Pathos & Dramatic Element in The Novel Untouchable

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Graphic Beauty and Excellence of Untouchable

      Graphic scenes in quick succession enhance the beauty of the novel. The story develops in sequence of scenes. Scenes are well coordinated and cast aesthetic spell on readers. They are not haphazard. They are well integrated with certain objective and with no malice and ill-will against any one who belongs to caste Hindu community. The novel serves as a canvas for Anand where he portrays what he observes and what he experienced in early age. He neither distorts nor exaggerate the grim social realities. He presents the image of untouchability in absolute nudity that moves us to tears, such is the authenticity of Anand’s narration.

The Morning Episode

      There is a poignant early morning episode. Bakha’s father is scolding him for not rising in time. Havildar Charat Singh shouts, “Ohe, Bakhya ! Ohe Bakhya ! Ohe, scoundrel of a sweeper’s son ! Come and clean a latrine for me ! Why aren’t the latrines clean, the rogue of a Bakha? There is not one fit to go near. I have walked all round. Do you know you are responsible for my piles ! I caught the contagion sitting on one of those dirty latrines.” Bakha responds quickly out of awe and servility inherited from eternal subjugation. He rushes out of his bed with his broom and basket to begin his routine work. He has to look after three rows of latrines. Bakha works not only with unmatched efficiency but with astounding and astonishing quickness. He works with a sense of self-respect. “Each muscle of his body; hard as rock when it came into play; seemed to shine forth like glass. He must have had immense pent up resources lying deep...” Havildar cannot resist himself from applauding the low caste scavenger. ‘‘You are becoming a gentleman: Ohe Bakhya..” But his applause is not without malice towards the low caste which symbolises three thousand years of racial and caste superiority. He asks Bakha to see him in the afternoon in order to give him a hockey stick. Bakha goes on working conscientiously with alacrity. Then as his routine work, he disposes the rubbish by burning them.

Its Relevance

      The scene shows Bakha’s accomplishment and dexterity. He wins our sympathy by the virtue of his extraordinary skill and alacrity which unfolds while he is at work. He makes his presence felt. He is a man of great potential although his resources are little and insignificant. He pays his tribute to his work as someone worships a deity in a temple. He has all the substances to rise very high. His attributes like contentment and self-respects make him honourable besides his low profile. He never complains of his poverty and he is not disheartened at all. What hurts his feeling is rather the humiliation and oppressions unleashed on the outcaste community by the caste Hindus. His character has epitomized the theme of the novel.

Sohini at Well

      Anand has exposed and lacerated the hypocrisy of the caste Hindu priests who have camouflaged their maliciousness and malevolence and pretend to be innocent, benevolent and benefactor of the unprivileged and downtrodden class of human society. In early morning, Sohini, the sister of Bakha proceeds to the well with a pitcher to fetch water. She is approaching to the well with quick paces because she has to prepare tea for her hungry father. She is denied water because she belongs to the outcaste genealogy. Even her shadow can pollute the water in the well. She is waiting desperately for some benevolent and tolerant caste Hindu to condescend water. Anand writes, “So the outcasts had to wait for chance to bring some caste Hindu to the well, for luck to decide that he was kind, for fate to ordain that he had time—to get their pitchers filled with water They crowded round the well congested the space below its high brick platform, morning, noon and night, joining their hand with humility to every passer-by cursing their fate, and bemoaning their fate, if they were refused the help they wanted, beseeching and blessing, condescended to listen to them or to help them.”

      There are multitude of other outcaste women. They are remarkable for their individual and typical characteristics. Gulabo and Waziro are outstanding among them. Gulabo feels inferior to Sohini because her blooming adolescence has eclipsed her sense of beauty and superiority. She hurls abusive terms on Sohini without any provocation to hide her jealousy and defeat. Sohini bears all her high handedness except she betrays a few half-suppressed giggles. The Gulabo-Sohini episode gives an insight into feminine instinct of jealousy and a dramatic touch to the scene.

      Hours of desperate waiting comes to an end when Pandit Kali Nath appears on the scene. They beseech the caste Hindu Priest with folded hands. The priest agrees to condescend water on the outcastes because he wants to get relieved of his chronic constipation by drawing water from the well. With a falcon vision for its prey Pandit chooses Sohini for his favour. Her beauty and elegance fascinate him and stir his libidinous desire. He is so engrossed by her graceful contour of her physique that he forgets other women who have even waiting with little patience for water. He asks Sohini to visit his temple and clean his house. He plays a malicious trick on Sohini to gratify his mean desire.

Its Relevance

      Water is one of the most crucial necessities in human life. And the denial of water to human beings by human beings is the most inhuman and degrading aspect of untouchability. In absence of water the untouchables (as called by the caste Hindus) are unable to maintain proper cleanliness. They don’t have sufficient water to drink and cook their meals. They spend hungry nights and thirsty days. They are compelled to live in filthy surroundings like pigs and dogs. The scene has mobilized human sympathy for the unfortunate children of God.

      The scene has exposed the typical tendency of the outcaste to quarrel and abuse over petty matters. It brings out the hereditary sense of jealousy and rivalry prevailing among the outcastes’ society Gulabo, a washerwoman who realises that her beauty has been eclipsed by the blooming adolescence and pristine and youthful elegance of Sohini. Her voluptuous breasts without apron and its aesthetic appeal seems to be invincible rival. It is a measure of Anand’s artistic integrity that he does not idealise the untouchable, even when he condemns the caste-Hindus.

      The Sohini-at-well scene marks a crucial stage in the building up of the action of the novel. The scene culminates into ‘the molestation-scene’ or ‘the pollution-scene’ in the temple. It gives a retrospective view of the pre independent Indian caste Hindu society that denied not only the basic amenities of life, but are also exploited sexually.

The Poignant Scene

      The humiliation of Bakha in the market of the town of Bulashah is another poignant scene. Bakha goes to the city to sweep the Bazar in absence of Lakha. In spite of dearth of money he summons his courage to buy jalebis because he is aware of the fact that life is ephemeral and death can befall him any moment without any prior notice. He speculates over his wish to taste jalebis in rational and philosophic terms: “Eight annas in my pocket,” he said to himself, “dare I buy some sweetmeats? If my father comes to know that I spend all my money on sweets” he decided to suppress (or resist) his wish, “but come, I have only one life to live”, he speculated, “let me have a taste of the sweet; who knows, tomorrow I may be no more”. He is so absorbed in euphoria and fancy of having a taste of sweet delicacy that he forgets to call out “Posh, posh, sweeper coming” and he confronts a caste Hindu, and touches him all accidentally. He is abused and chastised for his transgression caste Hindu code. He becomes mute sufferer of all taunts, abuse and curse. He is helpless. He is too embarrassed to respond to the situation. He can not defend himself however innocent he may be because his offense is so serious. The brutal treatment of Bakha becomes more critical and more condemnable when not a single soul out of the crowd comes to defend him or sympathise with him. Finally a Mohammadan, tongawalla comes to defend because Islam (as well as other major religions of the world except Hinduism) discards untouchability Bakha is the worst victim of callous culture and tradition.

Callousness of the Caste Hindu

      Callousness of the Caste Hindu, is the must pathetic scene in the novel showing the inhumanity of the cast system. Bakha could have retaliated but thousand years of subjugation and servility have exhausted the spirit of revenge and made him a bird whose wings have been mutilated. He can aspire to fly but cannot. When he is surrounded by an agitated crowd he realized he has besieged within unconquerable walls, “his first impulse was to run, just to shoot across the throng, away away far away from the torment. But then he realised that he was surrounded by a barrier, not a physical barrier, because one push from his hefty shoulders would have been enough to unbalance the skeleton like bodies of the Hindu merchants, but a moral one.” The scene is not only touching and heart-rending but a revelation of the fact that Anand has mastery over the psychology of both the untouchables and the caste Hindus.

Desecration of Hindu Culture & Tradition

      The three scenes which happen to be reality which can not be denied by anyone are the “Pollution Scene”, “Sohini at Well,” and “Molestation Scene” and these three incidences have common origin that is “casteism”. It seems quite absurd that a man can desecrate and profane a culture and tradition by simply touching a man who is himself a mortal organism in flesh and blood. Sards Cowasjee explains the scenes in details, “The scene opens with Bakha viewing with awe and respect the twelve-headed and ten-armed gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. His caste has alienated him from his religion, and these deities themselves are subject to defilement. For his kind, the only religion to keep others pure and clean, and with a sweeper’s instinct his gaze falls on the bird-droppings and the leaves and the dust he has come to clean. As he attacks his jobs he hears from inside the temple the names of the various gods—only a few of which he recognises. As if by magic, he is drawn towards the temple and mounts the first two steps. But the oppressed underdog in him exerts itself and he retreats to collect the litter. The urge to see his gods becomes overwhelming as the “temple stood challenge before him” and then “seemed to advance towards him like a monster”. With a sudden onslaught, he captures five of the fifteen steps; another push and he is on the top step, crouched like dog at the door of a banquet hall. The smell of incense, the ritualistic chanting, the hoarse shouts of triumphant worshippers overpower him, and “his hands joined unconsciously and his head hung in the worship of the unknown God.”

      Bakha offers his tribute to his gods and are answered with the cries of “Polluted ! Polluted !” raised by the hypocrite priest who tries to shroud his vice. The devotees of gods and goddesses surround him and all give rent to their own cry that temple is being defiled. Bakha is totally mortified but when he becomes aware of the truth, he becomes violent and moves in giant strides to avenge the sexual harassment of his sister. The pusillanimous crowd is dispersed and disappears. Only the idols and images of gods and goddesses in stones remain in the sanctuary safe and secure in their individual recess. They do not come to defend Bakha rather rebuke Bakha with their placid and apathetic stares.

Dramatic Charisma

      The gist of the scene can be epitomized “weakness corrupts and absolute weakness corrupts absolutely. It also shows that eternal servility is the price of untouchability Bakha may be a tiger, in a cage, helpless and at bay.”

      The episode, in totality remains exact. We are engrossed by sweeper’s obsession for his job, his cynicism towards idols and images, the fanaticism and hypocrisy of the caste Hindu priest and the Pusillanimity of the caste-Hindus who are supposed to be twice born, and Bakha’s urge to avenge the sexual abuse of his sister and abortion of his efforts to do so. The dramatic spell of the novel lies in Bakha’s abortive attempt for liberation from caste-ridden society

      Anand has condemned religious hypocrisy fanaticism, superstition and bigotry. The dramatic scene conveys Anand’s message of social renaissance. The author presents tremendously realistic analysis of the hero’s psychosomatic turmoil when he is subdued by the awful view of the multi-headed and multi-armed gods and goddesses of the caste Hindus. The charismatic and hypnotising spell of the invocation to gods and goddesses (“Ram, Ram, Sri Hari, Narayan, Sri Krishna”, “Hey Hanuman Jodah, Kali Mai,” “Om, Om, Shanti Deva”) attracts him towards the temple like the snake-charmer charms snakes. But the temple is not so benevolent towards him as it seems to be. Anand has castigated and disparaged the religion that denies its follower from having a free access to his deity Anand believes in humanism. He is not afraid of unveiling the truth. He has exposed not more than what exists. The molestation of a young and modest girl by a caste Hindu priest in the sacred premises of a sacred temple seems to be profane and vilification of Hinduism. Anand mocks at the hypocrisy of Hindu religion for its malignant practice of untouchability


      Trauma and humiliations seem to ceaseless and endless for Bakha who represents the outcaste Hindus subjected to untold miseries. Such heart rending scene is ‘Chapati-throwing’. As usual Bakha collects crumbs and leftover food from the temple although he deserves his wages for the works he does for them. In spite of his vigorous and ceaseless hardwork he gets abuses and insults. His cry falls on the deaf ears of the so called caste Hindus who treat him like dog and swine. The way Bakha collects his chapati thrown by a woman who belongs to caste Hindu society is heart-rending. He collects the chapatis as if they were most sumptuous bread for him.

The Hockey Match and Its Significance

      The hockey match in the evening between Bakha and his friends, is another dramatic scene in the novel. The two teams scheduled to play confront in the ground are 31st Punjabis and 38th Dogras which consists of the untouchable boys. The poor boys and untouchable boys depend on the mercy of the privileged babus and sahibs. Anand remarks, “Bakha gets a gift of a brand new fine hockey stick from Havildar Charat Singh, the same afternoon, a short while before the commencement of the match. He is in high spirits and even forgets traumatic experiences of the earlier part of the same day. Flourishing his hockey stick, he says to his friends that he would score no end of goals with it.

      The zealous boys young and energetic enough, gather in the playground near the outcastes’ colony for the proposed match as the scheduled time for it approaches. A babu’s pretty little son brings a new hockey, stick for Chota, the virtual Captain of his side. But Chota discourages and deprecates him by denying him entry in the team. The boy feels dismayed. Bakha comes to the front to defend him and pleads for him but fails. Bakha has got instinct of a reformer who is compelled by his inner urge to fight for the cause of the poor. But he has to suppress his benevolent urge because he belongs to the outcaste community. He sympathises with the poor and the down trodden.

      Anand portrays a lively picture of the match, “It was an extraordinary spectacle. The crowed of the boys in the field hopped to and fro like grasshoppers. There was no organization in the game they played. The rules of the game had hardly any meaning for them. When Bakha is about to win and drives the ball into the space between the posts and the goal keeper (of the opposite side) spitefully strikes a low on his (Bakhas) legs. The game at once turns into a fight. The boys of the two sides attack each other scratching, hitting, kicking, yelling. Sticks and stones come in full use.”

      The babu’s young little son gets wounded as a stone from Ram Charan’s hand hit him badly on the head. Bakha gathers him in his strong arms as he is moved to see his head bleeding profusely and rushes to his home. Bakha expects that his mother would appreciate him for his noble and humanitarian deal but he is unnerved to see the manner his mother reciprocate his good deed, “you eater of your masters, you dirty sweeper. What have you done to my son?” Bakha is dejected and dismayed. He hands over the child and retreats.

      As Anand remarks: “Descending down to it, with his nostrils full of fresh air, and his heart as light as the spirits of the sparrows which chirped, Bakha seemed nevertheless unaroused and unresponsive as a child turning aside from every wayside flower, for though he had the receptivity of the man who is willing to lend his senses to experience, he had unenlightened will. Necessity had forced him to the contemplation, of the charm of nature, merely superficially Heredity had furrowed no deep grooves in his soul where flower could grow a grass abound. The cumulative influence of careful selection and imprisoned his free will in the shackles of slavery to the dreary routine of one occupational environment. He could not reach out from the narrow and limited personality he had inherited to his larger yearnings.”

      The novel obviously reflects that Untouchable is constructed in scenes, and the scenes are quite moving, and dramatic.

University Questions

Discuss the elements of pathos in Untouchable.
The Sohini molestation episode, the pollution scene in the market are the most poignant. Elucidate.
Critically examine that the artistic accomplishment of Untouchable lies in its construction in scenes.
The well episode reflects the pathetic plight of the outcaste Hindus during 1930s. Explain.
Elucidate the dramatic significance of the hockey match.

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