Untouchable is A Piece of Propaganda

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Allegation of Propaganda

      Anand has often been alleged to be propaganda, chiefly because of his early novels like Untouchable and Coolie. The early novels are focussed on the pathetic and deplorable plight of the waifs and the underdogs. Anand advocates for their fundamental human rights like human beings. He portrays their plight and social ambience with feeling and realism. But Anand has not been alleged of propaganda or being a propagandist for choosing a particular theme. Propaganda implies misinformation, distortion or falsification of truth in order to influence public feeling and to project a particular point of view or to justify some predetermined notions and theories. Anand was aware of the fact that he has been alleged of being a propagandist and he vehemently discards the allegation, in most forceful words possible.

Anand: A Writer with Sublime Pursuit

      Anand does not believe in the theory of “art for art’s sake.” Anand is committed to use his art for upliftment of the waits and the untouchable and to alleviate the suffering of human beings around him. He sympathised with people and took keen interest in their condition. As a writer with sublime pursuit, he wanted to improve that condition. His philanthropic spirit made him a writer with a mission, his mission being commiserating with and alleviating the sorrow and suffering of the unfortunate underdogs of society. But harping a particular theme does not make a writer a propagandist. All art pursue certain view of life. Thus all art should be called a propaganda. Mulk Raj Anand remarks, “All art is propaganda. The art of Ajanta is a propaganda for Buddhism. The art of Ellora is propaganda for Hinduism. The art of Western novel is propaganda for humanity against the bourgeoisie. Gorky as a humanist dared to speak of man, man’s condition, only not to say how awful it is, but he also suggested what man could be. And thus he did propaganda for man.”

Distortion of Art into Propaganda

      A writer is always known for his vision that he wants to disseminate, driven by his purpose to ameliorate the lot of the poor, deprived and neglected. It is the purpose or objective of the writer which makes art sublime or degenerate. What transform art into propaganda are: distortion of truth or misinformation, being over pedantic, lack of impartiality in the presentation of the selected theme and imposing personal solution to the existing problem. Let us critically examine Untouchable to find, how far Anand has avoided such faults.

Anand’s Objectivity and Reliability

      As E.M. Forster remarks, “Untouchable could only have been written by an Indian, and by an Indian who observed from the outside. No European, however sympathetic, could have created the character of Bakha, because he would not have known enough about his troubles. And no untouchable could have written the book, because he would have been involved in indignation and self-pity.” The theme of novel being social injustice and inequality and discrimination against the outcastes is thousand years old. During 1930s when the practice of untouchability was at its peak no one could dare speaking against the tyrant and oppressive caste Hindus. Therefore to make a sweeper the hero of his hovel was an audacious, intrepid and revolutionary departure for an Indian author. But it was Anand’s: passion and determination which made him bold enough to face the wrath of the caste Hindus. Very few writers took interest in filth, squalor and dirt of sweepers’ physical society But Anand was a progressive revolutionary and well equipped to embark upon the ! subject. E.M. Forster concludes, “Mr. Anand stands in the ideal position. By caste he is a Kshatriya, and he might have been expected to inherit the pollution complex. But as a child he played with the children of the sweepers attached to an Indian regiment, he grew to be fond of them and to understand a tragedy which he did not share. He has just the right mixture of insight and detachment, and the fact that he has come to fiction through philosophy has given him depth.”

Anand: An Eye-Witness to Untouchability

      Anand castigates Hindu culture and tradition because he is on sure ground. In Hindu society the untouchables are treated as pigs and are compelled to live sub-human lives. They have no privilege among the orthodox and fanatic Hindus. To quote Forster again, “the Indians have evolved a hideous nightmare unknown to the West: the belief that the products are ritually unclean as well as physically unpleasant, and that those who carry them away or otherwise help to dispose of them are outcastes from society Really it takes human mind to evolve anything so. devilish. No animal could have hit on it.” Anand himself has lived among untouchables. So he witnessed oppressive caste-system. Consequently, he developed an insight into the pyschology of the caste-Hindus and the untouchable.

Psychological Precision

      Anand has very precise psychological grip and he understands the psychology of both the untouchable and the caste Hindu. He is impartial and unbiased in his approach to malicious and malignant practice of untouchability Anand does not exaggerate or distort them. He withstands the temptation dividing his characters into sheep and goats. Neither all caste Hindus are orthodox, fanatic and heartless nor all untouchables are admirable. Havildar Charat Singh stands in full contrast with the hypocritical priest Pandit Kali Nath. Charat Singh is broad minded, liberal and radical, while Kalinath is a debauch and conservative. The novel has exposed that even high caste Hindu can be benevolent and benefactor. And Bakha reveals that all untouchables are not mere dirt because they clean dirt. Bakha feels, “I would not mind being a sweeper all my life. I would do anything for him.” Bakha’s feeling reflects that the untouchables are never ungrateful and arrogant. They oblige to human love and sympathy.

No Utopian Ideology

      It is this practical impartiality and equipoise which save the book from dry moralising and monotonous preeching. There is no tear mongering over the deplorable plight of the untouchable. Anand has discarded false sentimentality and pseudo-emotions. The situation which arouse emotions are very down-to-earth. Nothing seems exotic or alien. The plight of the untouchable, the pollution episode in the market, the sexual molestation of Sohini, Sohini at well, all are down-to-earth. The theme is not far-fetched.

Impartiality and Equipoise

      Saros Cowasjee remarks, “What immediately strikes the reader is the gentle and balanced writing which does not at the first impact move us to instant indignation. It is only after we have put the book aside and ruminated on Bakha’s fate that the full implication of the tragedy becomes explicit—a tragedy of a large section of mankind condemned to pariahdom of which there is no parallel in human history Anand wisely opens (his novels) on a low key and the most violent incident in the novel is only a slap that Bakha receives from a caste Hindu. I have said only for not long ago in a village in Ambikapur a 22 year old pregnant woman was offered to the gods as human sacrifice. And it is reported that between 1966 and 1968 no fewer than 1100 untouchables were done to death. Anand could have inflicted any torture he wished on his hero and remained fully within the bounds of credibility The temptation must had been strong, for the novel compasses a single day of which the most have to be made. But whether he could have moved us more than he does now is doubtful. The book gains much of its strength from the author’s depiction of an emotional crisis in his hero’s life quietly and without hysteria and from the treatment of a political subject without political jargon.”

A Reasonable Commitment & Conviction

      Anand is very firm on the line of impartility and equipoise. He is impartial because he does not belong to the outcaste community in spite of that he has got intimate knowledge of the plight of the underdogs. He develops penetrating insight into their psyche. He commiserates with them but he is not carried away by his emotion and sentiment. He is very objective about the life and sufferings of the pariahs. Anand had correct perspective, hence the authenticity and objectivity of his writing. Anand himself remarks, “the novelist should try to become the great God, Brahma, who creates mankind, but is not responsible for it, that is to say does not determine their destiny. Distance is very important in art, because art, though like I life, and reflecting it, is not life. Literature and life are not parallel developments”. And further he says, “as the painter corrects his perspective by moving away from the canvas and looking at his picture from a certain distance, so the novelist tends to create a structure, a unity out of the contrary and discordant element, by adopting the attitude of God Almighty both creating the world and looking at his creation from a far.”

Unpretentious Accomplishment

      If a writer is an accomplished and gifted artist and merely someone who distorts and degenerates theme into a propaganda he should treat the theme very delicately. It is essential to maintain a perfect unity of form and content, and of course it is this unity which Anand has achieved in the novel. He has discarded everything superfluous and the novel is characterised by its precision.

The Conclusion

      The element of propaganda in the concluding part of the novel mars its many artistic merits. Bakha-Hutchinson episode is lengthy and uninteresting and abortive. Gandhi episode is an artistic blemish. I The long speech of the poet Iqbal is an expression of Anand’s own I penchant for the machine. Critics are not unanimous on conclusion. I They are of diverse opinion. E.M. Forster calls it unsatisfactory. The Evening News calls the end ‘unconvincing’. The Glasgow Herald remarked, “It is an ending which might have been dispensed with.” But Julian Symons, an important critic says, “Plumbing plus goodwill can destroy caste system. That was Anand’s view at the time, but it has proved too simple.”

University Questions

Critically examine that Untouchable is a piece of propaganda.
In the novel Anand holds a brief for the waifs and outcastes of society. Explain.
Anand is a crusader against untouchability and he advocates the cause of the untouchables. Justify.
To what extent Anand is successful in his objectivity and impartiality in the treatment of his theme.
Bring out Anand’s missionary zeal to change the plight of the untouchables from your reading of Untouchable.

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