Coolie by Mulk Raj Anand - Chapter 2 Summary

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Sham Nagar

      Munoo and his uncle, Daya Ram are on the way to the town Sham Nagar to get a job for the little Munoo. His uncle is constantly urging the child to walk at a quicker pace. The child is too tired to stride with the long steps of his uncle as they have already covered the distance of ten miles, and his feet are blistered. When he can walk no longer he sets down to nurse his bare feet which had become sore and weary after a haunting journey. Further, the sun had also added more misery to his life. The heat of the sun had made Munoo’s face flush, and made him perspire profusely. His eyes were strained. He did not feel himself to be a young boy. Despite his bad condition, his uncle does not allow him to take any rest for any length of time because he is afraid of being late for his duty at the bank. Daya Ram is a chaprasi in the Imperial Bank of Sham Nagar and therefore, he shows his importance of the position he occupied in the service of the Angrezi Sarkar, to his nephew and the rustic passers by.

      Munoo complains of acute pain in his feet and his uncle merely promises to buy him a pair of shoes out of his next month's pay. Just then a cart passes by them, and Munoo urged his uncle to ask the driver to give him a lift. But his uncle forbade him saying that the driver would demand money and he has no money to pay for it. Daya Ram said these words loudly so that the driver might hear him and offer him a free lift. The cart driver asked him bluntly not to feel proud of his chaprasihood and put the boy on the back of the cart, noticing Daya Ram's manners, the cart-driver asked him to get on the cart but Daya Ram behaved unmannerly to the cart driver and threatened Munoo to kill him if he did not move fast, turning toward him with his white teeth flashing. Munoo was helpless and he cursed his uncle in his mind because he knew that his uncle's threats could led to actual blows. Therefore, he followed his uncle without uttering any word. Munoo trudged along the winding road, going down hill to the plains below. After covering a few hundred yards, his feet bore the burning earth more easily. He avoided the stones by hopping over them and it gave occasional relief to his soles by walking on his toes. Moreover, Munoo was very cheerful when he saw, at the foot of the hill, a large number of tali flat-roofed, houses, crowded, in irregular groups round the red stone minarets of mosques and the golden homes of temples at the end of the journey to the town. Munoo had an exciting experience when he reached Sham Nagar. “He stared wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the marvels of different carriages, two-wheeled, box-like bamboo carts and tongas, four-wheeled phaetons and landaus and huge, rubber-wheeled, black-bodied phat-phaties which seemed to him curious as they ran without horses on the main road. And, wonder of all wonders, he saw a black iron vehicle with two round humps like the humps of a desert camel, with hosts of little brown houses, studded with glass windows behind it, rushing along furiously puffing out a foul black smoke and shrieking hysterically. It blow a shrill whistle and made his heart leap to his throat.” Munoo considers that a rail gari is an animal. But he wanted to know many things which are around him and his uncle makes him aware of those things by and by Munoo asks his uncle where is the cattle which the people of the town graze and where are the fields they plough. His uncle replies with great uprightness that they have no cattle and no fields here, and adds further that it is only the rustics in the villages who graze cattle and plough the land. His queries continue and he asks how do they get their food, his uncle replies pompously that they have money they have scores of rupees in his Bank. Some are babus who work in offices, like the babu in whose house he is going to be a servant. Munoo goes forward but he is caught by the sight of and the aroma of food in the cook-shops and sight of the sweets in a sweet-shops fascinated him and made his mouth water. He is equally excited to see a phonogram which he considers as a man singing in a wooden box. He barely escaped being knocked into the gutter by two-wheeled steel horse as he watched it strangely. In addition, he had to hear abusive words “Ohe, illegally begotten you will be killed idiot. However, the toy seller consoled him saying ‘the proper way to treat abuse is to let come in one ear and go out the other.” This statement brought a smile on Munoo's face. However, his uncle shouted and struck him on the face and he began to cry. Munoo followed his uncle resentful and disheartened. He thought that the fellow on the steel horse had been the cause of his being punished, as he had come to grief fifty yards ahead, having collided with a calf which strayed about among the crowds of men and woman near the fruit-shops at the cross-roads.

      They moved through the narrow streets, congested with rows of shops, the regular pattern of whose awnings was broken, hereby the sudden rift of a shadowy lane or a dark grimy gully thereby bright patches of sunlight, seemed beautiful to him. Munoo felt more surprised to see the right of some hill folk carrying weight on their backs. At last, they reached near the bank building by which Daya Ram had stopped to wait for him.

Babu Nathoo Rain’s House

      Daya Ram takes Munoo to Babu Nathoo Ram, the sub-accountant of the Imperial Bank. Babu was in urgent need of a boy-servant. Munoo felt shy and was confused by the strange environment. Daya Ram introduced the boy as his nephew, whom he had brought for his service. Babu asked his uncle to take him to his house and put him in charge of Bibiji. Munoo was at once engaged on a salary of five rupees a month including his boarding and lodging.

      Daya Ram accompanied by Munoo approached Babu's house where they met his wife. Her full name is Bibi Uttam Kaur. She accepts Munoo as her domestic servant in her home. Babu has two daughter—Sheila and Lila—and his brother, Babu Prem Nath, a student of medicine, as other members of his family.

      Munoo had thought that he would be able to sit down when he reached the destination and he expected to be served food, according to the custom which prevails in all Indian homes of offering food to guests. Instead he was asked to go to Babu to purchase some vegetables and send them home through him. The child realised that it might not be the custom of the town to allow visitors or guest to have a rest or take food. Munoo found that Bibiji was much worse than his aunt, who never abused or cursed so violently Munoo is much terrified at the torrent curses that flow out of Bibiji.

      Munoo was tired and exhausted after returning from the market and he was given a loaf of stale pancake. He fell asleep in a corner of the kitchen of the house before the night meal had been prepared. He had a disturbed night, and sleep did not come to the weary Munoo. He could not keep his eyes closed, as he had been used to getting up early in the morning in his village and he was asked to wake up and serve the Babuji his dinner. Next morning, Munoo woke up and had a good look at the various things around him. He saw plates of burnished brass with black-bottom bed, bronze sauce pans and tumblers of aluminium mixed with children toys, and glass bottles, big and small, bottles of medicine like the labelled bottles in a dirty condition. There were also sacks of Hour and lentils and huge wooden boxes and tins. There were two dirty shirts and alpaca jacket hanging from pegs in walls, two enormous coloured pictures. Wood fuel lay heaped in one corner. And there were heaps of old and new clothes, while several bundles of quilts and blankets kept on the ceiling. On a separate shelf, there were some utensils of china clay, which seemed to the boy to be macle of some kind of ‘white chalk’. The glossy surface of the utensils of polished white chalk fascinated him. The novelist describes the state of mind of the boy:

“His eyes lit with that impish curiosity which had always made him to go out hunting for birds’ eggs in the trees, the bushes and the rocks. His heart fluttered with the light easy throb with which it had beaten when he had gone stealing fruit from the gardens. He felt the lure of adventure in his bones.”

      Suddenly he sprang to his feet and tiptoed to the door facing him. And he saw a tiny room congested with two huge beds, several trunks and a little child’s vehicle. He found Babu lying on a bed with his face sunk sideways into a pillow there was an angular heap which curled up under a sheet on another bed was of Bibiji he guessed. He then peered through a half open doorway to his sight. Then he saw a man lying on a clean white bed in the middle of the room, he was almost white faced as the sahib in the basket hat. He then saw that the medley of objects in the room was being neatly arranged. There was a vast table in one corner, majestic chairs, photographs and calendars, toys of coloured clay among which was the effigy of Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of sagacity Munoo, lastly came to know that the man who lay asleep on a clean while bed was Babuji’s younger brother Prem, the Chota Babu. While he was asleep he turned on his side and muttered in his sleep.

      “Vay Mundu; are you awake?” Munoo got scared. His heart beats faster. He was breathless for a moment. He expressed wonder as to whether it was the thumping of his feet that had awaken Bibiji and then a voice come and engaged him to work. Further Munoo wanted to know where Bibiji's elder daughter was.

Munoo’s Humiliation

      Munoo moves round of his mistress’s house to see the things around him. And as he went to the kitchen, he felt the sudden urge to relieve himself and to take a bath. He did not know where he should go to relieve as he did not see any lavatory attached to the house or any open fields for the same but houses all about. In the meanwhile, he felt he could not control himself any longer and ran
to the wall outside the house and defeated himself there. His mistress called him instantly and hearing no response to her call she became angry at him and showered many abuses on him. “Munoo felt the blood rushing to his face. His brain seemed to be submerged in darkness. The whole house was awake. Babu’s younger brother, Prem came but lie had a soft corner to the newly appointed servant and said that he ought to have told him the place where he was to defecate himself. Babu also showed his anger towards Munoo but lastly, he turned to his wife and said, ‘Why did not you tell him where it was?” Chota Babu did not want anybody to frighten him or he will make more of a mess. He then asks for tea to Sheila and asks her if her mother is too angry to give him tea. Sheila’s mother listened to him and replied that she should see the stupid boy firstly. Here the readers enjoy the humour the discomfiture of Bibiji and the witty reply of Chota Babu.

Munoo’s Maltreatment

      Munoo got fresh himself from all mishappening and then got himself prepared to clean the utensils. Sheila came to help him but she was stopped to do so by her mother and she said let that good for nothing pig do some work for a change. Munoo now had a very close eye on his mistress’ movements. She was a hypocrite. The novelist comments: “She was an orthodox Hindu, and knew that her husbands and brother-in-law's Mohammedan friends had drunk tea out of the cups and saucers.” She asks Munoo to wash his hands carefully; before touching anything in the kitchen and on the other hand, she herself ignores even the most basic principles of hygiene. She made the tea out of the water of the boiled eggs which was seen by the boy Instead she told him not to look at what she was doing. Because she felt that she was caught being defiled. Now she was confused. Her face was livid with anger Munoo found himself that the woman is not considerate anymore and she is really an aweful woman. He is happy because Prem Babu is in the house. One morning he hurriedly washed the utensils and rushed into the house and his feet were not dried. As he is asked by Chota Babu to clean his feet on that mattress which is for that purpose, Munoo felt encouraged. Seeing that Chota Babu did not forbid him to come in, Munoo felt emboldened. Next, he goes round and round dancing with awkward, silly movement making faces, showing teeth like a real monkey. She heard the noise and and her voice came shrill and hard and chilled the atmosphere and everything became shrill in a moment. She then rebuked Munoo for joining the laughter of his superiors. He hurried to kitchen immediately. Further, she says to him “Your place is here in the kitchen! you must not enter the sports of the Chota Babu and the children. You must get on quickly with work in the house! There is no time to loose and so on.”

      Munoo leads a very miserable life in the home of Babu Nathoo Ram. He has to tolerate the torrent of abuses and curses at every sort of matter whether he is at fault or not. Munoo now realises that it is better to ask him to set the things right rather making any mistake. Bibiji asks him to take the tea to the Chota Babuji. Munoo is incapable of carrying the whole tray and asks Bibiji “How shall I carry them?” It directly shows that he is very fearful within and no longer does he want to make any mistake so that he may not be abused and cursed in future. Instead of getting a positive response he was called a thick headed boy by Bibiji.

      Munoo on the other hand talked of his own aunt and said that inspite of her dark, brooding hatred of him she did the housework herself untiringly uncomplainingly and quickly. He remembered that he had often volunteered in a rush of sympathy to sweep the floor, to treat it with antiseptic cow-dung and to run errands for her. The only quarrel between himself and his aunt, he realised, was that she could not have children, and people talked ill for her barrenness. Otherwise, he remembered how often she had taken him in her arms and kissed him, and how often he had gone to sleep embracing her. But this woman seemed to hate him for nothing. Munoo is of the opinion that Babu Nathoo Ram himself is not bad at heart, but he is a henpecked husband unable to control his wife.

      He realised that Chota Babu was nice. He opined about Burra Babu and said ‘he was all right, because one could avert one's eyes from him’. Further he wanted to make a violent criticism of her but he checked his mind because he felt as if he had abused her and she might some how come to know of his thoughts and take him to task for it.

      Munoo was glad and fascinated to see various marvelous and the most mysterious things in the house. He saw the machine with teeth, the sharp razor, the silk clothes of the Babus their fine boots and so on. However, once Bibiji caught him red handed for she had heard him talking to Babus in the sitting room of the joy of his discovery—sharpening machine. She reprimanded him saying. “Is there no work that you are wasting your time?” She told him to work in the kitchen. After that he started working in the house. worked and simultaneously being a child he looked the various photographs. “He scrutinised everything with wonder and love,
tracing the colours, the shapes and sizes of all things enquiring into their meaning”. He asked himself what is written in that book; how does the voice arise from the box. She ordered him to do some other work immediately. Later he sat down to cook under her orders. Munoo's uncle soon came to fetch the midday meal for Babuji and for Sheila and asked him ‘Do you like it here?’ Bibiji was there. So he answered: ‘I like it’: “He (Munoo) burst out weeping on the way and complained about the hard, bitter life which he had since he arrived, especially about Bibijis continual nagging”, Day a Ram said to him that being a servant he must not mind what they said. He must grow up and work. Munoo's wild self came back and he could have hit his uncle when he said that his mother has spoiled him and his aunt was too kind to him.

      On his uncle's return Bibiji gave him two chapatis and spoonful of lentils and vegetables. “He had to eat with his hands, being considered too low in status to be allowed to eat off the utensils.” Munoo felt much insulted and humiliated being treated as an untouchable. He had to eat on his hands.

      One morning Munoo asked himself ‘What am I—Munoo?’ as he lay wrapped in his blanket. ‘I am Munoo, Babu Nathoo Ram’s servant’, the answer came to his mind. A further question occurred in his mind ‘why am I here in this house?’ ‘Because my uncle brought me here to earn my living.’ The waves in his brain struggled to flow He could probably get me the job of a chaprasi like himself or a job in someone else’s house. Further Munoo was distracted by the delicious sweets and he was fond of rasgullas and gulab jamuns for which his mouth watered in his village. But Chota Babu gave him a small portion whenever Bibiji was not looking. The marvelous clothes and shoes of the Babus which raised glorious vision in Munoo’s heart. Munoo knew that Chota Babu was very kind though very clever too. Because he read the messages of people’s hearts and told them what diseases they were suffering from. Munoo was an orphan boy and he wanted to be loved by someone else. “But he was as yet essentially an effectual ‘pawn on the chess board of destiny’ such as the village priest had declared all men to be, with perverted ambition in a world of perverted ideas, and he was to remain a slave until he should come to recognise his instincts. Moreover, he thought that the people in household were superior to the hill-folk and even to the retired Subedar of the village and Jay Singh’s father, the landlord. He then convinced himself that he was a slave therefore, he promised himself again that he would be a good servant, a perfect model of a servant.

W.P. England Visits Babu’s House: Munoo’s Humiliation

      One afternoon Babu Nathoo Ram invited W.P. England the chief cashier of the Sham Nagar branch of the Imperial Bank of India, to a tea party. He had a good-natured smile on his lips and this encouraged Babu Nathoo Ram at the tea party and this way be would be able to secure his recommendation to support his application for an increase in salary and promotion to the position of the accountant in the bank. Mr. England reached the house and he was warmly welcomed by all the members of the family. Babu Nathoo Ram introduced the members of the family to Mr. England and showed him a photograph of himself and his wife taken on the occasion of his marriage. His younger brother Dr. Prem Chand played a record of Indian music, a ghazal. Nathoo Ram proudly said, that it was Indian music, sung by Miss Janki Bai of Allahabad. He then introduced his elder daughter Sheila to the new guest. Mr. England was served some Indian sweet along with tea. Babu Nathoo Ram went on serving his plate with Indian sweets but he is not in a mood to take more. At this Babu asked him if he did not care for Indian sweets, then he is requested to take English made pastry that he had specially ordered from stifles. However, he said ‘No, thanks and declined to take them because of hot weather, a plausible excuse he made instantly. Babu thought that it was the right opportunity to please him to get the recommendation made but sahib did not become indebted to him. Because he was not enjoying the party in a happy mood. The sahib told Babu to make arrangement for the tea as he is in a hurry. He was a very busy man and this fact is obviously known to Babu. Babu ordered Munoo to bring the tea. Munoo was hurrying in with the tea-tray. When he heard his master’s call, he scurried. The tea-tray fell from his hands. All the China lay scattered on the kitchen floor. “Babu Nathoo Ram’s heart sank. He had spent ten rupees of his well-earned money on the tea-party. And it had all gone to waste.” Dr. Prem Chand poured the remains of the tea and milk with cup and brought it on a neat saucer and paid a facetious smile to Munoo so that he could not get scared and cowed Bibiji into a forced restraint. On the other hand, Mr. England also told him not to care how many cups and saucers he had broken since Japanese tea-set only cost one rupee twelve annas. He then left the house of Babu without reaching any conclusion. Thus the tea-party ended in a fiasco.

      Dr. Prem Chand went into the kitchen for the sake of enjoying the sweets. He then heard that his sister-in-law was shouting at Munoo and abusing him sharply. She had even slapped the boy on his cheeks after the departure of the visitor and only the intervention of Prem Babu saved the boy from further punishment. Bibiji offered him the turnip curry which was the remainders of her husband’s plate. He had refused to eat the turnip curry. She called her husband and told him that he did not take the curry nor he cleaned the utensils and he was going to see his uncle to have lunch with him. Babu took him to task and asked him why he had not taken the food he was offered. In addition, he asked him “Are you the son of a nawab, that you turn your nose up at turnips? Go now, go and eat rice and dal with your uncle”.

Dayaram’s Apathy Towards Munoo

      Having taken no meal at his master’s house Munoo came to his uncle to share meal with him. He had infact, yearned for rice and dal which was brought from home by his uncle. On reaching his uncle’s house Munoo poured all the details of his sufferings in Babu’s house into the ears of his uncle. Daya Ram was sleeping after the lunch. He became upset then. The boy being hungry asked his uncle for food. But his uncle told him angrily that no food was left because he had come late. Munoo then requested his uncle to give him some money so that he could eat at a cook shop. Daya Ram abused him and said that he could not maintain his clothes and shoes for him, out of his meagre salary. Munoo replied hesitantly ‘But you haven’t got me clothes. I am wearing the ragged tunic which Bibiji gave me, and you haven’t brought me any shoes.’ His uncle could not supress his anger and he shook the boy roughly and struck him blow after blow in the ribs. Munoo started crying and said to his uncle that he only wanted food. His uncle did not believe that he had been detained by his mistress and beat him again and again in order to make him confess that he had been vagabondishing. His uncle beat him mercilessly and he did not want to listen to any complain about them again. He again rebuked him for lowering his prestige by breaking his sahib’s China tea-set. He asked Munoo to go and stick to Babu’s family if he valued his life or he will kill him. Thus he sent him back and asked him to ask Bibiji to give him some food— because he had neither food nor sympathy for him. He then picked up the boy and turned him out.

      The way his uncle treated him was not expected by Munoo and it created hatred in his heart for his uncle.

A Quarrel

      Munoo had to fetch water from the public tap where other servants also came for the same. The other servants like Varma often made fun of Munoo. He always had to hear nasty talk of his mistress. Varma called another servant Lahnu to give a blow to Munoo. Both of them assaulted Munoo. Munoo also fought back ferociously but he did not prove to be a match for them. Thus he was struck violently on the head. His wound was dressed by Dr. Babu, but he had a high fever, and remained lying in his corner of the kitchen in a semi-conscious state for several days and nights. Bibiji now directed her anger towards the neighbour and a hot exchange of abusive language took place between herself and Varma’s mistress. His uncle had come to see him but Munoo now hated him intensely The thought that passed through Munoo’s mind constantly was that it was not caste but money that mattered which decided a person’s position in life.

Munoo’s Defame

      After recovery from injuries Munoo once again became engaged in his household services and got busy in scrubbing utensils, cleaning vegetables, sweeping the floor and so on. This drudgery was occasionally punctuated by song and laughter when he would have the opportunity of dancing to the tune of gramophone record, sometimes with the children of the Babu. However, this impishness of Munoo brought him into great disgrace. Shiela and her friends were in the sitting room and Sheila was dancing with them. Munoo after his work done burst into the sitting room and mixed with them. Sheila and her friend asked him to go away She caught him by the hair, dragged him out of the room. Sheila pulled the boy’s ear harder and harder. Munoo got disgraced and turned round, sprang upon her and beat her on her cheeks. Bibiji took him to task. Munoo again and again pleaded to be forgiven but Babu kicked him, slapped him and then struck him repeatedly with a stick. After that Munoo decided not to stay there anymore and slunk out of the house. Munoo’s Escape Munoo ran down the hill, pushed through the bazars of the town, crossed the railway lines, stumbled several times in his panic and got hurt, and lastly, he reached the railway godown. He could hear the whistle of a shunting engine but fortunately, it was at quite some distance. Some railway carriages stood on the line and he got into them. He fell on a hard baord from where he sank to the floor. He hid himself under a seat. He felt hot and suffocated as he lay under a seat covered with dust and sweat. He relaxed as the train started and it took Munoo to some unknown destination away from Shamnagar.

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