Plot Construction in The Novel Untouchable

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Compact Novel

      The archetypal English novel is rather loose and expensive as compared with the archetypal work of French fiction. The action is time-consuming and generally prolongs for several years. The scene and settings are expansive. Main action issues subsidiary actions that further division of plot into subplots. These features of archetypal English fiction have been common with almost all Indo-Anglian novelists. In this context, Anand is an exception who provides potential contrasts for his plot fabrication is compact as characteristic to well-fabricated play. The three unities of time, place and action have been observed in order to produce and retain aesthetic and thematic elegance. Untouchable does not present or set an example of loose and hasty conclusion. The fabric of the novel is well-developed, compact and uniform which follows a standard pattern. The incidents are coherently linked together to enhance cause and effect.

The Classic Unities

      The classic unities of time, place and action belongs to the revival of classicism. Aristotle observed and advocated the unity of action or effect and hardly mentions the unity of time in compliance with most Greek tragedies which confine their span of action to a single centre that is the sun. It is called heliocentric. The neo-classicist deduced the unity of place from this. They pleaded that the characters must not exceed the distance that can be traversed during a single day Anand’s magnum-opus, Untouchable confirms to these unities in their chaste assumption.

The Unity of Time: First Cycle

      The duration of action in Untouchable is twelve hours. The opening of the novel reveals that Bakha is still in bed relishing the easy warmth. The rude and harsh call of his father wakes him up. He shouts at him to resume his usual routine work. ‘Get up, Ohe you Bakhya, Ohe son of a pig!’ came his father’s voice, sure as the daylight, from the mist of a broken, jarring, interrupted shore. ‘Get up and attend to the latrines or sepoys will be angry.’ That was the beginning of his father’s subsequent early morning shouts, which he had begun at first to resist with a casual deafness, and which he now ignored irritably. He continues to fancy but it disappears soon as his father’s shout ‘Are you up? Get up, you illegally begotten!’ Again and again stirred the boy to a feeling of despair. The irritated and resentful Bakha lingers his deafness and heedlessness. He fell back, his legs gathered together and shrunken together under the thin fold of his blanket, his head buried into his arms. He felt very cold. And he dozed off again. But a loud cry “Ohe, Bakhya ! Ohe Bakhya ! Ohe, scoundrel of a sweeper’s son! Come and clean a latrine for me !’ made him flung the blanket off his body. He stretched his legs and arms to shake off the half-sleep that still clung to him, and got, up abruptly; yawning and rubbing his eyes. For a moment he bent, rolling the carpel and the blanket to make room for the activity of the day then, thinking he heard the man outside shout again, he hurried to the door. ‘He worked away earnestly; quickly without loss of effort. Brisk, yet steady his capacity for active application to the task seemed to flow like constant water from a natural spring. After he finishes the task of cleaning latrines for Havildar Charat Singh he resumes another task of disposing rubbish. Then he shares his time with his sister Sohini at breakfast. He relishes whatever is available for breakfast.

The Second Cycle

      Lakha, the father grieves and tells Bakha that he is not well and Bakha must therefore sweep the temple courtyard and the main street that morning. Time lapses as Bakha reach the market and retain there to savour some jalebis. Bakha comes to pollute a caste-Hindu accidentally. He becomes stunned and unnerved and he does not understand the phenomenon of pollution by touching. Coincidentally and simultaneously he reaches the temple courtyard where his sister Sohini has been called deceptively and maliciously by the priest, Kali Nath to sanitize his latrine and courtyard of his house in the enclosure of the temple. After accomplishing his assignment Bakha relaxes by peeping into the Hindu sanctuary (a place where idols are installed). He is overwhelmed by the awful appearance and divinity of the lifeless idols. Vicariously, he offers his obeisance and homage to the deities who deny him justice, equality and even most fundamental rights. Bakha comes to defend his sister, Sohini from the sexual assault perpetrated on her by Pandit Kali Nath. Sohini narrates, “He-e-e just teased me, and then when I was bending down to work he came and hold me by my breasts’. The apprehensive and self-respecting Bakha becomes revengeful but it subsides due to his lowest position in social hierarchy. He forbid his sister to collect chapatis and himself goes from door to door to collect them. Out of fatigue, Bakha raps on the doorstep of a the house of a caste Hindu but he is scolded and discouraged for this offence of defiling the chastity and. sanctity of Hindu tradition. Bakha is not able to collect sufficient food even if he accepts the messy left overs of food.

The Third Cycle

      With a plausible excuse of attending the marriage of his friend’s sister, Bakha forsakes the unsavoury meal and approaches Ram Charan’s house. He goes out of his house in company of a pair of friends. He roves with them. Bakha, in order to unburden his heavy heart confides his griefs to his friends and consequently they reciprocate a good deal of solace. They mutually discuss the hockey match which is due in the afternoon. Bakha recalls Havildar’s promise to give him a hockey-stick later in the day. The fancy of a hockey-stick is so overpowering that he cannot resist its temptation. He is afraid of martinet temperament of Havildar Charat Singh and recalls several accounts regarding him that he might be hanging in the quarter-guard. He reaches his house by the afternoon. But he is apprehensive of Charat Singh. He wishes that he could escape from work and his brother Rakha might work instead. Havildar Charat Singh appears on the scene and greets Bakha with a cup of tea and realises his promise into concrete reality by giving him a brand new hockey stick. It is still afternoon when Bakha leaves the place and proceeds with a desired and cherished gift.

The Evening

      With the third cycle half of the action of the novel is consummated. Bakha calls on the other players and they equally respond with unabated zeal and curiosity to undertake the challenge match which is due to commence soon. Then approaches the inauspicious hour of the much desired match which is free for all. Babu’s younger son gets injured. Bakha comes promptly for his rescue. He gathers him in his arms and carries the injured child home. He does receive abuses and invectives instead of thanks and appreciation. Bakha gets disheartened. He returns home with a pensive mood. His younger brother Rakha is angry with him because he does attend hockey matches instead of his routine work. He reproaches Bakha for his sheer negligence and carelessness and poor sense of responsibility “You go out in the morning and you come back at night. Who is going to do the works at latrines?” It is rather a twilight than night, as Lakha alleges. His father scolds him for being negligent and insincere and asks him to leave his house. Bakha leaves with nothing except frustration and disappointment. At this crucial juncture, we have a definite idea, of the time of day. According to Anand, “As he moved over the fringe of the flat earth facing the plain, the rim of the upturned sky areas taking on the gold and silver hues of the afternoon sun, and the world lay encircled in the ribbon of crimson. Here he slackened his face, for it was here that he felt the first glow of the early morning sun creeping into his bones.” Bakha is depressed and desolate. He is crouching with his head in his hand squatting facing the sun. He is noticed and spotted by Colonel Hutchinson. The missionary’s theosophical philosophy is quite boring and beyond Bakha’s understanding. Thus the early part of the evening lapsed. The missionary makes incessant efforts to proselytise Bakha to Christianity As time is passing away very swiftly Bakha recedes from the influences of the missionary. By this time, it is definitely evening. Anand says, “High above the far-distant horizon of Bulandshahr dales the sun stood fixed, motionless and undissolved, as if it could not bring itself to go, to move or to melt. In the hills and fields however, there was a strange quickening. Long rows of birds flew over against the cold, blue sky towards their homes. The grasshoppers chirped in an anxious chorus, as they fell back into the places where they always lay waiting for food. A lone beetle sent electric waves of sound quivering into the cool, clear air. Every blade of grass along the pathway where Bakha-walked, was gilded by light.” Bakha now hears the rumbling thunder of a train which passed under the footbridge he was ascending. Almost simultaneously he hears a shout from the Golbagh rend the still, leafy air. The shadow of the smoke cloud that the engine had sent up to the bridge choked Bakha’s throat and blinded his eyes. The cloud of smoke disappeared. The train carrying the Mahatma, rushed into the cool darkness of the tin root on Bulendshahr station. ‘Two choruses of voices tore through the air this time, one charged the sky from the platform where the train had stopped; another rose above the treetops of the Golbagh, undulating from horizon to horizon.’ The eager babble of the crowd, the excited gestures, the flow of emotion, portended one thought only in the surging crowd—Gandhi. There was a terror in this devotion, half expressed, half suppressed of the panting swarm that pressed round. Gandhi addressed the public and emphasised the elimination of casteism, savage practice of untouchability injustice and exploitation in the name of absurd religious supremacy There is a fiery debate on radical issues between Bashir and Sarshar. By the time sun is about to set. “The fires of sunset were blazing on the distant horizon. As Bakha looked at the magnificent orb of terrible brightness flowing on the margin of the sky he felt a burning sensation within him.” Gandhi’s words haunt him because they were charged with the solution to his predicament. Mahatma’s face appeared before him, enigmatic, ubiquitous. The poet does charge Bakha with awareness and puts an end to his inferiority complex being an outcaste. According to E.M. Forster, ‘Really it takes the human mind to evolve anything so devilish. No animal could have hit on it.’ He began to move. He was calm as he walked along, the conflict in his soul was not over, though he was torn between his enthusiasm for Gandhi and the difficulties in his own awkward, naive self. ‘The sun descended. The pale, the purple, the mauve of the horizon blended into darkest blue. A handful of stars throbbed in the heart of the sky.....the brief Indian twilight came and went, a sudden impulse shot through the transformations of space and time, and gathered all the elements that were dispersed in the stream of his soul into a tentative decision: ‘I shall go and tell father all that Gandhi said about us’, he whispered to himself ‘and what that clever poet said. Perhaps I can find the poet on the way and ask him about his machine. And proceeded homewards’.

Unity and Harmony of Place

      The unity and harmony of place is in fact a corollary from the unity of time. As Bakha has no conveyance therefore the question of his traversing beyond limitation does not arise as required by the unity of place. The novel opens in the outcastes’ colony on the outskirt of the town. The latrines where Bakha works are at walking distance. Bakha walks along with his friend in the valley nearby. The venue of the proposed hockey-match is not far away and so is Havildar Char at Singh’s house from where Bakha receive his most cherished hockey-stick. The Christian missionary Colonel Hutchinson spots him outside the outcastes’ colony and the missionary’s house seems to be in vicinity. Bakha escapes from the missionary and reaches the railway station where Mahatma Gandhi is received with unprecedented reverence and gusto. He soon reaches the venue of Gandhi’s public address that is a park. Anand seems to be conscious of the unity of place which makes the novel more compact. Other characters d.o not exceed the limit and observe the unity of place. Lakha, the sick, old man does not move and remain idle all day long. Rakha goes to the regimental kitchen. Sohini traverse to fetch water from the well nearby and to the temple where her brother goes to sanitize the courtyard. So the entire gamut of action is confined to Bulandshahr and its periphery.

The Development of Action

      The action of Untouchable is coherent and well developed without any subsidiary diversion of side-action or sub-plot. The opening scene of the novel delineates the pathetic plight of the untouchables, the social pariah by portraying a single day in the life of a youthful scavenger boy Bakha. The considerable portion of the novel deal with the theme of untouchability injustice, exploitation and humiliation unleashed on the central character and the hero of the novel, Bakha at home and in the periphery. Bakha’s psyche is chiefly focused; his dreams, aspirations, anguish and agony all find full expression. Bakha diverts only when he sets to play the proposed hockey match with his friends. He relaxes for a brief period of time when he gossips and strolls with his friends. He is scolded and rebuked by his idle and lethargic father for his negligence and lack of sense of responsibility The molestation of Sohini is indispensable because it exposes the maltreatment of the outcaste women and the untold misery they are subjected to. Lakha is reminiscent of the apathy and callousness of the caste Hindu physician who denied medicine and treatment to Rakha because they belong to the outcastes’ community. The Mahatma, and the zealous poet appear to raise social awareness among the untouchables and the down-trodden and they emphasise the eradication of all social evils including casteism.

      Thus all incidents are interlinked, harmonized and compact. In brief Untouchable observes the consummate unity of action.

Trinity of Stages

      The plot of Untouchable reveals a trinity of stages corresponding to the beginning, middle and end of Aristotle’s postulation. M. K. Naik remarks these stages in terms of crises, the first of them being the excruciating and poignant experience of defiling a caste Hindu, which renders Bakha stunned and unnerved. The second stage is marked by Bakha’s expulsion from his own house—and includes Sohini’s sexual assault and the ill-fated match. The third stage marked with the arrival of Colonel Hutchinson and his proselytisation campaign and his promise to emancipate the untouchables from the stigma of untouchability This way of analysing the construction of the plot of Untouchable further reveals the harmony and consummation.

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