Coolie: by Mulk Raj Anand - Summary

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      Coolie is the second great political novel, published in 1936. It narrates the adventures of Munoo, an orphan hill-boy who is hardly fourteen years of age living with his uncle Daya Ram and aunt Gujri, and content in the idyllic surroundings of his native village, Bilaspur, inspite of their ill-treatment. He is forced to go to town to earn his livelihood, and arrives at the house of the sub-accountant of the Imperial Bank, Shamnagar. He is ill-treated by a shrewish and vindictive wife of babu Nathoo Ram, Bibiji, and only Chota Babu, Nathuram’s younger brother is kind to him. Being tortured in the house, he runs away from there and relieves himself at his second employer Prabha Dayal’s. house as worker in his pickle factory. But he is also ill-treated by Prabha’s co-partner, Ganpat. But unfortunately his master is ruined by the dishonesty of Ganpat. He is again forced to leave Daulatpur forever. He started his work as a coolie, but faced tough competition from other coolies. He reaches the Railway Station to work as a coolie, but he is scared away from there because he has no licence.

      From this struggle he is rescued by an elephant-driver, and he is helped by him to reach Bombay In Bombay he meets with a vagrant family—Hari and his wife Lakshmi, and he becomes a worker in a cotton mill with them. He earns his bread in a worst working, conditions, living in a dilapidated and insanitary pavement. He grows a good friendship with Ratan who descends him into the Red light district, and witnesses a labour strike and Hindu-Muslim riots which are perhaps engineered by the factory bosses to break an impending strike. Last but not the least, he is knocked down by the car of an Anglo-Indian woman Mrs. Mainwaring who brings him back to Simla from Bombay and he is appointed as a page-cum-rickshaw puller. It has been hinted that she uses him sexually. By and large, overwork brings illness and he dies of tuberculosis.

      Munoo is a universal character, symbolising suffering and misery of the poor and exploited masses of India. Thus, the suffering of Munoo, a coolie, attains epic dimensions, and infact, a universal significance.

Chapter Wise Summary

Chapter - 1

Munoo, a Hill-Boy and His Friends

      Munoo is a hill boy who lives with his uncle and aunt. He is happy-living in the idyllic surroundings of the village of Bilaspur inspite of his uncle and aunt’s ill-treatment. He has been playing and grazing his cattle with the other boys on the banks of the Beas river in the Kangra hills. Among his many friends, one is Jay Singh, son of the village landlord who is Munoo’s rival for the leadership of the village boys. Bishan, is a fat boy who takes side of Munoo in dispute with Jay Singh. Bishambar is the other fiery little friend of Munoo’s. Munoo’s uncle is a peon in Imperial Bank, Sham Nagar. He wants to take the boy to the town for earning. His aunt goes on calling for him. Jai Singh points out to Munoo to hear his aunt and makes fun of him. Munoo is deliberately ignoring both of them.

Munoo’s Future Plan

      Munoo does like to ignore the call by his aunt, the fact is that, he is made to accompany his uncle to leave for town, where his uncle has arranged a servant’s job for him in a sub-accountant named Babu Nathu Ram’s house. Munoo has heard of the people who have gone to the city and have brought back wonderful stories about the life there. However, Munoo is particularly interested in machines about which he had read in his school books. He wants to see the new world, and desires to go to city but after passing all his examinations. While grazing his cattle and playing in the field, Munoo heard the call for him by his aunt and he reluctantly decides that he should not delay anymore and so gathers his cattle and leaves for his hut to get ready to go to town.

Chapter - 2

Munoo’s Journey to the Town

      Munoo’s uncle Daya Ram took him along to the town. He is constantly urging the boy to walk at a quicker pace. The boy is tired enough to stride with the long steps of his uncle as they have already covered the distance of ten miles, and his feet are blistered. His bare feet which have became sore and weary after an exhausting journey His eyes are strained. Despite his worse condition, his uncle is not in a condition to allow him for rest since he is afraid of being late for his office. Just then a cart passes by the passing cart-driver offered a lift but Daya Ram rejected it saying that the driver would ask for money. The cart driver asked him to get on the cart, but his obstinacy and arrogance made them lose the opportunity to go by the cart. During the journey, Munoo undergoes some interesting experiences. He stared wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the marvels of different carriages, two-wheeled box-like bamboo carts and tongas, black-bodied phat-parties which seemed to him curious as they ran without horses on the main road. He is amazed to see a railway train which seemed to be like a black camel pulling a large number of brown houses behind it. He wants to know many more things such as “Where is the cattle which these people graze and where are the fields they plough, uncle?” His uncle tells him that these people have no cattle and fields. They have only money in their hands to fulfill their requirements. He is caught by the sight of the aroma of food in the cook-shops and the sweets in a sweet shop. He is equally excited to see a phonogram and he considers it as a man singing in a wooden box. The city indeed appears to be a romantic place but there is also the disturbing sight of same hill folk carrying heavy weights on their body.

Munoo’s Condition in Babu Nathoo Ram’s Home

      After covering the long distance from the village Bilaspur to Sham Nagar, Munoo is introduced to Babu Nathoo Ram as the nephew of Day a Ram. Babu’s wife, Bibiji takes charge of Munoo. Babu’s house is situated at the end of a long lane in the suburban part of the city. There is a name-plate outside his house announcing the owner’s name to be Babu Nathoo Ram, sub-accountant, Imperial Bank, Sham Nagar. The Bibiji is a dark-faced woman of a severe quarrelsome nature. She abuses and ill-treats him time and again at the trifles.

      Munoo finds himself in a worse condition than he gets in his uncle’s home. At the first day of his arrival he is made to work and he has to sleep at night without a meal. In the first morning, he is badly humiliated, for he had defecated outside the kitchen seeing no lavatory there. In addition to Babu, his wife and children and his younger brother Doctor Prem Babu are there in the house. Prem Babu is also known as Chota Babu, who is doctor by his profession, treats Munoo nicely.

Munoo’s Daily Work

      Munoo is working as a domestic servant in Babu Nathoo Ram’s house. His work includes cleaning utensils and fetching water from the public tap. This position is restricted to the kitchen only Bibiji is very critical of him, and she is always scolding him and finding fault with him. She does not know the principles of hygiene but on the other hand she teaches the lesson of cleanliness. When sometimes, Munoo goes in the company of Babu and talks to him, she gets angry at him and reminds him of his position in the house. However, Munoo is glad to see the gramophone and the record played on it by Chota Babu. He wants to mix with their children and dance with them, but Bibiji makes him keep away from mixing with her children. The hard life in the house of hers conceives in his mind that in contrast with Bibiji, his aunt now appears to be a kind woman. He sometimes feels very restless at heart and greatly misses the free life of the village. He on the other hand is fascinated to see the clothes and specially the shoes of the Babus. It raises a vision in him of becoming a Babu some day and he resolved to work like a model servant.

W.P. England’s Visit in Babu Nathoo Ram’s House

      Babu Nathoo Ram had urged W.P. England many times to visit his house. One afternoon W.P. England visits his house for tea party because of persistent requests of the former. Mr. England did not like the walk to Nathu Ram’s house because he had to pass through narrow dirty streets which are lined by crowded houses and he had also to face the embarrassment of being stared at by a large number of people. The tea party proves a fiasco since Mr. England refused to take any sticky Indian sweets and pakoras and English made pastry because of hot weather. He only asked for a cup of tea. Munoo is ordered to bring in the tea-tray and he scurries and the tea-tray falls from his hands and the precious China crockery breaks into pieces.

      Munoo is slapped after the visitor had left by Bibiji and she would have beaten him mercilessly if Chota Babu had not been intervened to save him. One day Munoo has a half-holiday he expresses his desire to go to his uncle to take home made rice and dal. He leaves the house without a meal. He reaches to his uncle when he has taken his meal, and moreover, he is then in a vicious mood, rebuked the boy for having bought him a bad name by breaking the Babu’s tea-set. When Munoo requests for some money from his uncle, he refuses to give him money and beats him mercilessly He tells him “I have neither sympathy nor food for you!”.

More Misfortunes in Munoo’s Life

      While in service of Babu Nathoo Ram’s house, as a domestic servant Munoo used to go to fetch water from public tap where he meets a fight with two other servants named Varma and Lenu. Varma is a servant of a judge who not only makes fun of the hill-boy but also cuts jokes about his mistress. The matter was this, one day Varma does not allow Munoo to fill his pitcher at the pump, which he has been monopolizing for a long time. Along with Lenu, Varma begins to beat Munoo. Munoo is also infuriated and fights back spiritedly but one of his opponents gives him a fatal blow on the face with a heavy wooden stick. This causes a wound and it bleeds from it. Doctor Prem Babu gives him better treatment of his wound and he is taken to rest in a corner of the kitchen. The wound which he received has been so painful that it gives him a high fever from which he suffers for several days. After the recovery from the fever he gets another setback which disgraced him irrecoverably Once Sheila and her friends are practising dance and he rushes into the room and begins to play his monkey dance. Sheila keeps him away since her mother does not want him to play with the children. She pulls his ear and as the other girls laugh, she goes on pulling Munoo’s ear harder and harder. Munoo gets infuriated and bites her on the cheek. The girl begins to cry and Babuji and Bibiji rushes to the spot and the former kicks him and beats him mercilessly and pays no attention to the poor boy’s requests. When Munoo is left alone in the house, he runs away from the house and runs down the hill. He manages himself to approach near the railway godown. Seeing some railway carriages, he jumps into one of them through the window He hides himself under a seat in the vacant compartment which is soon filled with people. And the train starts a little later out of Sham Nagar, taking Munoo to some unknown place.

Chapter - 3

Munoo in Daulatpur: His New Employees

      Munoo comes to know that the train is taking him to Daulatpur. In the meanwhile he comes across Seth Prabha Dayal who belongs to Kangra and now running a pickle factory in Daulatpur. He is accompanied by his co-partner Ganpat. Prabha Dayal is childless and he wishes to adopt the child as his son, on the other hand, Ganpat agrees to take Munoo along with them to make him work as an unpaid labourer.

      Munoo is received heartily in Prabha’s home. His wife treats him very tenderly and he is given a most sumptuous meal. The next day he is taken to the pickle factory where he finds workers making pickles and essence. He meets a worker named Maharaja who lifts Munoo through the window over the wall into the factory by a worker. He is a massive shapeless man with a thick animal face. He then meets with Bonga, the other worker who is a boy of short stature and also deaf and dumb. Tulsi is the other worker who seems to be their immediate superior. Here Munoo finds Prabha Dayal, a kind and generous man whereas Ganpat, a cruel and heartless man. Munoo is assigned here not only to do various odd jobs in the factory but also to deliver goods at various shops in the city.

      Prabha Dayal one day takes him along with him to the market to introduce him to the shop-keepers. Munoo finds Daulatpur a very interesting place compared to Sham Nagar. He amused himself by reading the sign-boards outside the shops. Munoo recalls that he has read about Daulatpur in one of his school books. Prabha Dayal then says to the shopkeepers that the boy will deliver essences to them in future.

Dispute with Prabha’s Neighbours

      Rai Bahadur Sir Todar Mals are the next door neighbours of Prabha Dayal. The ovens in the factory emits foul smell which causes nuisance to his neighbours. Rai Bahadur is a lawyer by profession and a member of the City Municipal Committee. The wife of Rai Bahadur shouts abusive language to the factory owner for the nuisance the smoke causes her. Ganpat no more bears her and he answers her back rudely.

      The Rai Bahadur’s son, who is Sub-Inspector in the British Raj happens to beat Ganpat and causes him to fall into the gutter. Prabha Dayal, however, apologizes to the Todar Mals and also cools down the lady by sending her a gift of two pots of pickle and jam. Sir Todar Mal writes a pompous complaint to the City Health Officer and some days later, Health Officer visits the site, however, no action is taken on Sir Todarmal’s complaint as the matter is resolved when Prabha presents some jam to the lady Todar Mal.

Munoo’s Sickness

      Munoo works in the pickle-factory. One day he eats a large number of unripe mangoes which are brought to the factory for pickling. He falls sick. Ganpat guesses that he has been stealing mangoes and eating them, therefore he slaps him. Ganpat takes him into the house. Prabha’s wife takes care of him with great tenderness and affection. After his recovery he is treated with kindness and given only light work. Munoo feels more obliged to Prabha for his wife’s kindness.

Ganpat’s Betrayal to Prabha Dayal

      Ganpat returns from collecting the dues which dealers owe to the factory, but in his long absence, Prabha Dayal takes loans from lady Todar Mal. On his return Ganpat’s behaviour seems to be very strange. Without being asked to Munoo he beat him severely when he found him giving a jar of jam to lady Todar Mal, although he pleads that he is doing so on his master’s instruction. Moreover, Ganpat declares that he has only fifty rupees from collection but he also admits that he has collected about three hundred rupees which he keeps with him because Prabha has not given him the share of last year’s profit. Infact, he has collected eight hundred rupees but has spent the amount on a courtesan. Prabha tells him that he has given him instructions earlier that he should be trustful in financial matters. Ganpat abuses Prabha Dayal and strikes at him. He refuses to give any money to his partner, and decides then and there to leave him. The partnership gets dissolved. Ganpat spreads the rumour that Prabha Dayal has become bankrupt, with the result that all his creditors begin to pester him. Lady Todar Mal asks him to return her five hundred rupees immediately Her son is a Police Sub-Inspector and he is soon arrested and sent to the police station in great disgrace. He is abused, cursed and beaten there mercilessly Ganpat does not come to his rescue any more. Hence, Prabha Dayal is ruined. He loses his factory and goes back to Kangra again to work as a coolie.

Munoo Works as a Coolie

      As their master falls ill and their mistress nurses him, Munoo and Tulsi decide to go to the grain market, and they try to earn something to make there own humble contribution to their master. They come to see that there is a very tough competition in the grain market. Munoo finds it difficult to compete with the more hefty and strong coolies. However he gets a job of a coolie, but he is incapable of lifting the heavy sack, and stumbles and falls. At his failure, he is cursed by the Lallas. He then works in a vegetable market, but he gets only scant earning here. He then goes to the railway station to work as a coolie. But the policeman chases him away for he has no licence. He reaches the Mall road, boarded with English shops and banglows on both sides. After that, one day he is attracted by beating of a drum, announcing the circus of Tara Bai and the marvelous shows. He makes friends with an elephant driver and he not only shows him the show but also renders him some odd jobs. The elephant-driver brings him in the mega-city, Bombay.

Chapter - 4

Munoo’s Life in Bombay

      Munoo, during his travelling from North to South, surveys the scene around him with open-eyed wonder. Earlier he yearns to go to Bombay for he has heard of the marvels of the city. On the way he is fascinated by the desert under the scorching sun, hills capped by forts and plateaus and many other attractive things. A thought comes to his mind and he thinks of his childhood in the hills with his village friends.

      When he reaches Bombay city, the elephant driver gives him a good meal and guides him out of the station premises. Munoo finds the city to be strange and complex. He comes across various communities wearing various and picturesque dresses. He sees vehicles like victorias and trams which he has never seen before. But seeing the worst condition of the coolies here, his dreamland where memory strewn about in the streets, proves to be untrue. He then eats the meal and not finding any water anywhere he enters a restaurant to have a drink of soda water and he meets with his requirement but he does not feel happy because the bearer treats him contemptuously.

      One day the traffic is found to be heavy Munoo manages to save a girl from being run over by fast moving vehicles. The girl is the daughter of Hari, a coolie in cotton factory in Bombay Thus, Munoo gets acquainted with him and is able to make a good friendship with him and his wife. He offers Munoo work in the factory.

Munoo, Hari and Ratan: Their Works and Exploitation at the Factory

      Hari and Munoo meet the foreman of the cotton factory Jimmie Thomas who agrees to give jobs to Hari and their children and Munoo at a commission for himself. He also advances some money to Hari on high interest. He lets out a hut to them at a three rupees a month. The hut is in a dilapidated condition. At the factory, Munoo’s work consisted of moving the handle of the machine with one hand and of joining the ends of the thread with knots whenever it breaks. He is taught the work by a well-built man named Ratan. Munoo finds his work quite boring and the working condition very oppressive and sickening. On the very first day one of Hari’s children meets with a slight accident and he takes him to the hospital. Sometime later there is a heavy rain and Hari’s hut is washed away in it. Ratan comes to their rescue and arranges shelter for them. The foreman insults Hari for vacating the room without his permission. He wants to beat Hari for this but Ratan comes forward and saves him. Ratan then befriends Munoo and relates his story to him. He worked at the Tata Steel Works at Jamshedpur. He had taken active part in a long and successful strike there. When the workers went on another strike, the proprietors were able to buy some of the leaders. He then left the place in disgust and came to Bombay.

      Now it is the time of getting the salary. Hari is paid much smaller amount, because the foreman, the proud, arrogant and greedy, extorts money out of them in every way possible. He always charges every worker in the factory a price for the gift of a job, the price increases if there are more men available against the vacancies at the factory. He also runs money lender’s business and gets improper interests from the poor coolies. On the other hand, they are also exploited by the traders from whom they buy provisions.

      Further, in the factory events are moving fast. Ratan has been discharged from service. Ratan lodges a complaint at the Trade Union office but not much heed is paid to him. Some communists form another union and they invite the workers to go on strike, but they are too timid to do so. A few days later, the factory manager Mr. Little announces of ‘short work’ which means there is no work in the factory during the fourth week of every month and no salary will be paid for it. It creates resentment among the labourers and they decide to go for a strike for their rights and self-respect.

Strike and Riots

      The Trade Union holds a meeting and decision is taken to go on strike. The president of the union, praising the proprietors and depicting their difficulties, pleads for negotiations without a strike on the one hand. Other speakers disagree with him, and they present a charter of demands including the right to work without paying bribes and no arbitrary dismissals or wage-cuts etc. on the other.

      In the meanwhile, a rumour is spread that Hindu children are being kidnapped by the Mohammedans, and soon the meeting turned into a communal riot. And within no time Hindu and Mohammedans start striking blows and killing each other. While Munoo is coming alone through a lane he is confronted by a mob of Pathans. He receives a stunning blow and then is saved by some social activists. When he is on the way at one place he catches sight of beautiful boats in the harbour below and is so wrapped up by the sight that he does not notice the coming of a car, and he is knocked down. The Chauffeur and the car owner Mrs. Mainwaring’s come down from the car, and the latter allows the former to put the injured boy in the car. In this way he is taken to Mrs. Waring’s house in Simla and she appoints him her page-cum-rickshaw puller.

Chapter - 5

Munoo’s Life in Simla

      By the time Munoo gets recovered from his injuries and start his work as a domestic servant in Mrs. Mainwaring’s house under a Mohammadan khansama. Mrs. Mainwaring belongs to a Anglo-Indian family. She is known to be a woman of loose character. She comes to Simla where her husband has hired a flat on rent for her residence. She likes the young boy most and treats him very tenderly. And once or twice even she seems to tease him in an erotic way Besides working as a domestic help, he pulls her rickshaw and carries her wherever she likes to visit. He is greatly attracted by the wares displayed in the English shops in Simla. Mrs. Mainwaring is highly pleased with India because she is able to get cheap servants and all the luxuries and amenities of the west at a price one can easily afford. She goes out daily by rickshaw which puts a severe strain on his lungs. He coughs frequently and often blood comes out with his spittle.

Munoo’s Illness

      One night on returning from his work as rickshaw puller, Munoo falls ill with fever. Mrs. Mainwaring shows sympathy towards the boy She calls in a doctor, Mr. Merchant, the Health Officer of the city who prescribes medicines, and; during his illness he is looked after and treated tenderly in her bunglow. It is in this way; she develops some illegal sexual relationship with the doctor. After recovery from illness, Munoo resumed his work but this time he has to pull not only the memsahib but also the doctor by rickshaw. He works willingly because of the gratitude he feels towards memsahib. He does not leave his work inspite of the suggestions given by the other coolies with regard to his health. He feels he is quite happy working for her. It has also been hinted in the novel that Mrs. Mainwaring uses him sexually However, Munoo’s condition of health deteriorates, he coughed in cessantly and spits out blood, which he never reveals to his mistress. He thinks that he has reached the last days of his life. A coolie named Mohan says that he has been suffering from consumption. He gives him suggestions to improve his health and gives a packet of fruits to him. Munoo wishes to survive, and he writes a letter to Ratan to ask his advice in the hour of his misfortune. Ratan replies and invite him to Bombay where he will have a job in the union office.

Munoo is No More

      One day Munoo coughs blood in Mohan’s presence. He informs his mistress of his illness and the lady comes to see him. She shows great concern for him and at the doctor’s instruction he is isolated to a hut where the two other coolies have been suffering from the same disease.

      The lady makes visits to him with some present of fruits for him for a few days. Lastly, the doctor forbids her to visit him or she will contract the same disease. Mohan comes to him frequently and looks after the ailing boy since there is no improvement in his health. However, he has another spell of good health for a few days which reinforces his hopes of survival. And one day in the early hours of the night he breathed his last.

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