Christian Missionary & Manner in The Novel Untouchable

Also Read

The Concluding Part: Critics’ View

      Anand has propounded three possible solutions to the problem of untouchability towards the conclusion of the novel and critics have different opinions about it. E.M. Forster had a prognosis of the impending criticism, so comes to the front to defend Anand and he writes in his Preface to Untouchable, “Some readers may find the closing section of the book too valuable and sophisticated, in comparison with the clear observation which has preceded it, but it is an integral part of the author’s scheme. It is the necessary climax, and it has mounted up with a triple effect. Bakha returns to his father, and his wretched bed, thinking now of the Mahatma, now of the Machine. His Indian day is over and the next day will be like it, but on the surface of the, earth, if not in the depths of the sky a change is at hand.”

      The critics, in general, are not convinced with the conclusion. The Evening News labels the conclusion ‘unconvincing’. The Star comments on it, “so simple as to seem almost comic”. Julian Symons opines about the solutions suggested by Anand in the concluding part of the novel as, “Plumbing plus goodwill can destroy the caste system. That was Anand’s view at that time, but it has proved too simple”. But a precise appraisal of the concluding part reveals that Anand has anticipated just choice of possibilities. He is rather fair and straightforward in offering solutions and alternatives.

Portrayal of Colonel Hutchinson

      Colonel Hutchinson who has been portrayed as playing dual character as a Christian missionary chief of the Salvation Army and a husband whose apathy for his wife has alienated him from her. He is not convincing and articulate. He is a refugee in his own house because his alcoholic wife has alienated him and detests his honeymoon with missionary work or campaign. He picks some outcaste person and bores him with his monotonous gospel of Christ. Although he is compassionate and benevolent for the poor outcastes. But for he lacks the sparks in his speech to impress other he fails to proselytize the outcastes into Christians. His poor knowledge of Indian culture and civilisation makes a mockery of his missionary work.

      Bakha, who is an illiterate and ignorant who is unaware of theology and theosophy fails to understand the philosophy of Christ and his crucification.

      “Who is Yessuh Messih, really Sahib?” Bakha asked, eager to allay his curiosity

      ‘Come, I shall tell you, said Colonel Hutchinson. ‘Come to the Church’. And dragging the boy by the arm, babbling, babbling, all vague, in a cloud, and enthusiastic as a mystic, he led him away on the wings of a song:

Life is found in Jesus
Only there, tis offered thee
Offered without price or money
’Tis the gift of God sent free’.

      Too much of sermonizing adds to Bakha’s confusion but he comprehends one: “Christ sacrificed himself both for the rich and the poor, for the Brahmin and the Bhangi (sweeper).” But he is too preoccupied to memorize his sermons. He forgets it out of sheer confusion. He didn’t like the idea of being called a sinner. He has committed no sin. So he didn’t bear the idea of confession. He was cynical about and apprehensive about the way the missionary preached him and want to take him into a state of trance to get some illegal information.

      Bakha does not want to be heretic, infidel and apostate. He believes that the religion of his forefathers is enough for him. So he renounces the idea of apostasy.

His Prospective Solution

      Saros Cowasjee remarks, “But to look on the whole piece as a satire on missionary activity in India is to miss the point. The missionaries did succeed in converting thousands of people to their faith, especially from among the untouchables. If Heaven remained an elusive proposition to many converts, they still accepted Christianity to ameliorate their life on this earth and to escape from the abominations of their own religion. Of the alternatives offered to Bakha during the course of the evening, this certainly is the one to produce the quickest remedy. His hesitation to accept it is not owing to any conviction that, the religion which was good enough for his forefathers was good enough for him, but because the missionary in his contact with God had lost touch with the people.

Gandhi’s Doctrine

      Bakha is afraid of missionary’s dipsomaniac and symphomaniac wife and escape to Goal Bagh. A swarm of people was waiting for their leader, Gandhiji in the Goal Bagh where he was scheduled to. come. Saros Cowasjee remarks that perched on a tree not quite unlike an ape, Bakha gets his first view of Gandhi. With superb skill Anand portrays the image of Gandhi as all knew him: the little man swathed in a white shawl, with his big protruding ears, expansive forehead, quixotic smile and determined chin. But more than the physical details is the charisma of Gandhi that Anand has even able to capture. The raucous cries of “Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai” repeated endlessly; suddenly dies as the Mahatma raises his hand in benediction. Anand epitomizes Gandhi’s message as “This strange man seems to have genius, that could, single dramatic act rally multi-coloured, multi-tongued India to himself.” The stage is set for Gandhi but spell lies not so much in his message as in what he has come to signify to the common mind. The reason compels Anand to devote twice as many pages to the Gandhi legend and the audience’s frenzied reaction to the arrival of the Mahatma, as to the speech itself.

      Gandhi’s speech has been derived from his own autobiography, Young India and other writings. Bakha fails to understand the opening words but when Mahatma regarded touchability as the greatest blot on humanity and Hinduism, Bakha felt exalted. But Bakha had not the patience to hear when Mahatma urged the untouchables to renounce their disgustive and abominable habit of eating a carrion and renounce the habit of consuming excess of alcohol. He thought that Gandhi is diverting from the main issue. Mahatma concludes, “Two of the strongest desires that keep me in the flesh are the emancipation of the untouchables and the protection of the cow”. To bracket a religious taboo with an accepted religious practice like the protection of cow makes untouchability a very serious issue. Gandhi’s excellence lies not in his philosophy or ideology rather it does lie in uncanny way in which he could feel the pulse of the people and win them over.

      Gandhi and his substance are considered as an alternate remedy to Bakha. To Bakha it is not as much significant and relevant as the missionary’s sermon. Bakha and his like will not be able to emancipate themselves from the oppressive Hindu culture and tradition. The cause of the untouchable and the downtrodden was consigned to flame with the pyre of departed Mahatma.

The Radical Poet and His Solution

      The repercussions of Mahatma’s visit come as an anti-climate in the novel is exception. People mull over his views. There is debate on the mystic value and relevance of Vedas and Upanishads, Maya and Nirvana, machine versus man. The young radical and progressive poet is unable to fire Bakha’s imagination because he needs to be disenchanted from Mahatma’s spell. However anticipating a miracle of modern science and technology ‘a machine which clears dung’ can be metaphored as “Light at the end of a tunnel” and “silver lining in the dark cloud.” The machine will come as the Messiah for the sweeper. The machine can enable them to get emancipation and liberation from the stigma of untouchability. The vision of proposed machine kindles a spark of hope in his eyes yet he is not disenchanted from the Mahatma spell. His penchant for machine or flush system is not because it is going to relieve him from untouchability it is rather because he understands its utility and application. E.M. Forster comments on the poet’s suggestion, “It is prosaic, straight forward and considered in the light of what has gone before in the book, it is very convincing. No God is needed to rescue the untouchable, no vows of self-sacrifice and obligation on the part of more fortunate Indians but simply and solely—the flush system. Introduce water-closets and machine-drainage throughout India and all this wicked rubbish about untouchability would disappear.” Bakha returns to his father and his wretched bed, thinking now of the Mahatma, now of the machine. If machine and Mahatma go together, hope is there. Hence it will be a positive measure to eradicate untouchability

The Concluding Part: Its Structural Flaw

      The elegance of the concluding part of the novel is marred by the structural flaw. Anand has induced much details that seem insignificant, superfluous and unnecessary. The conclusion could be more precise if superfluous details are avoided. Anand driven by his missionary urge to reform the society and eradicate untouchability gives a personal shade to the theme of the novel. He propounds two devices—the first device, as Anand himself has conceived in the concluding part of Untouchable and that is a “prophecy” “suggesting a choice of possibilities”. The prophecy is significant because Anand believes that the writer who is deprived of a romantic as well as realistic point of view will not visualise, life in its totality and will negate vitals of life.

      E.M. Forster writes, “The first solution is that of Hutchinson, the Salvationist missionary Jesus Christ. But though Bakha is touched at hearing that Christ receives all men, irrespective of caste, he gets bored because the missionary can not tell him who Christ is. Then follows the second solution, with the effect of a crescendo: Gandhi. Gandhi too says that all Indian are equal and the account he gives of a Brahmin doing sweeper’s work goes straight to the boy’s heart. Hard upon this comes the third solution, put into the mouth of a modernist poet—the flush system....Introduce water closets and machine-drainage throughout India, and the wicked rubbish about untouchability will disappear.”

University Questions

Write a note on Anand’s weaknesses with special reference to Untouchable.
Comment on Anand’s handling of the theme of possible solution to the problem of untouchability.
Bakha’s attitude towards the Salvation Army is very cynical and sceptical regarding the authenticity of Christianity. Elucidate.
Critically examine the role of Colonel Hutchison, Mahatma Gandhi and the young poet Iqbal Nath.
Evaluate Anand’s integrity in projecting the Christian missionary and the manner in which he carries out his vocation.

Previous Post Next Post