The Theme of Humanity in The Novel Coolie

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Munoo’s Belief in Human Nature

      There are many critics who are of the opinion that the novel Coolie deals with human relationships. Among those critics C. D. Narasimhaiah and O.P. Mathur come first. C. D. Narasimhaiah calls Coolie, “a novel of human centrality” As a matter of fact, humanity is the centre and focus of Anand’s interest. Anand has deeply studied man, the whole man, and his life in all its varied facets. Further O.P. Mathur comments on human-relationships in the novel. Writes O.P. Mathur, “The epic-structure of the novel is unified by the intensely human personality of the hero, who goes through this world like a shaft of love illuminating it and resolving the blind confusions of human relationships”. Anand, through his novel, has tried to connect Munoo with the rest of the world—with the other servants in the town of Sham Nagar, with Prem Babu, the doctor, and with the other children by means of his monkey-dance. He is well aware of the need of love. He has no feeling of caste but he thinks of two classes of mankind, the capitalist and the poor. Munoo is well aware of this reality and he has realised this truth through his suffering. Though he may lose his faith in the Infinite after seeing the innocent man Prabha suffer without any fault of his, but he never loses faith in this man. His faith in man to man relationship in the novel adds to the theme of human centrality. He realises the presence of a few loving and kind-hearted individuals to whom he extends his full co-operation.

Munoo’s Longing for Human Relationships

      Munoo’s desire to connect with the rest of humanity is not based on economic or racial considerations. He desires to be in the company of the sahibs and even with the rich. He likes Prem Babu and wants to live in his company oblivious to his riches and caste. He enjoys his life in the company of Mrs. Mainwaring. He is fully contented living with her. He always remembers his friends and companions of his village. He establishes a good friendship with his factory comrades like Ratan and Hari Har and others. He felt loneliness of the soul when he sees the harrowing communal riots and the relationship between the Hindu workers and the Muslim workers breaks suddenly And his soul alone remains and it goes to forge links with the infinite when Munoo dies.

Different Categories of Characters

      The novel deals with the different categories of characters. It thoroughly studies man and his life through an exploration of human relationships. Wordsworth also speaks of human relationship in his poems. He says, ‘What man has made of man’ and this is also true of man in Anand’s novels. The characters of Coolie represent the oppressed or the poor; the oppressors, capitalists, colonialists etc. and the evil forces of oppressors, and human relationships are considered accordingly.

Relationships of Servant and Master

      The servant-master relationship is one of the important subjects which are to be taken into consideration. The relationship between the servant and masters differs in the novel. The kindlier and gentler aspects of servant-master relationship may be seen in the house of Prabha Dayal and his wife Parvati with Munoo, the servant. Prabha and his wife have all love and affection for him. They treat him kindly feed him well, and take every possible care of the poor boy all the time. When he is serving as a servant at Mrs. Mainwaring, he is well taken care of by the mistress. She gives him all comforts and keeps him happy inspite of taking hard work from him. Whereas in the house of Babu Nathoo Ram, his employer illtreats him and his wife Mrs. Uttam Kaur crosses the limits of cruelty she abuses, curses and humiliates him, she overworks him from morning till night, starves him, and he is beaten mercilessly for the least fault. His life in the home is troublesome and he is unable to endure to torture, and finally runs away from his house.

      Moreover, we see that the treatment of the master and mistress towards their servant is quite different. While serving his master Prabha, who falls on evil days, Munoo tries to do his best to help him out. of his difficulties. He joins a work of a coolie and saves every possible rupee for him. Munoo has no love for his Bibiji when he runs away from her house in Sham Nagar whereas his heart is broken and he is never able to forget the kindness shown to him by his master Mr. Prabha and Mrs. Parvati when he leaves their home in Daulatpur.

Relationship of the Rulers and the Ruled

      The novel Coolie is based on human relationships. In this episode of human relationships, the study of relationship of rulers and the ruled is another form of the master-servant relationship in the novel. The relationship is degrading as it makes the rulers proud and arrogant and the ruled lose all sense of self-respect and degenerate into cringing sycophants. In this British Raj, the policeman is the symbol of British cruelty who beats Munoo as he works on the railway station as a coolie and the English Inspector of police who caned and flogged Prabha for no fault of his. Munoo is slapped by a Englishman because he has dared to look at his face. The coolies are being badly ill-treated and exploited by Jimmie Thomas and he, therefore, is the cause of degrading relationship.

Degradation Caused by the Britishers

      The unhealthy relationship develops between the British and Indians because of misunderstandings from both sides. The former wants to rule over the latter in uncompromising and destructive ways applying all its evil forces on them. This unnatural relationship transforms Indians into cringing and sycophant people with no sense of self-respect. Sir Todarmal and Babu Nathoo Ram cringe and flatter their bosses. This relationship is best understood during the visit of Mr. W. P. England to the home of Babu Nathoo Ram, the sub-accountant. Anand has very prudently described the whole proceeding of the sahib’s visit: “The carpets are lifted and dusted, a rag is passed over the clutter of household goods, and sackcloth 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 a warm navy-blue suit, with Nathoo Ram on the one side and Premchand, the Babu’s doctor brother, on the other; and with Daya Ram, the chaprasi, in full regalia following behind” His mistrust is brought to light “as he sinks its a throne-like chair, he faces the clay image of the elephant god, Ganesha, garlanded with a chain of faded flowers and thought it a sinister image, something horrible, one of the heathen idols which he had been taught to hate in the Wesleyan chapel he had attended with his mother”

      Mr. England is invited to tea in Babu Nathoo Ram’s house in connection with winning his favour. Mr. England disappoints Babu, for he does not accept his dishes except having a cup of tea. So, the hope to please the sahib and get his recommendation letter prepared by him meet with sheer disappointment. Munoo, who has all along been in a state of excitement at the arrival of the sahib is asked to fetch tea for him but he stumbles on the way and hence the precious china falls to pieces on the floor.

      The whole episode makes it quite clear that British government and its officers are not interested in the matter of Indian’s promotion in the services. Anand’s conviction comes to light through this episode that the British government not only exploited the country’s natural resources but also debased the Indians who are in its services. The attitude of the British towards the Indian people is always unfavourable. It has made the Indian people sycophants, cringing and becoming a ready tool of exploitation in the hands of their masters. They are crushing people made for degrading the Indian characters. They have lost their sense of self-respect and dignity Nathoo Ram, Daya Ram, Todarmal have been de-humanised in the services of British government and they have lost all sense of fellow feeling. The English officials have no mercy for Munoo and he is abused and beaten by the police and ill-treated by Jimmie Thomas, the foreman of the factory On the other hand, Premchand, a medical practitioner does not lower before Mr. England. Prem Babu is the single character in the novel who alone conducts himself with dignity and treats Munoo with love and affection. Commenting upon the human relationships Mr. Saros Cowasjee writes “Anand censures all such relationships, for they are inhuman, unhealthy and meanly submissive”.

Relationship Between the Poor

      Anand is all praise for the relationship between two poor people. He says that it develops a healthy relationship between one poor person and the other. It is an admitted fact that Coolie takes us into a world in which comradeship of man for man exists only among the very poor people. With nothing to hope for, their common humanity is all they possess. The relationship between Prabha (at heart till a coolie) Munoo and the other factory employees (as hill-men) is humane. On the other end of the scale we have Ganpat (the frustrated son of a once well-to-do broker), the Todar Mal and the police more a symbol of British oppression than of British justice. Theirs 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 be had from auctioning the poverty and then together fall upon their victim as birds that turn on a wounded member of the flock to destroy it. The police is summoned. In Anand’s novels (as indeed in the novels of many socialist writers) the police appear as merciless, corrupt and sadistic: a ready tool in the hands of their masters the capitalists as in Coolie. The long hand of the law makes a quick job of justice, and Anand portrays it with a savage realism.

      The relationship between the poor is humane on one hand and the relationship between the poor themselves is inhumane on the other hand. As it is an admitted fact that Munoo’s parents were the victims of feudal exploitation and Munoo himself is ill-treated by his uncle and aunt who are themselves poor. Working in the house of Babu Nathoo Ram, Munoo is abused humiliated and beaten also. He is also hurt by the other servants in the neighbourhood while working in his service. Commenting upon the relationships between the poor themselves, Saros Cowasjee says, ‘Though Anand’s sympathies are with the poor, it would be a simplification to presume that all virtue is embodied in them. What Munoo suffers at the hands of his master is no more than what he suffers at the hands of fellow workers as down-trodden as himself who are capable of cruelty and callousness born out of a savage struggle for survival. The competition that Munoo faces at the grain market after Prabha’s insolvency is an example of it. In the night the coolies fight among themselves for share of the market courtyard to rest their naked bodies; in the morning they shove and push each other in a mad rush to carry heavy weights on their backs for a pittance. Munoo found it difficult to get through to the front, so wild was the rush for jobs by the taller and the heftier coolies. He tried to push, to scrape through the edges, to crawl under the legs of the crowd. But he did not get anywhere near the vantage point. He stood helpless at the back ‘only hearing the shouts’ the curses, the oaths and the prayers that rose from the throng.

      Get back, get back shouted the merchant, as he stood on top of his iron safe with a bamboo pole in his hand. ‘Get back. None of you will get a job if you don’t get back’. This is the condition of the coolies working in the village market. The life of the coolies is not secure there, they are working at the cost of their lives. Either they are Hindus or Muslims they have received the same lot in the tough competition between themselves.

Companionship and Humanity

      As it has been observed that there is competition among the poor. But it is also an established fact that there is also the feeling of companionship and humanity among themselves. There is a very intimate friendship between Munoo and Hari Har. The elephant driver also befriends Munoo. Munoo comes close to Prabha and the latter sympathises with the former. The utter sense of humanity is seen in Prabha’s character who takes all care of Munoo. Mohan is the other rickshaw puller who befriends Munoo during his sojourn in Simla and he tries his best to help him when he falls sick. The friendship between Munoo and Ratan grows while they are working in the Cotton Mill in Bombay Ratan helps him and old Hari Har in the hour of misfortunes. Munoo and Ratans’s friendship grows as two Punjabis develop their friendships. Commenting upon the comradeship between Munoo and Ratan, Saros Cowasjee says, “Ratan’s heartiness, courage, strength, and debauchery make a pleasant change from the suffering and apathy of the rest of the coolies, but he fails to hold our interest and seems out of place in his milieu. Anand has tried to show in him the ideal worker who braves his master for what he considers to be his rights; he is also used to show the comradeship that prevails among the very poor”. As we see in the novel that when Hari’s hut is washed away by the rains, it is Ratan who comes to their rescue in his hour of need and he invites the whole family over to his place and arranges shelter for them. He also protects Hari, Munoo and other coolies from the bullying Jimmie Thomas, the foreman of the Cotton Mill. He argues with him for the cause of Hari and Munoo and he is therefore dismissed on the charge of creating trouble in the factory. Thus we meet the poor not only with the sense of competition between themselves but also the greater sense of comradeship and humanity between them.

Fast Friendship

      The friendship between Ratan and Munoo is quite unique. There is no wrong intention in his heart to misguide him while taking him to the house of ill repute. He takes him to the parlour of a harlot seeking some fun due to being tired of arduous services in the factory. This is the part of his intimacy to visit the red light area. Commenting upon the friendship between Munoo and Ratan, says Anand. The circumstances of their lives cemented the bond in a way which was unique, for brotherliness was the only compensation for the bitterness of life in the factory and in the homes in which they lived, worked and had their being. It is a fact that friendship grows between equals—the poor to the poor, and it is well examined in the novel. The poor have nothing. So, they are sometimes fierce and violent. But if they have something they share willingly with those who have none. They feel contented to share their sorrow and happiness. This is the emblem of real and ideal friendship which is brought to light as a message in the novel.

Relationship between Children

      The novel also explores the relationship between children but Anand does not glorify the characteristics of the children. As Anand often writes about the young people, but he does not idealize them. Anand clearly shows that children, inspite of their comparative innocence feel the prejudices done by their parents. Nathoo Ram’s daughter, Sheila pushes Munoo away when he wants to mix with the children. She says that he is a servant and he need not play with them. Sheila knows that her mother’s attitude is different towards Munoo. Therefore, in Sheila’s voice, we see her mother’s voice. Sheila does not express the love like Catherine who loves Heathcliff, an orphan boy in her family Munoo does not understand the limitation between the high and low so, he is not easily discouraged. The other boy servants who worked in the neighbourhood quarrel with Munoo and beat him. Munoo is the leader of the village boys and after him, Jai Singh, the son of the landlord is his rival for leadership. These are some relationships between the children discussed in the novel.

Relationships of Hindu-Muslim

      The relationship between Hindu-Muslim is perhaps one of the major subjects discussed for the first time in Coolie in Indo-Anglian fiction. The novelist elaborated the communal riots which had been engineered by the British forces to break the workers strike, and this has aggravated miseries of their lives. The communal harmony breaks and both the communities forgetting their past become thirsty for each other’s blood. Anand has for the first time examined and referred the view of communal relationships in his great art. Saros Cowasjee has remarked, “In Indo-Anglian fiction, Coolie is perhaps the first novel to touch on this subject, and it foreshadows the murderous riots that followed the partition of India in 1947. The way the broken accents of a cry ‘Kidnapped! kidnapped! Oh, my son has been kidnapped, is taken up by the crowd and elaborated till nothing but an insane hatred rages between Hindus and Muslims is quite brilliantly done. As this rumour spreads the Hindus and the Muslims run wild in the streets with sticks and knives, killing and shouting and hurling abuses. As he was returning from the dais, he was intervened, ‘Who are you, a Hindu or a Mohammedan?’ a burly Pathan grunted, towering over him and flourishing a stick. Munoo heard people saying that these Pathans, have been kidnapping the children of the poor people, one person commented that the mill owners set them on. “As he (Munoo) looked up from where he had fallen he saw a Mohammedan outlined against the tramway. He instinctively closed his eyes and loosened his body to stimulate the likeness of a corpse. The man kicked him with a contemptuous whisper of “Hindu dog.” And then left with his companions, shouting, stamping, fierce and bloody. Munoo is lifted by two men of social service league and is given treatment by the doctor. The example of communal harmony is observed in the treatment of him. The British police control the situation and everything is normalised then. Next morning, Munoo, with the reflection of the happenings of the previous evening, realised for the first time in his life, the hardness of life.


      Anand through his great art Coolie discusses various kinds of human relationships and he wants seeing the man, the whole man free from all prejudices. He has deeply studied the human nature and concludes that there are two classes—the oppressor and oppressed in the society However, they are bounded by human relationships. They have some qualities and some shortcomings. It is a fact that the British oppress Indians and it is equally true that the capitalist India also oppresses the poor. So, this is human nature to rule over the weak. So Anand wants equal justice in the society Therefore, the major theme of his novel is correctly based on human centrality or human relationships.

University Questions

The major theme of Coolie is based upon ‘the story of human relationship’. Discuss.
Coolie has been treated as a novel of “human centrality”. Elaborate and comment.
There are various types of human relationship in the novel Coolie. Narrate them in detail.
‘Comradeship and humanity’ are the main issue which has been dealt with in Coolie. Critically justify it with reference to Coolie.
In Indo-Anglian fiction, Coolie is the first novel to touch upon the Hindu-Muslim relationships or communal relationships. Discuss with special reference to Coolie.

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