Bakha as A Protagonist in The Novel Untouchable

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      Anand, no doubt, is humanist novelist. He exalted Indian novels in English. He imparted realism to Indian writings in English. He created new characters and violated the conventional trends in Indian writings. As Srinivasa Iyengar reflects, ‘Anand is often undistinguished, and seems to be too much in hurry; but the vitality of creation, the variegated richness of his total comprehension and the purposive energy of his narrative, carry all before them. His notable marks are vitality and keen actuality”

      Untouchable is a novel of social concerns which depicts the life of the untouchables, a living embodiment of misery and wretchedness. He has exposed and made it public that thousand years of oppression and tyranny have brutalised the pariahs. They are craving for basic human right. The caste-Hindus are the authorised gods of the underdogs who determined their life and lot. Through a particular character of Bakha, the novelist has tried bring out a real and unbiased picture of the miserable plight of the untouchables, as a class. As Jhek Lindsay says, “He begins with the particular—Bakha, the untouchable lad—but generalises upon his life and suffering. By concentrating upon his inner anguish the novelist has raised his suffering to epic dimensions. In this way Bakha becomes a symbolic figure, larger than life figure, a true representative of the class of which he belongs”.

Bakha: A Man of Self-Respect & Self Consciousness

      The protagonist of the novel, Bakha is a character, an individual, who represents the entire community of the outcastes and the down trodden. His individual sufferings, hardships and anguish give expression to the woes of the entire community of the untouchables. Bakha’s miserable and wretched plight invokes our sympathy for him in particular and for all pariahs in general. Although Bakha is living in abject poverty misery; and he is a helpless figure in the novel, he commands respect and dignity because the most valuable substance that he is possessed with is his self-respect and self-consciousness which distinguish him from the community of scavengers. He does his work with absolute devotion, commitments and alacrity The man who does not have self-respect never commands I respect of other.

      Anand writes, “He worked away earnestly quickly; without loss of effort. Brisk, yet steady his capacity for active application to the task he had in hand seemed to flow like constant water from a natural spring. Each muscle of his body hard as rock when it came to play seemed to shine like glass. He must have had immense pent-up resources lying deep in his body for he rushed along with considerable skill and alacrity from one doorless latrine to another cleaning, brushing, pouring phenol. ‘What a dextrous man’! the onlooker would have said. And though his job was dirty he remained comparatively clean. He didn’t even soil his sleeves handling the commodes, sweeping and scrubbing them. A bit superior to his job’, one would have said, ‘not the kind of man who ought to be doing this.’ For he looked intelligent, even sensitive, with a sort of dignity that does not belong to the ordinary scavenger, who is as a rule uncouth and unclean. It was perhaps his absorption in his task that gave him the look of distinction or his exotic dress however loose and ill-fitting, that lifted him above his odorous world. Havildar Charat Singh, who had the Hindu instinct for immaculate cleanliness, was puzzled when he emerged from his painful half an hour in the latrines and caught sight of Bakha. Here was a low caste man who seemed clean ! He became rather self-conscious, the prejudice of the twice born’ high-caste Hindu against stink, even though he saw not the slightest suspicion of it in Bakha, rising into his mind. Then, however, he forgot his high caste and the ironic smile on his face became a childlike laugh”.

Bakha: His Excellence

      Due to the hard physical work Bakha has developed a titanic physique, which turn his head rather narcissus. It has imparted to him a sense of nobility which is in contrast to his dirty and filthy profession and polluted and foul-smelling surroundings. He is intelligent and sensitive. He is dynamic, young and energetic and he has Herculean strength to crush the savage high caste Hindus.' But thousand years of servility has made him handicapped arid paralysed. But he does not approve caste-system scrupulously and conscientiously. His passion for exotic dress and fashion distinguishes him from the herd of insensible untouchables. He apes British Tommies, that symbolises an escape from tradition and convention which has sabotaged their zeal to live with all human dignity But the reality is potent enough and comes to the surface in spite several efforts made to suppress them. Bakha’s self-introspection dispels the cloud of illusion and he comes to realise that except for the English clothing, there, was nothing English in his life. He is persuaded by the Christian missionary to renounce his religion and convert to Christianity But withdraws and declines from proselytisation (conversion). He is scared of being labelled a convert or apostat. He was vacillating between two poles of his dichotomous life—Hinduism and Christianity He realises that the conversion to other religion will not serve his problem so he believes that the religion of his forefathers is enough for him.

Bakha’s Limitations

      Although the character of Bakha is distinguished for his intelligence and sensibility and dexterity his position is that of a tiger at bay He detests untouchability but he cannot protest. He is despised by the caste Hindus and he is forced to shout from a distance to announce his approach, so that a caste-Hindu could avoid pollution of being touched by an untouchable. He becomes vulnerable when he touches a caste-Hindu businessman. Being slapped and humiliated Bakha comes to realise that except for the English clothes there is nothing English in his life. His expression to wretchedness becomes poignant when he learns that he cleans dirt therefore he is untouchable: “They think we are mere dirts because we clean their dirts.”

      However, no one comes to console him in his misery and no one recognise his excruciating and poignant sentiments and even his benevolent act, when he saves the child from accident and brings him back to his caste Hindu mother. The fanatic Hindu mother does show no sign of gratitude, and thankfulness. She scolds and rebukes Bakha for touching her child and polluting him. It is the irony of fate that a man who comes for the rescue of the child at peril, has been abused and insulted because he is an outcaste. Besides affronting and libelous treatment of Bakha, he seems to have no disregard for Hindu gods and goddesses rather his faith remains ‘persistent’. His faith in Hindu religion is so pure and crystal that he listens to Hindu hymn-chanting with extraordinary devotion and his soul surrenders before an unknown God who is indifferent to his miserable plight.

      The ultimate and most shocking realization comes when his beloved and cherished sister has been coaxed by Pandit Kalinath to come his house to clean the premises of the temple. Sohini, too innocent to read his malicious intention, becomes an easy prey to the lustful desire of a libidinous pandit. Bakha comes to the rescue of his sister. He could have avenged for her sister but he becomes non-pulsed when caste Hindus throng and the priest shouts, ‘polluted! polluted !’ for his self-defence. Instead Bakha and Sohini were given justice, they were awarded scurrilous and slanderous remarks.

      Non-chalance to Sohini’s molestation, defunct judicial system (justice was denied to the untouchables), Bakha comes back home with his sister. It is the climax of savagery that justice should be denied to girl who has been molested by a priest because she is an untouchable girl. Tradition stands as an invincible obstacle in his way He surrenders physically but spiritually he is ready to avenge, he is a rebel at core. His conscience doesn’t accept defeat. He is unable to translate his anger, resentment, and revenge into real action because he is well aware that the people of his own community are cowards and they will never stand by Bakha to boost up his courage to fight against social evils to annihilate them from the surface of society He was born of untouchable parents and brought up among the untouchables. It is tradition which does not allow him to protest against injustice and exploitation. He is aware of human dignity and his sister’s modesty But left with no options except to surrender. He accepts the social norms but his conscience does not approve it.

Bakha and Dynamism

      A thorough study of the novel reveals that Bakha is dynamic character, intelligent and sensible. He experiences human emotions unlike other human beings but he is denied the privilege to express them. He has no congenital antipathy or bias for the caste Hindu. He forgets all humiliation and a scurrilous and slanderous remarks when he is offered a cup of tea by Havildar Charat Singh. His dynamism is conspicuous when he is slapped by a caste Hindu businessman. Anand says, “The strength, the power of giant body glistened with the desire for revenge in his eyes, while horror, rage, indignation swept over his frame. In a moment he has lost all his humility he would have lost his temper too but the man who had struck him the blow had slipped beyond reach into the street.” The instinct of a rebel is always alive deep within him. Everytime he thinks of protest but he comes to realise that he is all alone and he has nowhere to go except between the devil and the deep blue sea. R.S. Singh remarks, ‘‘Between this struggle of the individual and society Bakha is always defeated, but every time he is defeated his potentiality to register his protest becomes more pronounced. Anand’s feeling that individual protest would not change the social order gets recorded in Bakha’s passive acceptance of his destiny: “What is the use ...they (the caste Hindus) would ill treat us even if we shouted. They think we are mere dirt because we clean their dirt.” He is not educated and neither is his community He is ignorant of the solutions. But the Christian missionary Hutchinson, Father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi and the progressive poet give him a vague idea of the solutions. E.M. Forster says in his Preface to Untouchable, “On the surface of the earth, if not in the depth of the sky a change was at hand.” And this was the purpose of the novelist: “to study the growth of his mind and to show how the conscience of the somnolent underdogs and out-castes is aroused rather than to record what could or would happen if they came to be mentally alive to their surroundings.”

Bakha’s Distinctions

      From beginning till end of the novel Bakha stands distinguished among the crowd of unsensible and servile untouchables. Bakha is sensitive and self-conscious and he is aware of human dignity Because of his ignorance and lack of higher education he does not have the solutions to the problem of untouchability But he is not idle. He is in quest of some elective solution. When he comes to listen Mahatma Gandhi and the young progressive poet he feels enlightened and it gives an upthrust to his morale. Bakha reacts to his sister’s molestation, pollution in market and he reacts, to his insults and humiliations but he is unable to realise his cherished dream of liberty; freedom and emancipation from the cumbersome servility of the caste Hindus. He could have shed the yoke of slavery but he is helpless due to the impotency and servility of his fellow caste.

      Bakha is the product of new generation. Tradition taboos and superstitions have to collapse and perish to be replaced with revolutionary and progressive ideology. Bakha represents a protest, a rebel against injustice and exploitation. Bakha marks the end of caste-Hindu dominion. Gandhi too says that all Indians are equal and the account he gives of a Brahmin doing sweeper’s work goes straight to the boy’s heart. Bakha marks the indispensible and imminent end of the brutal and savage treatment of the untouchable. Untouchable in 1930s must be regarded as prophecy that the savage said brutal practice of untouchability would no longer exist in the coming years. Anand’s prophecy is now a harsh reality that to love and respect all human beings is the supreme religion.

      Saros Cowasjee remarks, “Bakha is an attractive character based on a sweeper-boy whom Anand had known in his childhood. Bakha had a sort of dignity that does not belong to the ordinary scavenger who is, as a rule uncouth and unclean. Even those who, abuse his services, admit that he is a bit superior to his job. If Bakha is pictured as something of a male god, his sister Sohini is pictured as a goddess with a sylph-like form, full-bodied, well rounded on the hips, with an arched narrow waist and globular breasts. Her figure could have viewed with the images of Konark and Khajuraho; but she has been condemned by birth to walk the path of the outcastes and to suffer their mortifications. Bakha and Sohini are by no means representative of their own caste. The true outcaste is Bakha’s brother Rakha, with his grimy flannel shirt and running nose. Living in the midst of dung, he is still a human being, but one who belongs to a ‘world where the day is dark as the night, and the night is pitch dark’. Rakha is a living death as opposed to his brother who is life in death.”

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