Humour, Pathos, satire and Irony in The Novel Coolie

Also Read

Heart-rending Account of the Suffering and Misery (Pathos)

      The way Anand has expressed the heart-rending account of the suffering and misery of the poor in his great masterpiece Coolie. There is no doubt of his being an angry man of the thirties. Coolie is an epic of misery giving a harrowing picture of the period, specially the misery and suffering of the poor like coolies and their exploitation through the means of the British forces—like machines (Industry). Hence the dominant feature of the novel is that of pathos. According to the novelist “the poor are the victims of social, colonial, capitalistic and communal exploitation”. Hence, the picture of the poor and their suffering is both pathetic and genuine.

      Munoo's life is full of pathos. There is a pathetic account of suffering and misery in his life. We have a moving account of suffering in the life of the poor who are being exploited and ill-treated in the Daulatpur chapter of the novel. However, in the Bombay chapter of the novel which reveals a harrowing and agonising picture of the poor makes Anand an angry man and his gift of pathos and his ability to move the hearts of his readers are seen at its best in Coolie. As we see Munoo who wanders alone, and then in the company of Hari Har and his family, seeking a place where they could have a rest for the night. Anand, with his deft and laconic strokes, recreates terrifying scenes: ‘‘ the edge of a footpath in a corner a coolie lay huddled pillowing his head on his arm, shrinking into himself as if he were afraid to occupy too much space”.

      An emaciated man, the bones of whose skeleton were locked in a paralytic knot, dragged himself by the edge of the road, previously near the wheels of passing victorias, begging with a wail, half-metallic from repetition:

      ‘O man, give me a pice’. The bodies of numberless coolies lay strewn in tattered garbs. Some were curled up in knots, others lay face downwards on folded arms, others were flat on their chests, pillowing their heads on their bundles or boxes, others crouched into corners talking, others still huddled together at the doorsteps of closed shops, or lay on the bords in a sleep which looked like death, but that it was broken by deep sighs.

      “If we go further, there might be a place for us somewhere’, Munoo said, urged by the cool breeze that came like a snake swishing from the darkness of the sea on his right. And he bravely led the way”

      The most agonizing scene occurs when Hari, along with his family and Munoo reaches a vacant place. As Hari stands thinking deeply whether they should occupy it, a half-naked woman who sat nursing her head in her hands speaks between smothered sobs:

‘My husband died there last night’
‘He has attained release’, said Hari, “We will rest in his place”.

      The critic C.D. Narasimhaiah is of the opinion about the above sentences, “the wisdoms of an old living culture which has sustained our peasantry through centuries of misery and (is) manifesting itself now in an uprooted peasant in search of a factory job. Death has ceased to frighten the poor—they are past fright; it is life that is a threat, and death is a release as Hari puts it”. As far as Anand’s rustic characters are concerned, they are like those of Wordsworth and Hardy. These characters reveal a solemn dignity born out of long suffering. Their stoical acceptance of fate is not that of fatalism but some sort of wisdom acquired through long experience. Hence, Coolie rises to the heights of a true tragedy which is truly Cathartic, for it illuminates the soul with the light of wisdom and makes Anand a true tragedian.

Anand’s Humour is Characterised by Immense Variety.

      Coolie is an epic of misery which presents a heart-rending picture of the suffering of the poor. Munoo is the representative of the poor boys who suffer right from the beginning to the pathetic end of tragic career. Thus pathos dominantly runs through his whole life. Such long drawn-out tragedy is too much for the readers. Anand is aware of this truth, hence tragic gloom and pathos of the novel are both heightened and relieved by Anand’s humour. Anand is a humorist in the genuine sense of the word, and his humour is characterised by immense variety. The novel Coolie bears humour of every shade and type. There is farce, pure and satirical humour and irony etc. in the novel. Anand’s humour is more typical, for it arises from the observation of minute details in character and situation and exaggerating them.

His Satiric Pen-Portraits of the English and Their Sycophants

      Anand has a gift of Dickens-like eye for the oddities of character and situation and he, therefore, is successful in exaggerating these oddities and eccentricities in Dickens-like manner. Thus, we have the satiric pen-portraits of the English and their sycophants. In this way we get Sir Todar Mal and Lady Todar Mal, Babu Nathoo Ram and Daya Ram as satiric portraits of sycophants whereas Jimmie Thomas, Mr. Little, and Mr. England are those of the colonial English.

The Full Humour of Mr. England’s Visit

      Mr. W.P. England visits the house of Babu Nathoo Ram the tea party, Anand sees in whole scene a sense of humour. To quote him as:

“Nathoo Ram walked sheepishly behind Mr. England in the hall one day, and the Sahib was rather ill at ease as he steeped angularly along in the cool shade caste by the drawn blinds on the windows”.

‘Fine morning, Sir, beautiful day’ announced Nathoo Ram suddenly.

      Mr. England shuffled his feet, hesitated and turned round as if a thunderbolt had struck him. His face was suddenly pale with peevishness. Then he controlled himself and, smiling a sardonic smile, said:

‘Yes, of course, very fine. Very beautiful.’

      The Babu did not understand the sarcasm implicit in the Sahib’s response. He was mightily pleased with himself that he had broken the ice, although he could not muster the courage to say anything more and ask him to tea.

      That he did after sitting in the office for whole days, waiting in suspense for the right moment to come. It came when Mr. England, seeking to relieve the tension and to put Nathoo Ram at ease, approached the Babu’s table one day before going off to lunch.

‘How are you, Nathoo Ram?’ he said.

      “Fine morning, Sir”, said Nathoo Ram, suddenly looking up from the ledger and springing to attention as he balanced his pen, Babu-like, across his ear. ‘Yes, a bit too fine for my taste’, replied Mr. England, 'Yes, Sir’, said Nathoo Ram, wondering what to say There was an awkward pause in which Mr. England looked at the Babu and the Babu looked at Mr. England.

‘Well, I am going off to lunch’, said the Sahib, ‘though I can’t eat much in this heat’.

      Sir, said the Babu, jumping at his chance, ‘you must eat Indian food. It’s very tasty’. He couldn’t utter the words fast enough.

      The khansamah at the Club cooks curry sometimes’, returned Mr. England. ‘I don’t like it very much, it is too hot’.

      ‘Sir, my wife cooks very good curries. You must come and taste one of our dishes’, ventured Nathoo Ram, tumbling over his words.

      ‘No, I don’t like curries’, said Mr. England, ‘Thank you very much all the same’. And smiling his charming smile, he made to go. He had realised that he was becoming too familiar with the native, a thing his friends at the Club had warned him about.

      ‘Will you come to see my house one day, Sir?’ called Nathoo Ram eagerly and with beating heart. ‘My wife would be honoured if you would condescend to favour us with the presence of your company at tea, Sir. My brother, Sir’

      Mr. England had almost moved his head in negation, but he clucked it to drown his confusion.

Yes, Sir, yes, Sir, today.

No, said Mr. England. ‘No, perhaps some day’.

      After that Nathoo Ram had positively pestered Mr. England with his invitations to tea. Every time he met him, morning, noon, afternoon, he requested the favour of Mr. England’s gracious and benign condescension at tea.

      At last Mr. England agreed to come, one day a week hence.

      Anand describes the medley that proceeds the Sahib’s visit with wit, detachment and insight. The carpets are lifted and dusted, a rag is passed over the clutter of household goods, and sack-cloth curtains go up in the neighbouring houses to guard female decorum from the intrusion of foreign eyes. Mr. England arrives dressed up for the occasion in warm navy-blue suit, with Nathoo Ram on the one side, Prem Chand—the Babu’s doctor brother—on the other, and Daya Ram, the chaprasi, in full regalia following behind. His misgivings are confirmed as he sits down on a throne-like chair, facing the clay image of the elephant god Ganesha—’ one of the heathen idols which he had been taught to hate in the Wesleyan chapel he had attended with his mother’.

      Babu Nathoo Ram tries to impress and entertain his guest Mr. England but his embarrassment multiplies. Dr. Prem Chand seeks some advice about the ‘courses of study’ in England, which leads the chief cashier to reflect that though he had to pose as a big shot here, it is pity that he had never been to a university and knew nothing about courses of study except those offered by Pitman’s Typewriting and Shorthand School in Southampton Row. Nathoo Ram shows a huge family photograph to Mr. England and the dust from the back of the frame soils the latters trousers. Prem Babu switches on the gramophone for diversion and a throaty wail (‘Ain—ain-wai-ain-ain- ai-an’) of Indian classical music assails the ears of one used at best to the exotic zigzig of Charleston or Ramba or his native tunes ‘Love is Like a Cigarette, or Rosemarie, I Love You and I Want to be Happy but I cannot be Happy till I make you happy too’.

      Mr. England is served trays full of syrupy Indian sweat-meats like rasgullas and Gulab Jamun, the sight and perfume of which positively sickens him. He is no more interested in any of the food stuff items. Thus, Babu Nathoo Ram is hurt. Then he offers him English-made pastry that he specially ordered from stifles. The pastries, too, were thickly coated with sugar and looked forbidding.

      ‘No thanks, really, I can’t eat in this hot weather,’ said Mr. England, trying to give a plausible excuse. Now Nathoo Ram was disappointed. If the Sahib did not eat and did not become indebted to him, how could he ever get the recommendation he needed?

      Sir, Sir, he protested, thrusting the food again under Mr. England’s nose. ‘Do please eat something—just a little bit of a thing’. Mr. England, showing himself to be a busy man only wishes to take a cup of tea.

      Munoo, who has all along been in a state of excitement due to the presence of the Sahib, is asked to bring the tea. Munoo was hurrying in with the tea-tray When he heard his master’s call, he got scared. The tea-tray fell from his hands. All the china lay scattered on the kitchen floor. And with all these incidents, Nathoo Ram’s cherished dreams of a letter of recommendation do not seem to have any chance of coming true. Thus, the visit of Mr. England ended.

Farcical Humour Due to Caricature

      All the English characters created by Anand are caricatures except Mr. W.P. England, and Anand has great fun at their expense. We see Mr. Little, the Manager of the Textile Mill in Bombay is so inimical to flies that he cannot bear even a single fly in his neat and clean office. He calls Lalkaka and orders, “Take this fly-killer and strike it on the fly when it settles anywhere in the room!” Suddenly a fly sits on his forehead. Mr. Little gets angry at him and Lalkaka strikes the flap of the fly-killer on his forehead. “You damn fool, you little fool” fumed Mr. Little, as he rose wildly from his chair, rubbing his forehead with his right hand and gesticulating impotently with the left. The novelist says that “he would have kicked the boy out of the room, but the telephone bell rang and saved the skin of Lalkaka”. Soon, Sir Reginald, the factory owner came. Lalkaka raised the chic for the entry of the greatman and the flies. A critic remarks it is “cheap music hall comedy”. Indeed it is merely to make the English ridiculous. All the same we have a great enjoyment out of it. In the Simla-phase, the portrait of Mrs. Mainwaring, who wants to make herself a pucca hood and her excessive desire for sexuality is an example of fierce satire on the Anglo-Indian community.

A Skillful Blend of Humour and Pathos

      The scene between Jimmie Thomas and his wife is equally funny and equally satiric in its intent. When Munoo goes to Jimmie Thomas to talk to him to re-employ Ratan in the factory, the half-drunk Jimmie thinks he will be attacked by this young man. He therefore, throws the whisky-bottle at him but it is due to mere good luck that Munoo escapes unhurt in this attack. It is as if misfortunes come upon Munoo masked in gaiety. There is another funny situation which also ends in tragedy. Munoo, while in service of Babu Nathoo Ram, plays the monkey dance and mixes with the children to make his dance more realistic, but Shiela tries to ignore him but he bites Shiela on the cheek. The result is more disastrous—he is taken to task and mercilessly beaten and is forced to run out of Daulatpur in terror.

Illustration of Farcical Humour

      At some other places, Anand’s humour does not have such satiric or tragic overtones, but it is full of fun and hearty pleasure. Such as, in Daulatpur Munoo runs to join the throng of boys who gathered near the circus elephant coming out of the entrance of the circus. One of the leaders of the throng mistook his caper for an invasion. He lifted the strip of a turban and threw it at the elephant’s trunk. Jumbo swallowed it up after a graceful salute, as if it were piece of straw:

      Munoo returned the compliment by snatching the cap of the boy’s head and throwing it to the elephant.

      Before he knew where he was he had been caught by the neck by the youth.

      He swerved and, planting his leg against his opponent, flung him lightly into the ditch.

      As the youngman struggled out covered all over with slime, the urchins behind roared and screamed with laughter.

      A similar joke is played by the many-handed, many-armed machine god on Munoo by divesting him of his shirt. Munoo wanted to take off his shirt because it was too hot inside the factory.

“The solid, wrinkled, homespun garment came to his head and stuck there, as he had forgotten to unbutton it in the front. He struggled to pull it off. The tunic slipped over the left arm and uncovered his eyes, but still stuck on the right arm. A great gust of hot wm that flew by the wheels of the conveyor belt blow the edge of the cloth and tore it into tatters across the wheel that gyrated at twenty miles an hour.”

Source of Humour Due to Munoo’s Innocence

      At some other places, we see Munoo’s innocence which, conies out of his curiosity and reactions and leads to much laughter. While going to city along with his uncle, Daya Ram, reveals his innocence as he sees a phonogram and asks ‘What is that singing? How does a man get into a box to sing?’ Humour is created here by recording the ridiculous reactions of Munoo. Further, he goes on asking questions: Where is the cattle which these people graze and where are the fields they plough, uncle?’ He asked, turning to Daya Ram.

      They have no cattle and no fields here,’ said the chaprasi, pushing his neck back to stiff uprightness, ‘It is only the rustics in the villages who graze cattle and plough the land.’

      ‘But how do they get their food, uncle?’ Munoo inquired.

      Thus, we see that Munoo’s childish curiosity and ignorance are the source of fun and laughter. In fact, it is his innocence, due to which the readers enjoy this sense of humour.

Anand’s Humour: Vulgar and Coarse

      At some other places, Anand’s humour is expressed in coarse and vulgar manner as in the scene in which Munoo relieves himself outside the kitchen of Babu Nathoo Ram’s house, and Bibiji makes a hue and cry and starts rebuking and abusing him. He is badly humiliated by her and in the humiliation of Munoo, we find a touch of pathos and a taste of things to come. Anand is guilty of some disgusting statements in recording Munoo’s reactions after he has drunk the soda-water bottle. “The sharp, cool sweetish taste of the soda water tingled in Munoo’s mouth and brought tears of acid into his eyes. He would have liked to have sipped it slowly and enjoyed the full flavour of the drink in comfort. But he was nervous and feeling extremely guilty for having intruded into the rich man’s world. So he gulped the soda water down as fast as he could. And, placing the glass in a corner, he made to go. The aerated liquid had an instantaneous effect on his belly and he belched in spite of himself.....He belched again, and this spontaneous confirmation of his thought by his belly made him laugh”. We notice here that the whole incident is another example of Anand’s humour mingled with pathos.

Anand’s Command Over the Use of Irony

      An and has got the gift of using irony in different senses and moods. Sometimes his irony is light and gay, at other times it becomes tragic and satiric. Sometimes we find, the mingling of the two modes. Munoo is very curious and inquisitive and wants to know the strange things around him. He sees the shaving machine in Babu Nathoo Ram’s house and wants to know about it. Dr. Prem Chand says, ‘Why, why do you want to shave the hair on your head off? Have you become an orphan?” This is quite an instance of tragic irony though the view is expressed in a manner of light-hearted fun.

      At the home of Prabha Dayal, Munoo enters the house and is received whole heartedly by the members of his house, and he is served a sumptuous meal. The novelist remarks on the whole episode ironically. It was the most sumptuous meal he had eaten since the feast on the death anniversary of his father and mother, which his aunt had given three months before he left the hills’. In the Bombay phase of Munoo’s life, when Ratan offers Munoo a clear latrine as a token of his friendship, there is light-hearted irony in the way it is offered.

      In a nutshell, Anand’s variety of humour, satire and irony in the novel is incredible.

University Questions

There are many illustrations of humour, satire and irony in the novel Coolie, Discuss with special references to the novel Coolie.
Is it true to state that the novel is conceived with the ideas of humour and pathos together? Comment.
Justify that Anand is a genuine humorist and also comment on the immense varieties of his humour with special reference to Coolie.
Examine critically that “Anand has a Dickens-like eye for odyltles of character and situation, and Dickens-like gift of caricature”

Previous Post Next Post