Plot Construction of The Novel Coolie

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      The plot in a dramatic or narrative work is the structure of its actions, as these are ordered and rendered toward achieving particular emotional and artistic effects. This definition is deceptively simple, because the action (including verbal as well as physical actions) are performed by particular characters in a work, and are the means by which they exhibit their moral and dispositional qualities. Plot and character are therefore interdependent critical concepts—as Henry James has said, “What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?”

      Anand’s various assertions in connection with the art and technology of the novel creation confirm that he was quite conscious of the danger of formlessness that besets the novel form. This is more the case that a novel acquires epic-dimensions, or gives us a wide view of the Indian sub-continent, as it is done by Coolie. Anand organises his material and imparts form and unity to his work in various ways. Anand is of the opinion that “the novel demands a serious mental effort to control it from spilling over into amorphousness”.

      Anand is a novelist with a mission, his novel is based on ‘human centrality’, and the form he has applied is appropriate for his purpose. His novels are organic wholes, the form and content are fully integrated, they are inseparable parts of a single whole. Says S.C. Harr ex, “For Anand the Marxist-Socialist pursuit of the proper (i.e. humanist) social structure and his own fictional pursuit of the appropriate verbal structure, if not virtually one and the same are complementary aspects of a single purpose. Anand is a serious and moral writer because he sees the salvation of mankind as dependent on the humane, compassionate, loving, lasting fulfillment of this single purpose. His viewpoint, or ethical base, is cosmopolitan-Indian, anti-Brahmin, this rather than other world-oriented. Perhaps the ultimate form of fiction which he has attempted to write might be described as the socio-political messianic novel.”

Kinds of Anand’s Plot

      It is not simple to comment about Anand’s plots which should be equally applicable to all his novels. The reason is that in his first novel, plot is well-knit whereas in Coolie, the plot is lose and episodic and in his some other novels, the nature of the plot is identified by the kind of story Anand has to relate. In Coolie, the development of the plot is determined by his social implication rather than any consideration which is strictly artistic.

Coolie: A Picaresque Novel

      The frame-work of the novel Coolie is picaresque and episodic. In the novel, though Munoo is not a rouge (prominent characteristic of a picaresque novel) yet like a rogue he moves from one place to another, from the village to the town, from town to the city; from the North to the South and then back again to the South. In the novel, the series of adventures and episodes do not follow each other logically but are the result of mere chance and fate. Munoo is found to be passive character. Says Saros Cowasjee “Munoo is a passive character, he does not act, but is acted upon by society”. The other critic is of the view that, Munoo never did anything; things happened to him and he drifts along. It is mere chance and fate that he is helped by some kind hearted persons at every turn of the road.

      Coolie is rightly episodic in nature. There is a bundle of episodes and events but they all happen to the same individual Munoo. Inspite of the fact that the plot is episodic in nature, it has a certain unity which is provided with by the novelist’s thematic concern which is throughout that of portraying the condition of the coolies in the various parts of the Indian society The novel throws light upon the wide view of the Indian society and the plot is concerned with the social purpose rather than of the nature of a dramatic novel. The novelist divided the novel into five chapters and tried to impart a certain unity among them, although it is lopsided. The author gives a view of Munoo’s life at home in Bilaspur in Sham Nagar as a boy servant, and in Daulatpur as a labourer, in Bombay as a coolie and returns again in the hilly environment of Simla which closely resembles his home in the Kangra Valley from where he started his career.

The Development of Plot of Coolie

      Reduced to its barest minimum the crux of the plot of Coolie seems to be systematic and rational. We meet here with a simple hill boy who is happy enough in the idyllic surrounding of his simple house in the hills, though he is filled with passion to see the world. As he leaves for Sham Nagar, he fulfills his urge on one hand. It also separates him from his beloved hill land on the other. He then begins his career as a servant, coolie and rickshaw puller. He firstly works as a domestic servant in ‘the house of a sub-accountant of Imperial Bank, Sham Nagar. But he meets here with maltreatment and humiliation and then finally runs away from Sham Nagar. While he is travelling by train he is picked ‘up by a kind-hearted man who is the owner of a pickle factory at Daulatpur. He always takes care of him but at the same time he is exploited and maltreated by his cruel partner. This time his career is terminated due to the indefinite closing of the factory. He then for a short period works for a circus company and by the kindness of the elephant driver of the company, he is taken to his dreamland Bombay. But it is his fate that he works as a labourer in a Cotton Mill. It is after the road accident that his sojourn in Bombay is terminated and he is taken to Simla where he works as a servant in the house of an Anglo-Indian lady who also appoints him as a part-time rickshaw puller. He, while in the service of memsahib, dies of consumption which perhaps he contracted in Bombay but his illness is aggravated not only because of overwork but also sexual exploitation by the lady concerned.

Unity and Well Knit Plot of Coolie' Unity of Purpose

      The plot of the novel Coolie has consistent unity of purpose, we come across the plight of coolie, their suffering and misery as theme of the novel. The coolies who because of the very nature of his is a victims of events than an agent. Indeed, Anand succeeds in imparting a certain epic like quality to the novel. In this connection, it is apparent to quote M.K. Naik:

“With its scene shifting from the Kangra Hills down to the plains of Bombay and back to the Punjab hills. With its crowded canvas covering all the classes of society from the landless peasant to the aristocratic Anglo-Indian and British and with its varied spectacle of human nature ranging from the malevolent to the saintly Coolie has an almost epic quality though the period of time it covers is as short as two years”.

      There is no doubt that the presence of the hero is linked with events and episodes together in the novel. Besides this, there are also several devices like parallelism and contrast which connect the various events and episodes together. For instance, there is a glaring contrast between the poverty and the utter lack of basic human facilities among the poor and the rich and their lavish living of which we have a glimpse through the palatial houses on Malabar Hills in Bombay and later in the life of well to do lady like Mrs. Mainwaring in Simla. We also observe more contrasts in Simla episode of Munoo’s career. The contrast is between the ragged coolies and their un-hygienic atmosphere and the palatial houses of the Englishmen and their highly sophisticated living standard. There is also resemblance between the various sections of the novel because in every one of them, Munoo finds his patron who helps and befriends him. Munoo is the victim of external forces over which he has no control. It is righty remarked by Saros Cowasjee “Munoo is a passive character, he does not act but is acted upon by society.”

      However, Anand has imparted form and unity to his vast and complicated and heterogeneous material in a skillful manner. He has organised and formalised his material with great care and prudence. There may be no logical causation, and the various events, incidents and characters may not find logical unity, but they finally find unity of the theme. As the theme of the novel is the exploitation of the poor by the forces of capitalism, industrialism, feudalism, colonialism and also communalism, and the suffering and misery of the millions of people caused by these forces. The exploitation caused by these forces not only caused hunger, starvation and death but also resulted in degradation and dehumanisation in the exploited who have lost the sense of self-respect and dignity. The various events, episodes and the characters make the point clear that the theme of the novel is exploitation of the poor and the suffering and misery caused by it. The various phases of Munoo’s life are related thematically; in each phase there is deeper and deeper exploration of the same theme. It may be likened to a musical composition in which the same emotion is tested and studied from different angles. Hence, we see that Anand has harmonised the Indo-Anglian fiction.

      In each phase of Munoo’s life, except the last one, he is brought in contact with crooked and cruel people under whom he has to undergo hardships. Thus the five characters of the novel, relate five different phases of Munoo’s life—the each one is the tale of the wretchedness and misery of a coolie. There are also hints of reform and revolt which are expressed through Mohan in Simla and Ratan in Bombay respectively.

Vastness and Variety of Plot

      There is some doubt about the compactness and organic wholeness of the novel Coolie. The novel is considered to be a much more complicated work. The work is epical in dimension and includes vastness and variety of material. Its action is not limited to one place but is moving from Bilaspur to Sham Nagar, Sham Nagar to Daulatpur and Daulatpur to Bombay and from there to Simla. There is no doubt that the novel is epical in its sweep, range and variety Coolie is regarded as a prose epic of modern India, an epic of misery To quote M.K. Naik “With its scene shifting from the Kangra Hills down to the plains of Bombay and back to the Punjab hills; with its crowded canvas covering all the classes of society from the landless peasant to the aristocratic Anglo-Indian and the British, and with its varied spectacle of human nature ranging from the malevolent to the saintly Coolie has an almost epic quality though the period of time it covers is as short as two years.”

Some Disconnected Episodes and Characters

      Since the novel Coolie is a bundle of adventures and episodes and events, there is no link between them. The plot of the novel is episodic, characters which once appear on the scene are never seen again. We see that in every phase of Munoo’s career, he meets with a fresh set of characters who come in his life and they have a soft corner for him. The phase changes and the characters change. Thus, his uncle, Daya Ram, his master Nathoo Ram and his wife Bibiji etc. of the Sham Nagar Phase do not appear in the successive phases of Munoo’s life.

      In the Daulatpur phase, the same story is repeated, a fresh set of characters like the Todar Mal, Prabha Dayal, Ganpat etc. appear on the stage but as soon as this phase ends, a complete new set of characters like Hari, his wife Lakshmi and the children, Ratan and many others including the mill foreman Jimmie Thomas and the leaders like Sauda mark their presence in the Bombay phase of Munoo’s career.

      The last phase of Munoo’s life is spent in Simla, and here once again, we come across a new set of characters like Mrs. Main waring, Mohan and many others in a absolutely new environment. Thus, we find that the novel seems to be disjointed, a string of five different or disconnected episodes, and only Munoo, the single individual shares in all of them.

Parallelism and Contrasts in Coolie

      Anand has brought the vast and complicated material in this panoramic novel through a skilfully wrought pattern of parallelism and contrasts. Remarks C.D. Narasimhaiah in this regard, “Contrasts, reinforcements, parallel situations seem to be an important part of Anand’s technique in concretizing in words the patterns of life which he knows best. The wife of Nathoo Ram has her counterpart in Todar Mal’s wife—sharp tongued, vulgar and heartless, and Ganpat, Prabha’s fraud partner, even Prabha and his wife are a happy contrast to the family he previously worked for, not merely in their treatment of Munoo but in their entire outlook to life, in their honest, simple and almost gullible ways.

      The pickle factory at Daulatpur has its counterpart in the Textile Mill of Bombay and Prabha Dayal and his wife are paralleled by Hari, his wife Lakshmi and Ratan, the other kind-hearted coolie. Similarly, Ganpat finds his counterpart in Jimmie Thomas. The opulence of the rich and their spacious residences are contrasted with the poverty of the coolies and the squalor and filth of the slums in which they live. There is poverty, suffering and starvation everywhere, only in Bombay it is present on a much larger scale. The poor are exploited, ill-treated and starved everywhere be it the village, a small town or a large city. The idyllic rural way of life is contrasted with the urban, but there is exploitation even in the village. As Munoo’s parents were exploited by the landlord of the village, Munoo himself is being exploited at all places till he dies of consumption in Simla.

Uniform Point of View

      However, there is another source of unity also. Munoo is the ‘centre of consciousness’ in the novel and whole action has been looked at through his eyes. Various incidents, places and the characters in the novel are depicted as they would appear before a child, like Munoo who is keen, serious and full of the spirit of adventure and passion for life. In this connection it is right to quote Saros Cowasjee: “Few writers apart from Trollope, Edmund Goethe and Tolstoy have been able to recapture childhood effectively Among these, Anand is closest to Tolstoy and, like Tolstoy, he has remarkable capacity to enter childhood—the capacity for wonder which one also finds in Pushkin. Anand’s portraits of children are remarkable for their authenticity, for he is able to describe the life of a child from within, from the child’s point of view. It is this point of view—the point of view of the child—maintained throughout, which brings all the material into focus, and formalises it. It is as if an adventurous child, curious, eager for life surveys the Indian sub-continent spread before his eyes, and then records its appearance”. We find that no incidents are superfluous, and no characters are caricatures. They would appear to a child, as they are original ones. Hence, it is true that Anand has a Dickens-like eye to enter a child’s mind and see the world through his eyes.

Coolie: Its Last Part

      The last part of the novel is regarded as ‘Simla-episode’ which the critics find a structural shortcoming in the novel. The critics are of the view that this section is superfluous and it has been unnecessarily linked with the rest of the story However, this section serves to complete Anand’s wide view of Indian life. Even the most sympathetic critics of Anand’s life C.D. Narasimhaiah and M.K. Naik are critical of it. Thus M.K. Naik writes, “As in The Road, a hoary romantic device is suddenly employed to suit the author’s purposes.”

The Views of Critics

      As far as the Simla-episode in the novel is concerned, there is much criticism voiced over by many critics. Even C.D. Narasimhaiah who is on the whole one of the most sympathetic critics of the novel, finds the section of the novel to be inartistic and goes to the extent of wishing that Anand had not written it. He further quotes “The novel virtually ends in the section depicting the life of the factory workers in Bombay which points out most incisively the inhuman side of our industrial life which has not got into fiction anywhere else. But what follows this section, the Simla episode of the Anglo-Indian woman, isn’t an organic part of the total pattern of the novel and exists apart as it were, an after-thought, an accretion on so well-knit a work of art. I wish Anand could cut it out ruthlessly and restore the health of an otherwise admirable work.” But Saros Cowasjee thinks something different. He rightly observes that it was right on the part of the novelist, “to retrieve his hero from the horrors of Bombay and to allow him to regain some of his identity before he coughs his lungs out of pulling rickshaw for his mistress”.

      About the characterization of Mrs. Mainwaring, Cedric Dover vrites, “Mrs. Mainwaring then, is not a vicious caricature of Eurasian womanhood, but a subtle comment on the prejudice and religion which has made the Eurasian community what it is. She is one of the fleas in a world of big fleas and little fleas and lesser fleas created by British imperialism.”

      The critic Cedric Dover looks at Mrs. Mainwaring from social and political point of view and not from the artistic point of view. Thus, there is nothing wrong in the characterization of Mrs. Mainwaring.

      The critic like Narasimhaiah admits that the ending of the novel has one redeeming point. In his view the novelist’s comment on Munoo’s death is a tribute to Anand’s unconscious spiritual inclination in contrast with all the social protests which might give us a contradictory impression. The comment discussed is that of the tide of Munoo’s life having, ‘reached back to the deeps’. Saros Cowasjee is in the defence of the entire ‘Simla episode’ who observes that the last episode of the novel is artistically justifiable. In keeping with the development of the rest of the story the critic writes ‘Anand had to retrieve his hero from the horrors of Bombay and to allow him to regain some of his identity before he coughs his lungs out pulling rickshaw for his mistress”. It is the correct finale: the boy who had come from the hills to work and see the world goes back to the hills. What is wrong with this chapter is that Anand gets so involved in pillorying the Anglo-Indian woman that he losses sight of his hero. He gives some five pages to sketching her background and her somewhat more shady present.

      The plot construction of the novel Coolie is compact and well-knit. It has an organic whole; it has the same kind of unity as a living organism has, every part being essential, and nothing being superfluous. The action in the novel is the natural outcome of the interaction of character and environment and each event and episode follows logically and naturally Besides, Coolie lacks in some compactness and organic wholeness, it has a well-wrought plot.

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