Parallelism and Contrasts in The Novel Coolie

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      Coolie is a novel of epic-dimension and its matter is most different and heterogeneous. The novel is constantly running from the North to the South and then from South to the North. Through its way we get a panoramic view of the Indian sub-continent and its people and their different classes, age-groups, professions, occupations and strata. This varied and heterogeneous material has imparted form and unity by the use of an elaborate pattern of parallelism and contrasts. We see a few contrasts in the novel such as rural-urban, rich-poor, English-Indian, that characterise this great “epic of misery”.

      Munoo’s idyllic life in his native village, Bilaspur was full of happiness which is in sharp contrast with his later miserable life in Daulatpur and Bombay. While in his village Bilaspur as an orphan he has harrowing memories of the suffering of his mother and father as a result of exploitation by the village landlord, and this represents the painful pictures of capitalistic and industrial exploitation in his life. It is not enough. We see the nagging of his aunt Gurji represents the later nagging of Bibiji and the cruel treatment given to poor Munoo. His idyllic and rural life in the village is quite in contrast to his life in the slums of industrialised Bombay Munoo’s quarrel with Jai Singh, the son of the village landlord in village has its counterpart in the quarrel of Munoo with other boy-servants in Sham Nagar. In the Daulatpur episode, we see Todar Mal’s wife, sharp-tongued, vulgar and heartless and very similar nature is found in Bibiji of the previous chapter. The cringing and sycophancy of Sir Todar Mal is parallel to the sycophancy of Nathoo Ram and Daya Ram before their respective masters. All the three are working under the British Raj and they are proud of the British Raj and their association with it. The good nature and kind-heartedness of Parbati, Prabha Dayal’s wife is contrasted with the hard-heartedness of Bibiji and Gurji, and she is paralleled by that of Lakshmi, Hari Har’s wife in the Bombay chapter. According to Philip Henderson Coolie takes us into a world in which the comradeship of man exists only among the very poorest people. With nothing to hope for, their common humanity is all they possess. The relationship between Prabha (at heart a coolie), Munoo, and the other factory employees (all hill-men) is one of humaneness. At the other end of the scale we have Ganpat (the frustrated son of a well-to-do broker), the Toder Mais (essentially Nathoo Ram gone successful), and the police more a symbol of British oppression than of British justice. Their world is a world of hysteria, one devoid of restraint and self-respect. This is best illustrated when Prabha goes bankrupt and is beleaguered by his creditors. They yell, shout abuses, fight among themselves for what little might still be got, from auctioning the property, and then together fall upon their victim as birds that turn on a wounded member of the flock to destroy it. This fight of the rich creditors among themselves is paralleled by the competition and quarrelling among the coolies in the grain-market. But there is one important difference. Saros Cowasjee correctly asserts that “The evil that one see in this poor is the direct result of capitalistic exploitation and the indifference of the British government towards the lives of millions of its subjects. The same cannot be said of the rich—their greed is needless. There is a lot of difference between Prabha’s creditors fighting among themselves to recover whatever they can and the coolies vying with each other to earn a few annas so that they might live another day”

      In Bombay also these contrasts and parallelism run all through. The indigenous pickle factory; “has now its counterpart in the Sir George White’s Cotton Mills where the working conditions are even more harrowing and gruelling; Ganpat has been replaced by the foreman, Jimmie Thomas, who is even more tyrannical; the working hours are very long; the creditors are more numerous and more wicked; the world of the poor remains basically one of comradeship, while that of the rich is one of hysteria and nightmare; there is the same foul smell and stink, damp and sticky sweat, dust and heat, incense and dung.” The critic further asserts that in the Daulatpur chapter Anand had contrasted rich merchants in starched muslins against dark coolies in patched-up rags, the impressive bungalows of the English residents looking down on the congested hovels of the coolies. But Bombay offers him infinitely more possibilities for contrast as nowhere in India is there more garish opulence existing alongside rampant filth and privation. To quote the passage from the novel “The moonless sky was silent as Munoo entered the town, but the earth, the earth of Bombay was congested by narrow gullies and thorough fares, rugged houses and temples, minarets and mausoleums and tall offices; Bombay, land of cruel contrasts, where the hybrid pomp of the rich mingled with the smell of sizzling grease in black frying-pans; Bombay, land of luxury and lazzaroni, where all the pretences of decency ended in dirt and drudgery, where the lies of benevolent patrons were shown up in the sores and deformities of the poor.....”

“As soon as Munoo emerges from the station, he is overpowered by the medley of colours, shapes and sounds—of Bombay’s strange, varied, complex character, There are Europeans in immaculate suits, Parsees in frock-coats and white trousers, Mohammedans in long tunics, Hindu in muslin shirts and dhoti; there are Arabs, Persians, Chinese; the roads swarming with trams, cars, motor-cycles and victorias. And ever-present are the lepers and the beggars, the groans of the sick and the dying.”

      Munoo is often helped by some kind-hearted persons at every turn of the road. In the Sham Nagar phase, he meets Suresh and he is kind to him. In Daulatpur chapter, he is helped by Prabha and his wife Parbati and also by the elephant-driver. In the Bombay phase, he comes across Hari and his wife Lakshmi and Ratan and they are very kind and sympathetic towards him. In the Simla phase, he comes in contact with Mrs. Mainwaring and she is like Lakshmi and Parvati in her kindness to Munoo, but she appoints him her page-cum rickshaw puller and takes overwork and also exploits him sexually. The revolutionary hero Sauda in the Bombay chapter represents the promising revolutionary Mohan in the Simla chapter, though he does not preach revolution openly. Both of them fight for the cause of the poor. Both of them have little respect for the masses. They wish to lead and regard themselves as their superiors. Sauda, a true representative of the novelist himself belongs to privileged class, urges the workers to stand up for their rights and their dignity in a abusive language: “Stand up then, stand up for your rights, you roofless wretches, stand up for justice, stand up, you frightened fools. Stand up and fight. Stand up and be the men that you were meant to be and don’t crawl back to the factories like the worms that you are”. Whereas Mohan seeks to identify himself with the coolies and speaks to them as their superior. He meets them and gives suggestions and he addresses them. He rebukes a coolie who is satisfied with his life as rickshaw puller, and asserts: “Han, fool,.....You will let them kill you. You are ignorant slaves. How can I drill any sense into your heads?”

      In Simla Munoo gets a graphic and vivid picture of nature like that he has observed in his native village. The steep hills overgrown with rich green foliage, the stream and the waterfalls, the clouds rolling swiftly across the skys, the crisp cool air all stand in sharp contrast to the heat and the humidity of Bombay Munoo also takes pleasure of the beauty around him while pulling his memsahib’s rickshaw along the Mall and sees the world of the upper echelons of society. He wishes if he could belong to this society. Memsahib is always kind to him, and her coquetry fires his adolescent passions till he crumples at her feet in an orgy of tears and kisses. The sexual urges in her are half expressed and half-understood to Munoo from the very beginning. We see how Shiela’s body is outlined in her wet garments which have aroused the first inklings of sensuality; later we are reminded of the warmth of Parbati’s body as he lies against her arouses the confused feeling of son and lover. Much of the same feelings is also experienced when he returns from a whore’s appartment to writhe in pent-up passions in the arms of Hari’s wife who understands the boy’s torment, and she lulls him to sleep with the incantation: “We belong to suffering, We belong to suffering, my love”.

      Moreover, there are a variety of moods and attitudes in the novel in sharp contrast with each other. The pathetic and the tragic are well contrasted with the humorous, which often verges on the farcical. We see that the satiric humour is well contrasted with simple fun and honest laughter. We have a bit of a sense of irony also, tragic irony being contrasted with a more harmless and light-hearted irony

      Anand has used an elaborate pattern of parallelism and contrasts in Coolie to impart well-wrought design, form and unity to his intractable material. His art is an art which conceals art; apparently the novel seems to be episodic and rambling in nature, but if it is judged thoroughly the novel is found to have a well-knit plot, form and order.

University Questions

There are parallelism and contrasts in the novel Coolie, Discuss.
The novel Coolie is the study of “contrast between grinding poverty and opulence and grandeur”. Examine it critically.

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