Prose Style in Mulk Raj Anand Novels

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      The following passage of Mulk Raj Anand’s novel gives an insight into his prose style.

“As they sat or stood in the sun, showing their dark hands and feet, they had a curiously lackadaisical, lazy lousy look about them. It seemed their insides were concentrated in the act of emergence, of a new birth, as it were, from the raw, black, wintry feeling in their souls to world of warmth. The taint of the dark, narrow, dingy little prison cells of their one room homes lurked in them, however even in the outdoor air.”

      Anand’s English in the narrative portions of his fictions, is correct and idiomatic but it is devoid of British chastity in prose style. It has got certain peculiarities which established its Indian origin beyond doubt. Typical Indian expressions, words and phrases, its lack of precision, and too much oriental reference are the salient features of Anand’s prose. But he achieves his effect by its sheer interactive quality and the adjectives he uses to heighten emotions as the total result of both.

      Anand’s oriental verbosity is not justified. The torrent of his words subsides when emotions are evoked. The study of Anand’s novels elucidates that overdependence on verbosity and conceits is not a spontaneous and inevitable expression of a significant state of mind in artistic terms. It seems to be his routine gesture as in the following excerpt from Anand’s novel The Big Heart.

“Now he left the growing cells of his cancerous fear, which had been multiplying in him for years and which suddenly attacked him now and then, close up like the lids of an inner eye and leave him the flourishing, patriarch of his family only aware of his enemies, the that hires and triumphant above them on the heights of which the music lifted him.”

      M.K. Naik writes, “A casual reader unaware of the context of this passage, might be misguided into thinking that this is a description of a crucial moment in the life of the protagonist. In actual fact, this is an account of Lala Murliclhar’s disappointment when he finds that the coppersmith brotherhood has boycotted his grandson’s wedding. When one remembers that Lala Murlidhar is not only a minor character in the story but is actually a figure of fun, one may wonder whether the gaudy display of verbal fireworks here is not more in the nature of an assertion of the force of stylistic habit than an illustration of the excellent principle, ‘style is the subject.’

      Critical comment on Anand’s use of dialogue in his fiction is so much preoccupied with his novel use of Indianisms that it has generally failed to make a distinction between the dialogue between Indians and the dialogue where both or at least one of the inter-locuters is British. It is necessary to make this distinction, because while Anand’s aim is verisimilitude, in the first kind of dialogue it is achieved by giving a new colouring to English; while in the second, good spoken, middle-class English, of the period when Anand lived in England, is employed. Since British characters figure in most of Anand’s novels from Untouchable to Morning Face, this aspect of Anand’s dialogue deserves a critical attention which it has not so far achieved.”

      It will be unjustified to say that Anand is the pioneer of Indianism because Rudyard Kipling is reported to have introduced it much earlier in a variety of ways in Kim (1901). So the credit of Mulkeese (originally native) device does not go to Anand. But while Kipling made a limited use of it, Anand’s writings can be distinguished for its elaborate use of Indianism. His writings can be termed as lexicography of typical Indian words which are characteristic of Indian culture and become warp and woof of Indian expressions as, ari, vay, hey, wah, ohe, huzoor, sarkar, maharaj, sahib, etc. As M.K. Naik writes in this context.

      “Colourful swear words reeking of the rustic soil are so plentiful in Anand’s fiction that whole dictionary of choice terms of abuse could be compiled out of his work, and they become a serious fault because of their overabundance, and they expose Anand to the charge of vulgarity These words range from the direct simplicity of prostitute, illegally begotten, brother-in-law, rape mother, rape-sister, son of a swine, eater of your masters, to the more imaginative complexity of cock eyed son, a bow-legged scorpion. There are, again, English words which have become naturalized in Indian speech, suffering in that process a sea-change in pronunciation. Words like gentreman, laften gorner, gorment, phrunt, are a few examples, quoted at random.

      Literal translation of Hindi or Punjabi idioms and proverbs into English adds another colourful note. For example:

May the vessel of your life never float in the sea of existence.
There is no talk, (it does not matter)
There is something black in the pulse, (there is something fishy here)
He was dead over her. (He was madly in love with her)
Come on my head, home on my eye (you are right welcome)
Why do you eat my head? (Why do you pester me?)
After eating seventy mice, the cat is going on a pilgrimage.

      Imagery is less colourful and plentiful in Anand than in Raja Rao. This is so because Anand’s humanism is rooted in the soil and demands faithfulness to the realities of the situation. “But this is not to deny poetry altogether to Anand; for, when the subject and the mood demand, he can give us pure lyricism, as in some passages in Two Leaves and a Bud and in the ‘prose poems’ and fables among his short stories. But it is clear that such movements are only exceptions and that Anand’s most characteristic note is not the lyrical one. Consequently his imagery is not rooted primarily in poetic perception, except occasionally as in: ‘Gauri smiles like the demure morning’, ‘Govind laughs like the temple drum’. In fact, sometimes he is tempted to lapse into the pseudo-poetic, as for instance, when he tells us vaguely that Leila was shy “Shy like the dawn on some hill of mystery” His most vivid images are those which express in homely colours the perceptions of his peasants: thus, Kirpu compares the rain in the West to, “the pissing of a child”, Lalu sailing down the placid Ganga finds the river like, “a pregnant woman swollen with content”; and Monoo thinks that the taste of the fresh cotton thread in the factory is sickening, “like bile in the mouth”. Anand’s strength lies in his closeness to mother earth. His style indicates this not less conclusively than his vision”.

      The Flaws of Anand: Some Drawbacks
Anand is a great novelist but not without drawbacks and blemishes. He does not occupy the highest place in spite of his outstanding achievement and great contribution both in the field of novel and short stories. His writings have certain drawbacks which withhold Anand from being a sovereign monarch of the kingdom of Indian writings in English. Although he is a devoted and committed novelist, sometimes he does injustice to his characters either by exaggerating or minimizing his personages. Munoo’s character seems to be repressed and suppressed. Anand fails to depict the smouldering anguish and sufferings of Munoo who is a direct victim of social exploitation and humiliation. His childhood is denied to him. His freedom is snatched away from him. Even his own will is not his own. He is no better than a bonded slave. He is pledged to his master and even his childhood mistake can lead him to severe corporal punishment. His life has become a lonely shivering leaf of winter. But Manoo is suddenly knocked down by a car. With an unjustified use of chance and co-incidence, the novelist completes his social panorama. He seems to be pre-occupied with his missionary zeal. He is swayed by his preconceived notion to exaggeration and overstate his case which consequently degenerates his art into propaganda. Overstatement and exaggeration of his missionary zeal makes it a ridiculous and empty show and a kind of sensational drama. M.K. Naik writes, “His missionary zeal makes him indulge in direct statements and overstatements as is done in the case of Untouchable through the lips of the poet Iqbal Nath. Puran Singh Bhagat’s theorising which forms an anti-climax to the tragedy of An anta in The Big Heart; Colonel Mahindra’s tirades against the government in The Old Woman and the Cow; Maqbool Sherwani’s long testament in The Death of a Hero are examples. In all those instances, direct statement obtrudes upon the world of fictional representation. Thus, commitment, from which Anand’s work derives its strength, also makes for one of the greatest chinks in his armour.”

      Overabundance of compassion transform the entire subject into sentimentality. The long short story which Lament on the Death of a Master of Art contains an epigraph from August Strindberg. M.K. Naik writes in this context, “In the great crisis of life, when existence is threatened the soul attains great power.” In the story however, when Nur’s existence is threatened, the only power his soul seems to attain is the power to indulge in self-pity A comparison with Proust’s hero in Remembrance of Things Past immediately comes to mind. Even conceding the fact that Anand works within “far shorter span, it is obvious that his picture of the sick hero’s mind appears hopelessly elementary and crude when set beside the intricate subtleties and complexities of Marcel’s mind; this vital difference is perhaps due to the fact that Proust is fundamentally interested in the inner man, Anand, perhaps more in the outer man. The curse of self pity dogs all the heroes of Anand from Bakha to Krishna.”

      As noted above Anand has disregarded and neglected formal values of fiction in several ways. Overuse of direct statements and personal intrusions has vitiated well crafted elegance of form of Untouchable. C.D. Narasimhaiah suggests, Anand’s failure is essentially “the failure of form in a succession of novels, failure, that is, of the content to form itself into an unqualified work of art”. In The Sword and the Sickle, Anand fails to integrate the promising trilogy which consequently results into sheer disorder.

      Anand’s art has failed to attain new dimensions after independence and did not evolve over the period of three and a half decades. Anand seems to be indifferent to religion that is the chief source of moral and spiritual strength for the Indians. He made his art profound but failed to make prolific. M.K. Naik writes, “Anand has often tended to underestimate the Indian tradition, especially in its spiritual aspect. In novel after novel, religion is depicted as an affair of hypocrisy and outmoded taboos, of avaricious and gluttonous priests only. Most of his heroes revel in blasphemy His humanistic creed has no place for religion in it.”

      Srinivasa Iyengar writes, “Anand is often undistinguished, and seems to be too much in hurry; but the vitality of his creations, the variegated richness of his total comprehension, and purposive energy of his narrative, carry all before them. His notable marks are vitality and a keen sense of actuality”

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