Justify The Appropriateness of Title Untouchable

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A Justified Title: Its Quintessence

      The very title of the novel reflects the quintessence of the novel. It projects a real life picture of the Untouchables in India. The title focus our attention on the miserable plight of the most oppressed community in our society The title is justified, pertinent and relevant. It directs our attention to the central theme.

The Universal Relevance of the Theme

      Untouchable is a novel chiefly concerned with the injustice and exploitation of the poor and oppressed untouchables. It is a saga of injustice and exploitation of the underdogs by the caste Hindus. ‘The wily Brahmins and the priestcraft, who came in the pride of their white skin, lifted the pure philosophical idea of Karma from the Dravidians—that deeds and acts are dynamic, that all is in flux, everything changes—and misinterpreted it vulgarly to mean that birth and rebirth in this universe is governed by good or bad deeds in the past life’. It is concerned with the depiction of the life of the untouchables who have been subjugated and subjected of social injustice, tyrinny and misery. They are reaping what they haven’t sown. The suffering of Bakha is not individual rather it has symbolised two thousand years of racial and caste superiority The Brahmins, and the Kshatriyas, the two upper castes in Hindu society justify superiority by asserting that they have earned their position by the good deeds of multiple lives. Anand depicts the entire community of the untouchables—the way they feel, they act and they react: “They think we are mere dirt, because we clean their dirt. The pandit in the temple tried to molest Sohini and then came shouting: “polluted, polluted”. “The woman of the big house in the silversmith’s gully threw the bread at me from the fourth storey I won’t go down to the town again. I have done with this job.” He begins with Bakha, the untouchable lad. But he has generalised his anguish, grief and agony Bakha becomes a symbolic figure. He can not be confined to a particular territory He represents universal exploitation of the untouchables (the pariah, the underdogs or the down-trodden). The way Anand has depicted the character of Bakha and his humiliation has made Bakha a universal figure and the novel has become an epic of misery Anand has deliberately omitted the definite article before Untouchable to emphasise the fact that the novel is not concerned with any particular individual but with the whole class of untouchables. The suffering and agony of Bakha equally appeals everyone without the distinction of caste and creed and nationality. The heart-rending sufferings of Bakha can melt even a stone-hearted man. Mulk Raj Anand depicts, “he began to feel hungry as if rats were running around in his belly searching for food. He began to spit a white flocculent spittle on the dust as he hurried out of the town, homewards. His limbs sagged. He felt the sweat trickling down his face from under his turban as soon as he got into the open. He looked up to the sun. It stood right above him. Bakha’s face quickened with the awareness of the sun’s vertical position. His body had a wonderful time sense as it really had a sense of other things. ‘How can I go home with only two chapaties under my arm?”

The Filthy Colony of the Outcastes

      The novel opens with a realistic depiction of the colony where the untouchables live. The outcastes’ colony and the filthy look of the colony indicates that the untouchables have been segregated from the mainstream of life and subjected to clean the dirt of caste Hindus. The novel begins with the following lines:

"The outcastes’ colony was a group of mud-walled houses that clustered together in two rows, under the shadow both of the town and the cantonment, but outside their boundaries arid separate from them. There lived the scavengers, the leather workers, the washermen, the barbers, the Water carriers, the grass-cutters and other outcastes from Hindu society. A brook ran near the lane, once with crystal clear water, now sailed 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. The absence of a drainage system had, through the rains of the various seasons, made of a quarter a marsh which gave out the most offensive smell. And altogether the ramparts of human and animal refuse that lay on the outskirts of this little colony and ugliness, the squalor and misery which lay within it, made it an ‘uncongenial’ place to live in”.

Their Contaminated Souls

      The outcastes are used to dirty and filthy environment because they have inherited humility and servility as a consequence of thousand years of caste Hindu domination. They fail to maintain the purity of mind and soul. Except for Bakha, who looks intelligent and sensitive and has a sense of self-respect, all are dirty Rakha, Bakha’s brother represents the untouchables. Mulk Raj Anand depicts Rakha’s physical appearance, as, ‘His tattered flannel shirt, grimy with the blowings of his ever running nose, obstructed his walk slightly The discomfort resulting from this, the fatigue, assumed or genuine, due to the work he had put in that morning, gave a rather drawn, long jawed look to his dirty face on which flies congregated to taste the saliva on the corners of his lips.” He is so repulsive and digestive that Bakha cannot bear to eat together and from the same bowl. So he rises abruptly from the meal.

Mulk Raj Anand and Realism

      Anand’s Untouchable is not an idealistic presentation of the untouchables. Anand’s untouchables are as real as flesh and blood. Hindu society is divided into high caste and low caste communities. But this is not the end of caste division. Even low-caste Hindus are divided into certain classes. Some of them entertain superiority over the others. This becomes more conspicuous from the way in which Gulabo, a washerwoman maledicts and maltreats Sohini, Bakha’s sister. “She was a fair complexioned, middle aged woman, the regularity of whose supple body bore even in its decay the evidence of a form which must, in her youth, have been wonderful. But although her face was now covered with wrinkles she had pretensions to beauty and was notorious as an assertive hussy who thought herself superior to every other outcaste, firstly because she exclaimed a high place in the hierarchy of the castes among the low castes, secondly because a well known Hindu gentleman in the town who had been her lover in her youth was still kind to her in her middle age.”

Untouchable: An Epic of Misery

      Anand has realistically delineated the untouchables. Bakha is the central character. The novelist has portrayed every aspect of his life. Anand’s greatness lies in the depiction of misery and sufferings. He has mastered this art. The way he has presented untouchability in India makes it epic of misery The following are important passages which portray profound misery and suffering of the untouchable:

“Tell me, Sohini,” he said, turning fiercely at his sister, ‘how far did he go?’

      She sobbed and didn’t reply

“Tell me ! Tell me ! I will kill him if....” he shouted. “He-e-e .just teased me,” she at last yielded. “And then when I was bending down to work, he came and held me by my breasts.”

‘Brahmin dog!’ Bakha exclaimed. ‘I will go and kill him!’

      The scene of a caste Hindu lady throwing bread at Bakha is very excruciating.

“Vay Bakha, take this. Here is your bread coming down And she flung it at him.

“He picked it up quietly and wrapped it in a duster with the other thing he had there.”

      Sohini at well, Sohini at temple and her molestation are also touching. Bakha’s expressions are extremely pathetic.

“They would ill treat us, even if we shouted. They think we are mere dirt, because we clean their dirt. The pundit in the temple tried to molest Sohini and came shouting: “Polluted, polluted”. The woman of the big house in the silversmith’s gully threw the bread at me from the fourth storey. I won’t go down to the town. I have done with this job.”

Religious Hypocrisy

      The religious hypocrisy of caste Hindu Brahmin priest is exposed and made public when Pundit Kalinath attempts to molest Sohini and when he is noticed he cries ‘Polluted ! Polluted !’ Bakha wants to take revenge but thousand years of exploitation and humiliation has made him servile and weak.

      Premila Paul writes, “Pundit Kali Nath of Untouchable is an ill-humoured old devil’ with a congenital moral weakness, which gets the better of him as he lacks the real strength of a spiritual person. His life is one of endless recitation of sacred verses punctuated by the occasional writing of a horoscope with a reed of pen. He has no spiritual cretitude to enable him to ward off temptation. His rigid respectability fight against wakes-of amorousness and he covers up his weakness by bullying others. His cowardly attempt to molest Sohini appears all the more offensive because of his accusing her and her brother of defiling him at the temple when the attempt is failed. This brings into sharp focus the hypocrisy the double standards and the perfidy underlying the facade of purity and spirituality”

Anand’s Open-mindedness

      Anand is not a biased writer. He does not target any particular caste or religion to ridicule. His main objective is to bring evils to our attention. M.K. Naik reflects in this context, “Since Anand understands the psychology, of both the untouchable and the caste Hindu, his picture of the relationship between them is objective and balanced. The obvious temptation for an author handling a social problem is to speak to a brief to overstate his case and to divide his characters neatly into sheep and goats. Anand withstands this temptation ably here. His caste-Hindus are not all bullies and tyrants; nor are all his untouchables admirable; nor yet is the life of his untouchable hero a saga of unrelieved misery. In full contrast with the hypocritical priest, Pundit Kali Nath, stand Havildar Charat Singh, who is so far above caste prejudices as to ask Bakha to go and fetch pieces of coal from the kitchen for the hubble-bubble, and who actually pours tea out of his own tumbler into the pan in Bakha’s hand”. “For this man”, Bakha feels, “I would not mind being a sweeper all my life. I would do anything for him.” Again in contrast with the termagant who abuses him for having defiled the wooden plate from outside her house, the woman hands a chapati to Bakha, adding kindly “My child, you shouldn’t sit on people’s door-step like this.”


      The tyranny inequality and insult to which Bakha is subjected is a riot peculiar to him alone. His misery and sufferings give an insight into the pathetic and deplorable plight of the untouchables. They have yielded to oppression and injustice as a result of thousand years of subjugation. Bakha represents the universal sufferings of the underdogs. Bakha is an embodiment of anguish and humiliation which the untouchables experience in everyday life.

      Hence the title of the novel is justified. The title reflects the theme of the novel.

University Questions

Justify the appropriateness of the title Untouchable.
Critically analyse Anand’s realistic treatment of the life of the untouchables.
Mulk Raj Anand transcends the particular to study the universal. Examine with close reference to the text.
Anand’s novel Untouchable is a classic dealing with a great sociological theme. Elucidate.
Discuss the significance of Bakha as a universal and a symbolic figure.

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