Dr. Pretti Kumar


This paper is restricted to a few stories and novels of Mulk Raj Anand. (Namely, only those mentioned here. The word ‘influence’ in the later part of title is used in the sense ‘to create’ women characters. The paper is presented with an aim to understand women in a broader sense, not limited to written works alone and to further encourage such researches at a wider level.)


Anand is more interested in life than in art, and in art only in so far as it serves life. He considers “truly humanist art is commensurate with the needs of our times.” He wrote, ‘we had set out hearts, on our liberation and those of the oppressed people, whoever they were, and whatever shape, size and colour’, Anand took up this fight for liberation in his novels in the early thirties and continued it.


It was a love affair with Irene in Wales that led to the awakening of the novelist in him. In his special preface to the second Indian edition of Two leaves and a Bud (1951), Anand has given us a hint of the early fire and drive behind his first novels


Incidents that Anand isolates as having made the most lasting impressions on him -is the death of his cousin Kaushalya, aged nine when he himself was only eleven. It was difficult, he tells us to reconcile the idea of a benevolent God with the sudden irrational death of this innocent and much loved cousin. Anand claims that his spiritual awareness dates from this time. Equally important was the death of his aunt Devaki, driven to suicide as a result of her ostracization by an orthodox Hindu society, for among other things, visiting a Muslim woman, Anand cites this incident as the origin of an anger that was to last through his life, an anger against a society bigoted by caste and class and a religion which supported its perversity. (Anand’s humanism is more elaborate, more complex, and while one might accept that he had sources in his mother’s spirituality and in these early experiences it took shape and grew in an environment, both in Imperial India and in Britain, that was finally determining of its form.)


Anand himself acknowledges:


All these heroes as the other men and women who had emerged in my novels and short  stories, were dear to me, because they were the reflections of the real people I had known during my childhood  and youth. And I was only repaying the debt of gratitude I owed them for much of the inspiration they had given to me to mature into manhood-when I began to interpret their lives in my writing, they were not mere phantoms…. They were  flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood, and obsessed me in the way in which certain human beings obsess an artist’s soul. And I was doing no more than what a writer does when he seeks to interpret the truth from the realities of life.


It is Anand’s humanism, his fundamental faith in mankind, that has dictated his notions of what the goals of a social system ought to be and his belief that the novel-all art, in tact –is able to sensitize human beings and, ultimately, to enhance the quality of their lives.


“Man”, for Anand, is most emphatically a generic term. Throughout his life he has boldly advocated the recognition of women as people, seeing them, in fact, as rather special people because of their peculiar fineness of perception and sensibility. Anand tends to view women as possessing more interiorness, more sensitivity, than men and attributes the best in writers such as D. H. Lawrence and E. M. Foster to what he has referred to as ‘the feminine sensibility’. Sympathetic to the historic plight of women and eager to see them emerge from the oppression under which they have suffered so long, Anand has welcomed women’s efforts on their own behalf. He stated in 1973, that…. It’s quite likely that the present Women’s Liberation Movement, the whole revolt of women in the world, is an assertion of the feminine principle, which men have neglected and ignored and suppressed. Now, once woman is able to win her liberation, I feel that the equal but different situation of man and woman will become far more congenial. People will live together more easily... Women’s Liberation is ultimately the liberation of man himself.


Such beliefs had been implied in Anand’s writings long before 1973, and he had often brought sharp criticism upon himself in his own country for his outspoken and unorthodox stand against arranged marriages, for instance, in which the woman’s feelings are not taken into account at all and in which the woman is almost never viewed in her own right as a person.


We shall find, accounts not only for many of the formations in Anand’s work but also for the grotesque distortions that go with them. Thus a reviewer snugly observes: He (Anand) is as Freudian a baby as was ever born in English fiction of the twenties and the thirties. (The birthrate seems to have fallen since), and his seven summers are hot with his physical love for his mother and aunts.


Mrs. Mainwaring, in Coolie is a woman of vast pretensions and no morals, and makes Munoo her rikshaw-puller and domestic servant (and perhaps something more as well).


Sohini in Untouchable serves two purposes firstly, she exposes the hypocrisy of the caste Hindus who are polluted by the touch of a sweeper but do not hesitate to embrace a beautiful sweeper girl for lustful gratification; secondly, she serves to bring out yet another fact that even among the untouchables there are castes and classes. They too are jealous of each other and quarrel among themselves, for example-Gulabo. The novelist does not idealise; he knows that there are both good and bad among the untouchables also.


(Anand once wrote (to Cowasjee), “About intellectual matters: Your letter, about Mrs. (Meeankshi) Mukherjee’s meanderings, is wonderful, because it is pungent, hard-hitting and has paid due attention to her unconscious malice. I could not have said all that because I tend now to be a thin-blooded liberal. But it is refreshing to find how naturally one writes if one is honest and straightforward even where a woman is involved.


In The sword and the Sickle, although the focus is on Lal Singh, Anand’s treatment of Maya reflects his recognition of her as more than simply the traditional good and submissive Hindu wife. As Anand himself has commented, “in the act of running away with (Lalu).. .(Maya) has surpassed other women. She has made a revolution of her own, liberated herself.” Moreover, a major element in Lalu’s struggle to grow and to develop a mature and responsible sense of self is his gradual awareness of his wife’s identity apart from his own and his increasingly enlightened efforts to live with her in a relationship of love based on equality and partnership between husband and wife. And it is Janki in The Big Heart not the poet Puran Singh, who goes out into the world of Amritsar to carry on Ananta’s work after his death. It is she, moreover, from whom Ananta had derived so much of his strength and moral courage.


In Birth the central figure of the story Parvati is sustained by her traditional faith in her hour of need. The story also demonstrates how Anand’s best work reveals a deep apprehension of what is enduring in the Indian folk tradition. Parvati is a representative figure; she is traditional rustic Indian womanhood at its best.


Anand’s respect for women and for their abilities began early in his own life. According to K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar ‘From his peasant mother he doubtless derived his commonsense, his sense of the ache of Indian humanity, and his understanding compassion for the waifs the disinherited, the lowly and the lost If his mother had been largely subservient to his father and if she had been often hurt by her husband’s ridicule of her piety, she nevertheless had been assertive enough to go her own religious way and to practice her Sikhism with quiet but firm dignity. More generally, women in India had always almost remained behind the scenes, well out of the limelight, until the Independence movement when they boldly joined the men in the front lines of resistance against the British, the young Anand was aware that they had traditionally exercised a good deal of power and control in the home. Also, having grown up in Northern India in the Punjab, he was accustomed to seeing the Hindu and Sikh women going about freely than their sisters in the South. Whatever the sexual taboos that were operative in the North, there tended to be a freer mingling between the sexes and thus, perhaps, less use of women as sex objects’.


According to M. K. Naik, “the position of woman in traditional Hindu society is a recurring theme in Anand’s fiction, and quite a few of his short stories are devoted to it, bringing out both the tears and the laughter latent in the subject. Among these “Lajwanti” is perhaps most memorable. Here a motherless young rustic girl whose husband is away at college, finds herself a target of her lascivious, pock- marked brother-in-law, discovers to the horror that her mother-in-law connives at his doings; runs away to her father’s house but is sent back; and in the end, tries unsuccessfully to drown in a well. As she is fished out, her plaintive cry is “There is no way for me … I am…condemned to live.” There are other innocents too, some condemned to die and some victims of callousness, cruelty and custom. The story “Naina” presents with deep compassion the psychological torture undergone by a young wife as she comes to realise her true position in the house merely -a lust satisfying machine for her oversexed husband, who insists on having his full conjugal rights at the very moment when she is shocked by the death, in an accident, of a workman outside. The theme is treated in a lighter vein in “Lottery”, and the treatment is uproariously funny in, “Two Lady Rams.”


Among the women in his fictional world, we encounter both rustic and urban types; and both the maharani and the beggar maid, the village belle and the society lady.


Apart from that, as an adult in London and later back in India, Anand became accustomed to women who were independent, productive, and free spirited. Beautiful, talented and intelligent, Anil has been described by Anand as ‘a most remarkable woman’. Assistant Editor of Marg, director, of the new publishing house, and well known and active in Bombay, intellectual circles, Anil was very much an enlightened woman. Anand went to live with her, and she was scorned by many because she ‘had the courage to go around and choose her own men’. In 1948, Anand returned to London to get his divorce in order to marry Anil, but by the time he came back to Bombay, Anil, the victim of her own securities, had run way. The whole affair had caused a scandal among their circle and her departure pained Anand a great deal. Through it all, however, he never lost his sense of Anil as a person who ‘could inspire a tremendous amount of work’ and as a woman who had courageously struck out on her own.


Anand has expended considerable energy trying to instill in young women independence and self-esteem for e.g. Shirin Vadjifdar (his wife) and their common friend Dolly Sahiar. Some of his efforts are reflected in a volume, The Bride’s Book of Beauty, he did in collaboration with Krishna Hutheesing, Nehru’s sister, soon after his return to India. The book was designed to help the Indian woman enhance her beauty through a knowledge of the laws of health and the rules of personal hygiene. But the real message of the book was in part I, entitled ‘The Bride’. Most of this little essay is devoted to a brief history of the role of women in Indian society, from the earliest days of Aryans, when the woman ‘was a responsible partner in... .marriage, in no sense subservient to or dependent on, the will of the man’ through the oppressive subjugation inflicted upon women by the priestly laws of Manu, including  purdha, infant marriage and sati.


Anand uses the historical summary for the advocacy of his own views, which were advanced for many men- or women- in 1947. He speaks of economic in-dependence of women as a means by which “the institution of marriage might become more honest.” “If  marriage be considered a healthy relationship because, at its best, it conduces to a higher degree of self respect, the economic independence of the individuals who marry... will assuredly give them a greater sense of companionship.” Expressing the fact that “woman is able to do all the jobs that a man can do and does not stand in any need of patronage from man” Anand holds out the hope that the future will bring equality between men and women. Such views even over thirty years later have by no means been universally accepted, and they reinforce the depth of Anand’s humanism.


In one of his letters to Saros Cowasjee, he wrote...I shall think of an article, probably my newest on “The Tender Moment.” I have also written an essay called “Barbarism and Indian sexual Practice” You know that every Aryan male rapes the helpless female in the arranged marriages of India on the first night. The cries are drowned in the music outside. And yet many of our Modernists accept Vedic rites at their weddings. This hypocrisy stinks. 


The fullest fictional expression of Anand’s advocacy of freedom for women is in his novel, The Old Woman and the Cow, published in 1960. This narrative is convincing and effective in part because the sympathy Anand evokes for young Gauri is not at the expense of her husband, Panchi. The latter’s inability to keep up with his wife in her growth into selfhood is due to his own immaturity, his blind, unquestioning faith in the tradition-bound, orthodox Hindu views governing the relationship between husband and wife, and the pressures of earning a livelihood in a period of drought and famine. An orphan brought up by his aunt, Kesaro, Panchi is hard -put to deal with Kesaro’s jealousy of Gauri or with the insulting innuendoes she levels against the girl in an effort to retain her own hold over her nephew. Panchi is torn between his natural affection for his wife and his loyalty to Kesaro. He can’t get beyond the notion that Gauri is an extension of himself and that she should behave always, even under his kicks and blows, as the cow -like, submissive and infinitely ‘good Hindu wife’. Towards the end of the novel when he and Gauri have been reunited and he has begun to comprehend the tact that his gentle bride had become a woman and secretly to admire her strength and independence of mind, Panchi once more succumbs to the jealousy of his aunt and the groundless gossip of the village. She had, after all, lived in the house of another man. Panchi turns his wife way, but without understanding that this time she will not come back, for Gauri by now is her own woman.


Anand slowly and consciously prepares for the change in Gauri from being an extension of her husband to the independent adult she is by the close of The Old Woman And The Cow. As he has explained, “Sudden revolt would not be possible in Indian life, I didn’t want to show anything alien to her consciousness...But the growth of consciousness in Gauri from innocence to experience is a very important purpose of that novel”. In the early days of her marriage, Gauri had quickly come to know her husband and was convinced that, if she would only be patient and humble, she would win Panchi away from his aunt. However, Gauri in her struggle with Kesaro, surprised everyone by her spirited demonstration that the ‘gentle cow’ could, in fact, be assertive. Her first significant step on the road to maturity and identity comes with the circumstances that occur following her return to the home of her mother, Laxmi, and her uncle, Amru. As Anand later said, Gauri is betrayed by her mother, who sells her daughter rather than sell the cow, because of the cash-nexus involved, and in the village life, the milk is more valuable to the mother than the daughter. 


Gauri grew more and more capable of love to the degree that she was able to forge a destiny of her own. And the Gauri of 1960 is a woman of considerably higher consciousness than a character like Maya, in The Sword And The Sickle of 1942 Anand had expressed that Gauri is a believable character, not a ‘revolutionary woman’, but an individual who has convincingly succeeded in becoming human and whole.


In addition to The Old Woman And The Cow, there are many pieces scattered through Anand’s seven books of short stories that deal in one way or another with the plight of the Indian woman and with her struggles to be accepted as a person. As Anand has queried, “Why should a woman be human only as a slave of man? Why can’t she be herself? That is what my peasant mother used to say.” An unpublished story of his focuses sharply on at least one consequence of a woman being regarded as a mere object and is best summarized in Anand’s own words.


“There is a young girl…… She is Very happy to get married to a handsome……I’ve begun the story when she is dressing up in the evening. Then this young man comes and shows her blue films..., She doesn’t take very much, and recoils …. She is violently assaulted when she thought he would caress her, talk to her or do some thing to woo her.., And I register in a poetic aside the fact that she freezes up for life for him, that she can no longer be  with him.  This is called “Breath in the Mirror.”


This shocking assault is more psychological than physical and in that sense holds significance beyond the Indian alone. Feeling, thus, for the situation of women in his own country and in the world and sympathetic to their need and desire to come into their own, Anand, through his writing, has aided Women’s Movement. Similarly, in his role in the World Peace Movement from 1948 on, he has attempted to aid the situation of mankind in general.


Anand wrote to Iyengar in July 1961:


I am doing some village social welfare working order to integrate my love for the poor with actual work for them …. I never realized, as intensely as I do now; the reason why both Tolstoy and Gandhi chose the peasantry for the devotion. After writing from many years about the pains of the people, I now feel that, for their sake, it may not all have been in vain. ‘The Old Woman And The Cow And The Road’ will confirm the poetic truth that the alleviation of pain and its exploitation are the only values given to our intelligentsia in the present time.


Finally Mulk Raj Anand’s novels offer witness of India’s agonizing attempt to break out of massive stagnation and create a society in which men and women are free and equal, in which they can, therefore, live dynamically and creatively. They give testimony of a generation of Indians familiar with the best and the worst of the West and with the best and worst of India. It is the evidence they afford of the Modern educated Indian’s struggle to identify himself and his country in the context of modem world society and to find roots that yet live in a mouldering heritage.