood in relation to England's finest hour.  Yet a significant percentage of the literature produced during the 1930s and 1940s contributes to a distinct body of writing that makes the best sense when read against the troubling backdrop of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.  This is the literature of intermodernism.  It is the literature hidden by the slash between modernism/postmodernism, that which occupies the famous 'great divide' that Andreas Huyssen identifies with the age of Stalin and Hitler (197).
Intermodernism, like modernism and postmodernism, is best thought of as a kind of writing, discourse, or orientation rather than a period that competes with others for particular years or texts or personalities.  I offer intermodernism as a literary-critical compass, an analytical tool that can help scholars design new maps for the uncharted spaces between and within modernisms. [14]   By encouraging critics to think in terms of threes—'inter' always forging a connection or bridge between at least two other territories—intermodernism permits a more complex, sensitive understanding of many writers' relations to literary London and mid-twentieth-century English history.
My claim is that much of the literature of the 1930s and 1940s for intermodernism is guided by three kinds of thinking.  It is on the one hand a strategy of pragmatic, ends-based logic: criticism of modernism, no matter how revised, expanded, and renovated, has always had trouble accounting for the literature of writers associated with the 1930s and 1940s, even 'highbrow' writers like Auden, Day Lewis, or Henry Green. [15]   While the  so-called Auden Generation has gained institutional credit for its distinct contribution to 1930s literature, it is typical to find in general accounts of twentieth-century literature the admission that "Modernism and Thirties writing existed in uneasy coalition right through the decade" (Bradbury 211).  These same studies often acknowledge the writing of men like George Orwell and Samuel Beckett who worked outside of the networks of Oxbridge-educated writers of the 1930s, but then tend to treat that writing as eccentric to the mainstream of English literature.  (The writing of women and working class or immigrant men of the 1930s has, with few exceptions, been contained within specialized, ghettoized literary traditions.)  And no one seems to worry at all about the ways separation of the 1940s from 'Modernism and Thirties writing' has exacerbated these problems of exclusion.
Instead of discounting non-dominant 1930s and 1940s literature or striving to interpret it in ways that accommodate modernist or wartime criteria, this study urges scholars and teachers to value intermodernism in addition to, and at times, above, separate categories of modernism, postmodernism, The Thirties, The Forties, interwar, war, and postwar literature.  It seeks to legitimize nearly invisible, interconnected 1930s and 1940s texts like UntouchableCoolie, and Apology for Heroism—the diverse forms of writing that are not associated with a 'particular cadre' of men and institutionalized by a particular cadre of critics (Bradbury 208). 
The second kind of thinking that motivates my construction of a newly conceived category of intermodernism is respect for the theoretical advances of other revisionary critical movements and desire to extend the lessons of those advances to new materials.  For decades, feminist, postcolonial, and other dissident critics have questioned the traditional lineages of literary history and shapes of university curricula.  The impetus to examine the 'low' and the 'high' (or in Anand’s case, what is between the two), to think in terms of 'text' instead of 'work,' of culture as well as poem, play, and fiction, to question the logic of period by taking 'other' genres and sources into consideration--all of these scholarly movements have made research for and publication of research like this possible, if not probable.  It is still an awkward kind of project to promote, celebrating as it does a figure whose literary, cultural work is virtually invisible if approached through the dominant categories that organize discussion about British literature.  But it is precisely the creation of awkwardness, the invitation of a prickly, irritated response, that can generate attention in otherwise preoccupied readers and maybe even inspire them to change their reading habits and critical assumptions.
In order to inspire change, awkwardness or irritation must lead to something pleasurable, and my concern with the pleasures of reading is the third kind of thinking that motivates this paper and the larger project on intermodernism of which it is a part.  Focused on texts by a highly-educated, anti-imperialist, Indian man published during the two decades he was living and working in London, this study bets that readers will come to appreciate the special pleasures provided by his writings once they open themselves up to the history, the ambition, or simply the colorful difference of his life and work.  It also makes a bet that the category of intermodernism can help teachers of English literature make sense of Anand's career and thus prepare them to see and value the achievements of other “1930s writers” whose ideals were more fully achieved in the 1940s.
Works Cited 
Anand, Mulk Raj. Across the Black Waters.  1940.  New Delhi: Vision Books, 1978.
---.  Apology for Heroism: A Brief Autobiography of Ideas.  1946.  3rd ed.  New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1975.
---.  Conversations in Bloomsbury.  New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1981.
---.  Coolie.  1936.  London: Wishart, 1975.
---.  Letters on India.  London: Labour Book Service, 1942.
---.  Two Leaves and a Bud.  London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1937.
---.  Untouchable.  London:  Lawrence and Wishart, 1935.
Bamezai, Gita.  Mulk Raj Anand: The Journalist.  New Delhi:  Kanishka Publishers, 2000.
Bradbury, Malcolm.  The Modern British Novel.  London: Penguin, 1994.
Cowasjee, Saros, ed.  From Author to Critic: The Letters of Mulk Raj Anand.  Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1973. 
---.  So Many Freedoms:  A Study of the Major Fiction of Mulk Raj Anand.  Delhi: Oxford UP, 1977.
Cunningham, Valentine. British Writers of the Thirties. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.
Davies, Andrew. "Jack Lindsay and the Radical Culture of the 1940s." Jack Lindsay: The Thirties and the Forties. London: University of London, Insititute of Commonwealth Studies, 1984. 74-80.
---. Where did the Forties Go? London: Pluto P, 1984.
Deen, Stella, ed.  Challenging Modernism: New Readings in Literature and Culture, 1914-1945.  London: Ashgate, 2002.
DuPlessis, Rachel Blau and Members of Workshop 9.  "For the Etruscans: Sexual Difference and Artistic Production—The Debate over a Female Aesthetic." 1979.  The Future of Difference.  Ed. Hester Eisenstein and Alice Jardine.  New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1985.  128-56.
Eysteinsson, Astradur.  The Concept of Modernism.  Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990.
Forster, E. M.  Preface.  Untouchable.  1935.  By Mulk Raj Anand.  New York:  Penguin, 1940.
Hapgood, Lynne and Nancy Paxton, eds.  Outside Modernism: In Pursuit of the Novel 1900-1930.  New York: Palgrave, 2000.
Huyssen, Andreas.  After the Great Divide:  Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism.  Bloomington: Indian UP, 1986.
Hynes, Samuel. The Auden Generation: Literature and Politics in England in the 1930s. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1972.
Iyengar, Srinivasa.   The Indian Contribution to English Literature.  Bombay:  Karnatak Publishing, 1945.
---.  Indian Writing in English.  New York:  Asia Publishing House, 1962.
---.  Indo-Anglian Literature.  Bombay: P.E.N. All-India Centre, 1943.
Kenner, Hugh.  The Pound Era.  Berkeley: U California P, 1971.
Levenson, Michael H.  The Genealogy of Modernism: A Study of English Literary Doctrine 1908-1922.  New York: Cambridge UP, 1984.
Miller, Tyrus.  Late Modernism:  Politics, Fiction, and the Arts between the Wars.  Berkeley: U California P, 1999.
Mukherjee, Arun P.  "The Exclusions of Postcolonial Theory and Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable: A Case Study".  Ariel: A Review of International English Literature.  22 (1991): 27-48.
Munton, Alan.  English Fiction of the Second World War.  London: Faber and Faber, 1989.
Parry, Graham. "Anand, Orwell and the War".  The Novels of Mulk Raj Anand.  Ed. R. K. Dhawan.  New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1992.  30-8.
Rushdie, Salman and Elizabeth West.  Introduction.  The Vintage Book of Indian Writing, 1947-1997.  Ed. Salman Rushdie and Elizabeth West.  London and New York: Vintage, 1997.
Shuttleworth, Antony.  "Introduction: In What 'Thirties?'"  And in Our Time:  Vision, Revision, and British Writing of the 1930s.  Ed. Antony Shuttleworth.  Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 2003.
Skelton, Robin. Poetry of the Thirties. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964.
Visram, Rozina.  Asians in Britain:  400 Years of History.  London:  Pluto P, 2002.
Williams, Keith and Steven Matthews, eds.  Rewriting the Thirties:  Modernism and After.  New York: Longman, 1997.
Woolf, Leonard.  Introduction.  Letters on India.  By Mulk Raj Anand.  London: Labour Book Service, 1942. vii-ix.
End Notes
[1]    Throughout this essay I refer to historical periods, usually the years between 1930 and 1949, with dates rather than words:  the 1930s or '30s, the 1940s or '40s.  When referring to the more limited literary-historical periods constructed by classic anthologies or accounts of these periods such as Robin Skelton’s Poetry of the Thirties, Samuel Hynes’s The Auden Generation or Valentine Cunningham’s British Writers of the Thirties, I use words rather than dates: the Thirties or the Forties.
[2] In addition to Anand's Conversations in Bloomsbury, see Saros Cowasjee's So Many Freedoms and his edition of Anand's letters, Author to Critic, for references to Anand's diverse London associates in the 1930s.
[3] The subtitle of Anand's Apology has assumed different forms through the years.  When Anand finished the book in 1945, it had the subtitle "An Essay in Search of Faith." It went through numerous editions, including the second 1957 edition with its new, one-paragraph “Preface” and the third 1975 edition with its new nineteen-page "Preface". The 1975 Mayfair paperback edition I used in my research also had a new subtitle, "A Brief Autobiography of Ideas".
[4]    In So Many Freedoms, Cowasjee includes an impressive list of thirty-four writers who Anand was friendly with in the early 1930s, "not to cast reflected glory on Anand but rather to emphasize that of this impressive list only a few remained close friends" (27).  He assumes that Anand's politics lost him the friendships in the early 1940s of all but seven: Orwell and Read, who as "Anarchists" did not object to Anand's "passion for Indian freedom and his attack on Britain"; Forster, Dobree, and Henry Miller, who "valued personal friendship above state and politics"; and Edgell Rickword and Jack Lindsay, who were "arch-enemies of Imperialism under all circumstances" (30).
[5]    See Andrew Davies's essay on Jack Lindsay in Jack Lindsay:  The Thirties and Forties and his study, Where Did the Forties Go?, for a rare account of the radical culture of the 1940s.
[6]    My proposal of a new category of intermodernism should be seen as part of the widespread project to rethink mid-century English literary history. Signs of this project include a number of sessions on 'new' or alternate modernisms proposed for the annual conferences of the Modernist Studies Association, a stream of conferences on topics like "British Women in the Thirties" (held at CUNY’s Graduate School in September 2000), "Retrieving the 1940s" (held at the University of Leeds in April 2002), and "The Noise of History" (held at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea in November 2003), and special issues of journals on topics like "Gender and Modernism between the Wars, 1918-1939" (NWSA Journal’s 2003 issue) or, obviously, this one on "The Thirties Now!"
One of the more encouraging signs of scholars' commitment to exploring the new subjects and histories supported by the types of panels and special journal issues mentioned above is the existence of a group called The Space Between.  Dedicated to the study of literature and culture between 1914-1945, the society’s annual conferences have provided stimulating contexts for my efforts and those of other younger scholars to reconsider modernism and its relation to the 1930s and 1940s.  Two volumes of collected essays have emerged to date from The Space Between conferences, Stella Deen's Challenging Modernism (2002) and Antony Shuttleworth's And in Our Time (2003).  These books extend the discussions of The Space Between conferences into print and so provide an important textual backdrop for this study.
[7]    Iyengar's study had its beginnings in the war years when he published a pamphlet, Indo-Anglian Literature, for the PEN. All-India Centre's fifteen-book series on "The Indian Literatures."  This pamphlet became, in 1945, the more complete book, The Indian Contribution to English Literature.  All of these studies discuss Anand's early novels and treat him as one of the originators of Indian literature in English.
[8]    For alternate interpretations of the integrity of Anand’s radicalism, see Gita Bamezai's Mulk Raj Anand: The Journalist and Rozina Visram's Asians in Britain.  Bamezai places Anand's literary activities in the context of Indian revolutionary politics.  She believes that "anti-touchability movements and caste mobilisation during [the early 1930s] greatly influenced Anand’s decision [to write about untouchables]".  But she notes that "Anand's own experience of casteism was restricted to Punjab which had not witnessed any radical movement against untouchability" (56).  Visram's chapter on radical Indians in Britain mentions Anand’s activism on behalf of the India League, which was devoted to winning from its primarily English members support for the Indian freedom movement (324).
[9]   I first encountered the Gramscian term "(ambiguously) non-hegemonic"in the experimental work on the female aesthetic conducted by Rachel Blau DuPlessis and the Members of Workshop 9 (147).  Interpreted through radical feminist thought of the seventies, the term strikes me as an especially productive way of describing Anand’s social position in literary London.
[10]   The personal history recounted in Apology is retrospectively shaped to reveal the origins of Anand’s acceptance of two such comprehensive theories, Marxism and humanism.  There is a literal re-birth in Apology at the point Anand describes his Marxist conversion; the narrative unconsciously begins again with a return to the materials of its earliest pages: "I was, then, an Indian, a British subject by birth, born of a father who had broken away from the hereditary profession of artisanship and joined the mercenary British-Indian army, and of a peasant mother. . . ." (103). 
The story of Anand's embrace of humanism is less dramatic, but can be inferred from the shifts in subtitles of Apology and the various prefaces to the memoir.  English language criticism on Anand that appeared during the 1960s and 1970s, the Cold War years, is largely taken up with arguments about whether his humanism is sufficiently purged of his Marxism. 
[11]   In defense of Anand's English writer-friends who do not earn favorable mention in Apology, it’s worth noting that Anand’s standards for the committed artist were almost impossible to meet, in part because he kept changing them.  One of his more sensible declarations is that "[Precisely] because modern commercial society had forced the writer into isolation, it was necessary for him to link himself with the disinherited, the weak and the dispossessed, as a human being and as an artist with special talents, to help transform society" (Apology 122).  While it is not clear what form of heroism the writer should adopt to fulfill such a goal, at least readers can imagine the heroism taking place in a mortal realm. Anand later compares the writer to God in language that recalls the boy scout manual or maybe the immature Stephen Dedalus of Joyce’s Portrait: "For the writer alone, if he is honest and brave, is in a position to . . .  perceive the most delicate processes of the human sensibility, on the aesthetic as well as the cognitive and conative [sic] planes.  And, if he is possessed of true creative ability, he can transform his knowledge into a vision such as can claim the loyalty of men in his own locality, and across national frontiers, and lead them to a universal awareness of life, thereby possessing them with the will to renew it and to change it.  The writer is like a God who realises his own many freedoms and confers them on others" (130-31).
[12]   Secretary of State L. S. Amery was despised by Indian National Congress Party members for his conservative stance toward Indian independence and his receptivity to Jinnah’s Muslim League divisionist appeals.
[13]   Intermodernism may be most useful for scholars trying to bring understudied writers of the 1930s and 1940s back into critical discussion, but it also facilitates discussion of more familiar figures like Elizabeth Bowen, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Henry Green, W. H. Auden, Evelyn Waugh, and Anthony Powell.  I build my case for intermodernism around analyses of the lives and works of Anand and his friends George Orwell, Stevie Smith, and Inez Holden in George Orwell and the Radical Eccentrics, a work-in-progress (forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan) that will have chapters based on this and other working papers.
[14]    The need for the tool of intermodernism is implied by the number of scholarly books that are devoted to defining and redefining relations between modernisms.  In one of the best of these books, The Concept of Modernism, Astradur Eysteinsson rejects all the most familiar descriptions of postmodernism's relation to modernism, finally leaving readers with the idea that "while [. . . ] there may be no postmodernism" there is a modernism whose major achievement may have been "its subversion of the authorityof tradition" (emphasis in original; 136-37).  Modernism understood in this way invites us to add the names of radical cultural figures like Anand to those of other, earlier anti-traditionalists who populate books like The Pound Era or The Genealogy of Modernism.  But such an expansive modernism asks us to settle for a category with periodizing meanings and effects without attending to the problems with history and value that typically accompany the very concept of period.  The tenuous connections between literary period and historical narratives in Eisteinsson's chapter point to the differences between our approaches to the modernism/postmodernism problem. 
[15]    The titles of four recent studies on the 1930s focus attention on the uncomfortable relation between literature of that decade and modernism:  Stella Deen's Challenging Modernism: New Readings in Literature and Culture, 1914-1945, Lynne Hapgood and Nancy L. Paxton's Outside Modernism: In Pursuit of the Novel 1900-30, Tyrus Miller'sLate Modernism: Politics, Fiction, and the Arts between the Wars, and Keith Williams and Steven Matthews's Rewriting the Thirties: Modernism and After.  Antony Shuttleworth's And in Our Time: Vision, Revision, and British Writing of the 1930s assumes, with many other books on 1930s literature, that the period has been "overshadowed by the achievements of classic modernism" (11).  He suggests that the essays in his collection indicate that the period is "both more and less modernist than critics have supposed, more and less postmodernist" (13).  Alan Munton makes a similar argument about the relation of World War II literature to modernist categories.  He criticizes David Lodge's conventional "tripartite system" of dividing the twentieth century into a modernist period, antimodernist period, and postwar period of the Angry Young Men, concluding that "In its literary aspect the war has disappeared into an Orwellian memory hole" (3).

Nov 26, 2014

Review of Coolie: Peter Burra
From Journal The Spectator
The Spectator, June 25, 1936, page No 30
Review of Coolie By Peter Burra

The Fourth Pig. By Naomi Mitebiaon. (Constable. 7s. 641.) The Coolie. By Mulk Raj Anand. (Lai-rence and Wishart. 7s. ad.)
Tug-Boat. By Roger Vercel. Translated by W. B. Wells. (Chatto and Windus. 7s. 6d.) Return of a Heroine. By Marguerite Steen. (Collanez. 7s. 6d.) All Star Cast. By Naomi Royde Smith. (Macmillan. 7s. Cxl.)
WILY have not her publishers assured the success of Mrs. Mitchison's new book by drawing attention to the numerous passages of Surrealism which it contains ? The Fourth Pig is a medley of short pieces in prose and verse which, though all fantasies, have little in common but their hints of leftist tendency. While adopting the Fairy-tale as a palatable medium for her purposes, the authoress has not attempted to present any consistent Mythos. On the one hand, in modern variations of Nordic or Slavonic themes she uses a fairy-magic, which is acceptable, to re-interpret the everyday world like a kind of heightened economic or social awareness. On the other, she, or her heroes and heroines, appear as the victims of nothing more nor less than Celtic Twilight, strug- gling back from the lures and illusions of Faery to the real world. Either manner is equally efficient for the Fable. It becomes quite a good game to guess at what point and in what form the economic or social lesson will emerge from its grotesque disguise, the moment and the surprise in " Soria Moria Castle "—an excellent story—being especially delightful.
Only one piece, " Adventure in the Debateable Land," looks like pure psychic automatism from start to finish, and there the making of a date for the First of May as a finale is disquietingly allusive ; but such an event is doubtless sufficiently automatic by now with Mrs. Mitchison, and the fact that such items are to be found lying about in her subconsciousness is a nie^ proof of the sincerity of her waking purposes. For of that there can be no question. So site projects Dionysos, with his slave who asks for freedom, into the modern world where the workers are " free "—with significant results. And in " Mirk, Mirk Night," herself battles back from seven years of enchantment in Fairyland to become the mortal wife of a labourer in the work-a-day world.
To that real world Mr. Anand eminently belongs. The Coolie is the second- part of a trilogy interpreting the present state of the lower classes in India,- to the first of . which, Untouchable, Mr. Forster introduced us last year. One would hesitate to call The Coolie an even greater book, but it is on a much bigger scale. Untouchable dealt with a single eventful day in the life of a city sweeper. Far from confining himself again to such unities Mr. Anand has produced in The Coolie a work which is picaresque in its whole manner and construction, except that his hero is no rogue himself but victim of the world's rogueries. His subject is the behaviour of Indians among themselves, but needless to say the conditions he describes are the direct result, however unintentional, of British rule. Untouchable showed the gradual breaking-up of the caste-system. The Coolie con- tinues this with an account of the system which is taking its place, of class based on money. The story opens with a brief idyll that introduces the peasant boy Munoo watching the cattle by the side of his home river. From here he is uprooted—the changes of tempo in the prose here and else- where are of the highest art—and the adventures of his short tragic life follow in four major episodes, first as servant in the house of a bank clerk, next working in a primitive pickle-factory in a feudal city, then as one of the proletariat of the cotton industry in Bombay, and finally as the servant of a half-caste woman at Simla. Each of these episodes is in itself a study of conditions as complete as Untouchable. They arc linked together by a series of typically picaresque accidents. The whole is a terribly vivid panorama which is propagandist only in the sense that any frank statement of such facts is bound to appeal for their correction. How that is to be done is another matter. Mr. Anand at least leaves little doubt that the Indians cannot help themselves. They appear here as thoughtless and as cruel to one another
as birds that turn on a wounded member of the flock and destroy it. The English occur only as minor characters, and are described mostly with an inclination to caricature, in fact precisely as they must appear to Indian eyes. It would have been false to Mr. Anand's purpose to describe them otherwise. But there is no special distinction drawn between the races. If the Bombay magnate looks exag- gerated, what about Lady Todar Mal ? A fantastic creature, yet she rings absolutely true.
However brilliantly the general picture had been painted it would have been no more than a picture but" or the-character of the boy Munoo. He is essentially the same person as Bakha, the Untouchable, differing only in physical appearance -and incidentally Mr. Anand has a special genius for describing the outsides of people and things. There is no more to Munoo than to Bakha—nothing but irrepressible curiosity and hap- piness. The shadows of joy and desire, and the simplicity of his mind in the face of ever-increasing suffering, are magni- ficently done. He is incapable of dramatising experience; so that in his sudden questions—" Why are some men so good, and others bad "—there is an indescribable power. Yet he is no tragic hero ; nothing nameable is wasted when he dies, nothing but his own love of life. But such is the force of the author's pity that all that is good in life seems to be irreparably lost with him.
Munoo is a universal kind of figure. His is the passion not only of India but of mankind. It is hard to think oneself back from him to books where the special individual is of all-importance. Such are the rest in this list—books which. claim attention for characters that are significant in extremely specialised circumstances, but have no fneaning apart from them. M. Roger Vercel's Tug-Boat, for instance, admirably translated by Mr. W. B. Wells, describes the personality of the captain of a salvage-boat stationed at Brest, and the subordination of his private emotions to his public duties. Two-thirds of the story are occupied with the rescue of a Greek steamer in a heavy storm, and though the narrative is extremely vivid it has to be helped out with retrospective digressions: These however are tidied up very carefully in the French manner. In such a construction everything depends on the placing of climaxes and these are well enough done with an admirable succession of increasing surprises. Some curious pieces of female psychology are linked in with the story in the personalities of the wives of the captains of the two ships. But the interests of such a world are limited however vividly told, and the revelations of human nature under those conditions, if impressive, are not illu- minating.
Again Miss Marguerite Steen's Return of a Heroine deals with equally special, but hardly such fascinating circumstances —the repercussions of a sensational case of Euthanasia. This looks at first sight like one of those books which, as Mrs. Woolf says, require to be completed by joining a society or writing a cheque. But after all our sympathies, so efficiently launched, get badly stranded. Our cheques are written, but nobody seems to want them. The heroine, emerging from two years of prison for putting her mother out of suffering, proceeds to develop a " colossal egomania " of criminal tendencies, which cast a shadow on the motives of her earlier. " heroic " act. With the exception of one minor young man all the characters of the book are repulsive, but fortunately none of them conies quite alive enough to upset us.
All Star Cast, moving on several planes at once—the whole paraphernalia of a "first-night," the play itself, the critics' reactions, &c.—is not so limited in interest; but the eircum-- stances are again, at every level, special ones, and the most affecting part, the material of the play itself, is approached in a literary way at second-hand. This play is, in fact, " the thing," and the consciences of the spectators are not perhaps vitally enough caught in it. But the whole is au acrobatic piece of story-telling, with some good satire and very shrewd observations of theatre psychology. And these are, after all, the .autharess's main concern in the plan of RUB- book

Nov 21, 2014

Across the Black Waters: MRA

The Tribune

The war novel by Mulk Raj Anand
Write view 
by Randeep Wadehra

Across the Black Waters by Mulk Raj Anand. Vision Books, New Delhi. Pages 264. Rs 495.

WORLD War I was fought from 1914 to 1918, in which Great Britain, France, Russia, Belgium, Italy, Japan, the United States and other allies defeated Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria. Much has been written by western authors about their respective soldiers’ contributions and sacrifices. However, the Indian soldier’s contribution has remained by and large ignored. This novel, described by British literary critic Alistair Niven as Mulk Raj Anand’s best since the "Untouchable", fills in the gap to a great extent.

Lalu is an Indian sepoy, part of the two divisions-strong-contingent of the Indian Army. For the first time he is sailing, that too for waging war on His Majesty’s behalf against the mighty Germans in France. He like others in the ship has only a vague idea of his destination and the actual war theatre.

The innocence of Indian sepoys has been brought out vividly by Anand in the scene where one of the characters describes the British monarch as an incarnation of God. The Indian soldier does not question the orders from the Commander-in-Chief, as relayed by the company havildar.

This faith in the divinity of the monarch enables him to sacrifice his all in an alien land for an empire that has given him nothing worth fighting for. Thus Lalu and his fellow sepoys find themselves in Flanders, a historical region in northwest Europe, including parts of northern France, western Belgium, and the southwest Netherlands along the North Sea. For many centuries it enjoyed virtual independence and great prosperity as a centre of the textile industry. The Hapsburg wars in the Low Countries caused the eventual division of the region, which suffered heavy damage during both World Wars.

It is strange that western literature and history do not take into account the sufferings and sacrifices of the Indian sepoy. It required a Mulk Raj Anand to chronicle the ordinary soldier’s extraordinary fortitude while facing heavy odds in strange environs. Pain and anger are evident throughout the narrative. However, the novel is remarkable for its sensitive handling of the characters who come from humble backgrounds. This is probably because the author himself is the son of a subedar in the Dogra Regiment.

The tension and unpredictability of war is borne with resolution by the sepoys. The front is live with the exchange of gunfire and invectives, and the ground is littered with bodies of the dead and the dying. Amidst all this, they are able to snatch some light moments.

For instance, while waiting for the orders to launch a counter-attack, they are facing the enemy’s artillery fire when they hear their comrade-in-arms named Daddy Dhanoo, snoring away. Lalu remarks, "Woe to the enemy if they see such warriors as Dhanoo". When he wakes up he is asked to go back to sleep but not snore lest he should frighten the enemy.

They show a capacity for philosophical dissection too. Such heavy topics as the significance of duty, obedience and dharma in the context of war are discussed with rustic earnestness.

Daddy Dhanoo is a typical example for whom, "obedience and duty were along with God not only the ultimate laws of the universe, but interchangeable. If loyalty to the spirit which creates the universe was only possible through worship and the remembrance of the Almighty, then the obedience to the sarkar, whose salt one had eaten, was the highest dharma. And his pantheism was activist..."

The unsophisticated sepoy is shown in the novel as being capable of infinite shades of subtlety whenever it came to differentiating between right and wrong according to the unwritten military code... everything else was "reduced to the test of the heart, the ultimate arbiter".

As with his other novels, Anand’s characters are ordinary people caught in circumstances that vary from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Their dreams, their aspirations are by no means grand.

Yet there is something majestic about their dignified struggle against odds. This volume might not be comparable to Leo Tolstoy’s "War and Peace". But in the portrayal of the ugly side of war, it is as poignant. The human virtue and failings come out in variegated shades.

Perhaps this is the reason why this novel has been translated into 11 European languages; the British Council adapted it for a play to mark the 80th anniversary of the end of World War I, ignoring the claims of such renowned works as "All Quiet on the Western Front".

More than a collector’s item, this novel is a must for those interested in knowing our past in its less pleasant shades.

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