Coolie by Mulk Raj Anand - Chapter 1 Summary

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      The chapter opens with the loud call for Munoo ‘Munoo ohe Munoo oh Mundu’ by Gujri, the aunt of Munoo. She goes on shouting for Munoo again and again even using abusive language such as “where have you died? Where have you drifted, you of the evil star? Where have you gone, ominous orphan? Come back and be gone!” Her loud, piercing voice echoed through the valley but Munoo turns a deaf ear to her.

      Munoo is an orphan child who is living with his uncle Daya Ram and his aunt, Gujri, as a burden in the family. They wanted the boy to be sent to town to earn his livelihood. She says that he is fourteen years old and so, he should earn right now. He is studying in class V of the school of his native village Bilaspur. His childhood is now passing in the idyllic surroundings of this village and grazing cattle on the bank of the river Beas.

      He gets busy playing with his friends while his buffaloes and cows enter the low waters of the marsh where they now chew their cud and find time to enjoy there the fruit of the season. Munoo has no equal in plucking mangoes or hopping from tree to tree. One of Munoo’s friends Jay Singh, son of the village landlord, nudges him with his elbow, pointing out that his aunt is tired of shouting for him but he does not respond to her anymore. Jay Singh is the rival for the leadership as Munoo is the leader of the village boys. Jay Singh had came to know that Munoo is to depart for town this time to do some jobs clearing his way for his leadership. Therefore, he talks him abruptly saying that he has no manners because he is avoiding her aunt. Bishan, the other friend of Munoo also pleads him not to care for his aunt since she wants to send him on some errand. Another friend of Munoo named Bishambar wants to know whether he is really going away to town. Munoo replies that he is really going away to town this morning. He tells his friends that his aunt wants him work and his uncle has got him a job in the house of the Babu of the bank where he works as a peon in Sham Nagar. Jay Singh was jealous of him that he was going to live in town where he would have beautiful days. But Jay Singh remarks favourably to him by saying it is nice to live in Shyam Nagar. Munoo smiled at this, but his smile was not the smile of welcome. He rather wished to hit his jaw that he could never try to occupy the post of leadership of the boys. On the other hand, he harboured anguish against Jay Singh because he had vague idea that his father, the landlord had ruined his family He had seized his father’s five acres of land in lieu of interest on the money he had borrowed from him. He was also aware of the fact that his father had died a slow death of bitterness and disappointment and left his mother a penniless beggar, to support a young brother-in-law and a child in arms. He saw how his mother had drugged hard to make both ends meet. Her mother spent her life in ‘grinding grain between the scarred surface of mill-stones which she gyrated round and round, by the wooden handle, now with her right hand, now with her left, day and night’. It had left indelible imprint on the child’s mind. Also the sight of her mother as she had laid dead on the ground with a horrible, yet sad, set expression on her face had sunk deep into him. Jay Singh asked Munoo and wanted to know whether he would like to come back to village again. Munoo pretended that he would never like to return although in reality he did not want to go to the town. As he had dreamt of all the wonderful things of the cities, but he had desired to go to town only after passing all his examinations here and was ready to learn to make machines himself.

      Moreover Munoo was not interested at all to go to town because he found he had abundant delights in countryside. He found it most pleasant to be in the company of his friends and eat the fruit they had stolen during grazing their cattle in the morning. They enjoyed themselves the seasonal fruits, the ripe yellow mangoes dropped by dozens in the spring, and the purple and red jamuns and long green mulberries which fell in sickly profusion during the summer. In the winter it was tempting to suck stolen sugar-canes and arousing no suspicion in the farmers, who drowsed lazily in his siesta. There were many other interesting and enjoyable games in the village that Munoo and his friends used to play. Munoo was a genius at climbing trees. He would jump on the branches of the trees like monkeys. The cool breeze of the hills soothed the fatigue of their body and relieved the natural heat. Munoo had all the beauty of the nature to be enjoyed at most—such as the tray cracked in the shallows and the singing of the swans and birds, the beautiful sight of the butterflies which flitted over the wild flowers and the buzzing of insects over the pollar for honey. All these lavish beauty made Munoo’s blood run in tune with it. The chief temptation the cities had for him was that of machines which come to the village and he had no other reasons to leave the village and go to the city. In the meanwhile his aunt’s voice approached again. His aunt’s face, “with its hard jaws its bright red-corned eyes, its sharp nose and thin lips all in a malevolent framework of dark hair, flashed across his mind”. Hence lie did not make any further delay and called his cattle and drove them back to hut.

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