Untouchable: by Mulk Raj Anand - Summary

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      Untouchable, is the first great sociological novel of Anand, published in 1935. It gives an account of single day event in the life of Bakha, a sweeper boy the son of Jamadar of the sweeper in the town of Bulashah. He is inspired by the new influences which cause upheaval with him. He somehow manages to get a pair of old breeches from an English soldier and a pair of old boots from a sepoy, and he aspires to emulate the fashions of the foreigner. He is very efficient in his work of cleaning latrines. His sister Sohini is also dexterous after her fashion. One day she goes to the village well to fetch water. Kalinath, a temple priest shows his kind-heartedness to pull out a bucket of water for the assembled outcastes. He then feels attracted to her youthfulness, and driving away the others, pours the water into her pitchers. He then suggests her come to his house to clean the courtyard and when she does come to do her duty the priest tries to seduce her, but she starts screaming. Kalinath equally screams “polluted! polluted”. Meanwhile, Bakha approaches at the spot and gets furious, but he sends Sohini away home. He himself goes to collect the pieces of bread from the houses of the rich. On returning home, he bitterly relates the happening to his father. “They think we are mere dirt because we clean their dirt.”

      In the afternoon, after attending the marriage of Ramcharem's sister, his friend, along with Ramcharan goes to play hockey in the evening. Bakha is given a hockey stick by Havildar Charat Singh, a man of higher caste. Bakha, playing hockey against the 31st Punjabis scores a goal, which starts a free fight. During the game hour, a little boy is injured and Bakha tries to lift him up and thus the boy is polluted. His father rebukes him for idling away all the afternoon, and he is then driven out of the house.

      Bakha goes to the Gole Maidan where he listens Gandhi’s speech attentively. He is thrilled by his speech that sweepers are men of God and must keep themselves pure by eating only the right food and refusing the leavings of others. But he is more confused than ever. It seemed to him that if he were to refuse the food thrown to him for cleaning latrin-job he should starve. In the crowd, however, he hears a poet Iqbal saying that the problem of untouchability can be solved if modern flush latrines are introduced, then the sweepers can be free from cleaning dirt. Bakha returns to his home in the outcasts’ quarter thinking about “this is wonderful machine that can remove dung without anyone having to handle it”.

      Thus, the novel provides a scathing indictment of the caste system and exposes the cruelty and orthodoxy of the caste Hindus.

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