The Simla Episode: Its Shortcomings in The Novel Coolie

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      The Simla episode is the last phase in Munoo’s life. Many critics are of the view that the Simla-episode is the weakest part of the novel. It has been criticised by many critics and they are of the view that this episode is quite superfluous as it has no organic and logical relation with the rest of the novel. This episode has no link with logical causation but is entirely of the crude and melodramatic device of a chance—car accident. The critics like C.D. Narasimhaiah and M.K. Naik who are sympathetic to Anand, are also critical of it. Thus, M.K. Naik asserts, “As in The Road, a hoary romantic device is suddenly employed to suit the author’s purposes. Having shown Munoo in a middle-class and a low-class world, his entry into the world of aristocracy must somehow be effected, in order that the social panorama is completed. The extremely cheap expedient is the beginning of Munoo’s end; it is also the beginning of the end of the artistic integrity of the novel. In fact, the brief final part (it is the shortest section of the work) gives the impression of being hurried and sketchy and coming after the starkly realistic and vivid Bombay episodes, it appears to be an anti-climax, with the result that Munoo’s death which should have constituted the climatic point of the novel fails to produce its rightful impact. The bang of Bombay ends in the whimper of Simla.” Thus, we see that the relaxing of artistic tension in the last part fails to give an authentic end to the novel.

      Further, we quote C.D. Narasimhaiah who asserts “The novel virtually ends with the section on the Bombay factory life which points out most incisively the inhuman side of our industrial city 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—a work by which, along with the earlier Untouchable, Anand can command a comfortable standing in Indian fiction without the aid of anything else. I say so because after that most impressive piece of self-introspection which young Munoo gives himself to when he says ‘Am I really ominous? My father died when I was born and then my mother and I brought misfortune to Prabha and it seems I brought misfortune to Hari now. If I am ominous why don’t I die?’—after this the next section is in the nature of an anti-climax and does not contribute significantly to our final assessment of either Munoo or the novel. Having said so, I must make a single exception for the very last sentence of the novel which speaks of ‘the tide’ of his life having ‘reached back to the deeps’, which is a tribute to Anand’s unconscious spiritual predisposition, for all the conscious protests he makes to the contrary It sums up the tide that was Munoo tumbling from episode to episode without a conspicuous corresponding vertical development. As Anand says, “to the end he thrilled to all the raptures of the senses”.

      But Saros Cowasjee thinks something else he comments 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 pulling rickshaw for his mistress”. It is the true finale: the boy who had come from the hills to work and see the world goes back to the hills. The drawback in the chapter is that Anand gets so involved pillorying the Anglo-Indian woman Mrs. Mainwaring that he deviates from his hero.

      The novelist portrays her character with some specific purposes. She is not unauthentically characterised. The writer perhaps means to chastise the Anglo-Indian community—already much abused in Indian fiction. And the worst of it is that the novel does not substantiate the whore the writer has shown her to be. However, it is difficult to understand why Anand gives so much time and attention to such a character. There is no or little information about the background of some of the characters in the novel. For instance, Munoo is an orphan who is tortured by his aunt. Prabha who came down from the hills to work as a coolie; Hari who left his village to work in a textile mill in Bombay. We also, have the entire sordid story of Mrs. Mainwaring. Anand takes five pages to sketch her background which throws genuine doubt about his claim of impartiality. And a large number of critics think that the characterization of Mrs. Mainwaring is the weakest point in the novel. Cedric Dover says, “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.”

      Here Cedric Dover sees Mrs. Mainwaring from a social and political point of view and not from the angle of artistic achievement. In his little book Cimmerii, he appeals to the Eurasians to regard themselves as Indians—sons of India—and not as Anglo-Indians. He condemns his own community for functioning in the interest of British aggrandizement, and his attitude perhaps reflects his partiality towards Anand’s crude portrayal of Mrs. Mainwaring.

      In a nutshell, the Simla-episode has a structural shortcoming, for it unduly stresses on the past history of Mrs. Mainwaring. Otherwise, it serves to complete Anand’s wide view of Indian life. It reflects the aristocracy and their life which had not been discussed so far. It also provides us some passages of nature description par excellence. Such natural description is not found in the earlier parts of the novel.

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