East and West Culture in The Novel Untouchable

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East and West Conflict

      Making of Mulk Raj Anand is the confluence of two extremes—East and West. Though East and West seem to be two different forces but they go parallel (or side by side) in the novel. They seem to be poles apart and as dissimilar as chalks and cheese. But Colonial Era in India has left an everlasting impression on our ancient culture. Anand has presented the East-West conflict through different characters and definitely on different levels. Conflict can be observed on individual and group level, on the political level, on the cultural level. It has affected every walk of life.

The Novel is Based on East-West Theme

      The East-West theme has been accomplished through the Bakha-Tommies, Bakha-Hutchinson and Bakha-Iqbal-Bashir relationship. The alien characters specially Tommies cast very deep influence on Bakha. Bakha accepts them as his ideal. He tries to copy them. While copying the Tommies he experiences a state of emancipation and self-dignity. Although Iqbal and Bashir do not cast any significant influence on Bakha but Bakha likes them for their rational and radical thought. The most constructive aspect of western influence is, that it facilitated all round change.

Bakha Under Western Influence

      Indians started imitating the Britishers after they came in contact with them as a result of British domination over the subcontinent. Anand has some personal reasons to appreciate and admire English ways of life because he himself lived for years with his father in the cantonment town of Punjab, and he himself admires them for their radical and rational thoughts and practices. As Bakha lives in the vicinity of the cantonment of Bulashah close to a regiment and this makes him close to Tommies quite early in life. Bakha develops intimacy with the Tommies because they don’t observe untouchability They treat the untouchables as human beings. “Bakha....had been caught by the glamour of the whiteman’s life. The Tommies had treated him as a human being and he had learnt to think himself as superior to his fellow outcastes.” The chief essence of the Tommies is their liberal attitudes. They treat all human beings as the creation of the Almighty God and do not regard anyone as untouchable or outcaste. They treat all blackies with equal regard. Bakha is fascinated by their humanitarian concern. So he feels exalted in cleaning latrines for them and loves to look and act like them.

His Mania for Fashion

      He has a mania for English clothes and he obtains them from the Tommies. He wears them with a sense of pride and dignity. His obsession for the English clothes is so intensified that he wraps himself with just an insufficient blanket and shivers in cold and refuses to have quilt because it is not English. He does not care for his father’s being angry at his extravagance. The boys of the outcaste colony even Chota and Rani Charari, cut jokes with him on account of his new rigout, calling him 'Pilpali Saheb'. He smokes Red Camp cigarettes and sips tea without blowing it cold. The stigma of untouchability has made Bakha mimic the Tommies because he relieves himself of servility in the imitation of the whiteman. “He did not like his home, his street, his town, because he had been to work at the Tommies’ barrack and obtained the glimpse of another world strange and beautiful; he had grown out of his native shoes into the ammunition boats that he had secured as a gift. And with this and other strange and exotic items of dress, he had built up a new world which was commendable, if for nothing else, because represented a change from the old ossified order and stagnating conventions of life to which he was born.” It is because of his mania for fashion that he is nicknamed pilpali saheb.

British Influence: Its Consequences

      Bakha transcends himself above his fellow outcastes under British influence. He is different from other untouchables because of his intelligence and sensitivity. He does not consign himself to the social injustice and tyranny whereas his fellow-outcastes accept the traditions of oppression, and injustice as their destiny Bakha wants to change everything. He is eager to revolutionize the entire social system. He could be an iconoclast except his low social hierarchy left him helpless. The British influence is positive and desirable too. Because it is a vital force working for social change. The force is supposed to be crucial for renaissance in India. It has shaken the root of casteism and all senseless and inhuman practices. Saros Cowasjee writes in this context, “Bakha’s slavish emulation of the Tommies, though comic, is his first affirmation that the life he has been compelled to live is monstrously unjust. Though he may cut a ridiculous figure as he stumps out in artillery boots, wearing discarded trousers, putters, breeches and regulation overcoat, with a Red Lamp Cigarette smouldering between his lips, it is all the same a manifestation of his tremendous strength and courage. That he should emulate the Tommies is understable, for they treated him “as a human being” and scorned the native population for relieving themselves on the ground and for other filthy habits. For Bakha the observation ends here, but it may suggest none to the reader who knows that the British themselves were untouchables to the Brahmins.”

Comical Aspects of Bakha’s Character

      Bakha’s admiration for the Tommies can be judged in positive perspective too. It relieves him of the stigma of untouchability. It encourages and inspires him to Establish his identity and to get and of his sordid existence. It gives Anand an opportunity to pay equal attention to his hero and to censure him mildly whenever necessary But above all it provides much of the humour in the book. There is something comical or ridiculous about Bakha who forgoes his few homely comforts for his urge to satisfy his mania for fashion and to look like a Sahib. In the imitation of the English, Bakha goes to such an extreme that he forgets his low-castes heritage, his root, his origin, his social status and his poverty It is pathetic, too, when Bakha is disillusioned and realises that except for his English clothes there is nothing English in his life. Bakha hardly gets such moments and Sahibs impress him considerably. He goes in the company of Colonel Hutchinson. But Hutchinson degrades himself in Bakha’s eyes mixing with the natives. Bakha is fed up with his missionary preaching that is monotonous and boring for him.

      Mahatma Gandhi supersedes his admiration for the English Sahibs. The half naked fakir appeals to Bakha and stirs inner cords of his heart. Gandhi’s charismatic and mesmerising personality changes the entire course of untouchables society.

Bakha’s Contact With the English Missionary

      The East-West theme has been focused through Bakha’s contact with the English missionary Colonel Hutchinson is the chief of the Christian missionary Organisation, The Salvation Army. Colonel Hutchinson stands in contrast to general English people who exploit their subjects. The history of India’s freedom struggle has recorded their cruelty; exploitation and injustice. But Hutchinson is very compassionate, benevolent and philanthropic character. He is an incorrigible missionary The missionary soothes and consoles his distressed soul. He has very strong faith in Christianity and believes that only Christianity is the solution to all these inhuman and hackneyed rituals and traditions. He commiserate with Bakha and invites him to his home and to the church. Christianity is known for universal love, and compassion and it regards all human beings as the creations of the Almighty. However, there is a touch of comic about him, as Bakha comes from a low caste Hindu family; he fails to understand the Resurrection of Christ, the Original Sin, and the redemption of man through the Crucification of the Son of God. The preaching of the missionary is so profound in meaning and content that the illiterate Bakha does not comprehend anything. This comedy turns farcical when Hutchinson’s hedonist and voluptuous wife scolds him violently for his over-indulgence in missionary work. She scares Bakha away It is a comic relief after the stress and strains caused by earlier accounts of Bakha’s suffering and anguish.

Absence of Proper Understanding

     The entire course of Bakha and Colonel Hutchinson's meeting is marked for its obvious absence of proper understanding between the two. M.K. Naik writes, “One aspect of the theme of exploitation is presented in many of Anand’s novels. This is the exploitation of the Indian by the white man. In Untouchable, however, the relationship between the white man and the Indian is viewed from a different angle; yet the picture of this relationship here emphasises some motifs which are stressed in the other novels as well. The episode of Bakha’s meeting with Colonel Hutchinson of the Salvation Army illustrates this. Anand seems to suggest here, as elsewhere, that the whiteman and the colonial Indian can never understand each other. The Colonel’s proselytizing zeal and blundering humanitarianism only confuse and repel Bakha, who runs away from him. There is also the tremendous inferiority complex from which the colonial Indian often suffered, in dealing with the British masters. Hence, Bakha is so agreeably surprised to find the Colonel sympathising with him that “he could have cried to receive such gracious treatment from a Sahib.” Although the padre has conquered his superiority complex vis-a-vis the colonial Indian. Colonel Hutchinson’s wife, who scolds him for his over-indulgence in black Indian provides a copy book example of it.

The Occidentalised Muslim and the Poet

      The East-West theme has also been focused through the occidentalism Barrister N.A. Bashir and the debate he has with the radical and rational poet Iqbal Nath Sarshar towards the end of the novel. Bakha is overwhelmed by this debate. Bashir is biased to occidentalism. He observes everything from occidental point of view. But this point of view seems hollow and superficial. He does not have profundity of thought. He is, therefore, badly frustrated in the debate with the young poet. Mr. R.N. Bashir speaks, “When the sweepers change their profession, they will no longer remain untouchables. And they can do that soon, for the first thing we will do when we accept the machine will be to introduce the machine which clears dung without anyone having to handle it—the flush system. Then the sweepers can be free from the stigma of untouchability and assume the dignity of status that is their right as useful members of a casteless and classless society.” He provides very simple and practical solution to the problem of untouchability. His practical approach to the problem unfolds his awareness of science and technology. Bakha is excited and impressed by this suggestion and returns with greater optimism.

Conclusion: Occidentalism-Positive Aspect

      In brief, occidental influence as represented by Mulk Raj Anand in Untouchable has a positive aspect too. It is beneficent to some extent. The beneficence is manifest from its egalitarianism. They treat all human beings as the creations of the Almighty God. Occidental influences have exposed the blemishes of Indian culture and tradition. It mocks hollowness and hypocrisy of Casteism in India. The most striking feature of occidental influence is that it has created an ‘awakening’, ‘a consciousness’ among the untouchables. It has shaken the citadel of an outdated and oppressive social system, and opened new horizons of modernity and set the Indians on the road to a brilliant future.

University Questions

Critically examine that Untouchable is based on East-West theme.
Write a note on the depiction of the East-West conflict in Untouchable.
Substantiate the view that English culture laid modernising effect on Indian life.
What are the consequences of the western impact on Bakha?
Critically assess the character of Colonel Hutchinson of the Salvation Army.

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