COOLIE BY MULK RAJ ANAND
‘Coolie‘ is a novel by Mulk Raj Anand published in 1936. It criticizes the exploitation of poor in the name of caste and social class. Coolie is a pathbreaking novel which enhanced Mulk Raj Anand’s position as a novelist and clinched a permanent place for him among Indian novelists.
Anand’s other novels are: Untouchable, Two Leaves and a Bud, The Sword and the Sickle, The Big Heart, The Lost Child, The Private Life of an Indian Prince, The Old Woman and the Cow and The Death of a Hero
The protagonist of the novel, Munoo, a 14 years old orphan boy, a poorly fed poor. The setting of the novel changes from place to place very often.
Munoo is an orphan boy from Kangra Hills in Bilaspur. His uncle and aunt raise him up. At one particular point of time, he is compelled to leave home and find a job for himself as his uncle is not affordable to support him. Munoo finds job under Babu Nathoo Ram and this lasts only a while. Next he works in Prabhu Dayal’s pickle factory. Unfortunate Munoo, looses this pickle factory work when Ganpat, one of the partners of the factory, goes bankrupt. Then he finds work in a mill in Bombay and this makes no difference. Finally as a rickshaw driver in Simla where he passes away owing to severe tuberculosis.
Munoo is a fourteen years old boy from a village surrounded by nature in Kangra Hills, Bilaspur. An ill-fated orphan who leads a content life with his uncle and aunt amidst various abuses and ill-treatments. His happiest days are only with his native village in Bilaspur and he is nostalgic for his village at every point throughout the novel.
Munoo lives with his uncle Daya Ram and aunt Gujri. Gujri would always be callous towards Munoo. When the exploitation of capitalism spares less economy in the family, Munoo is forced to go with his uncle and find a job in town. He leaves school and goes to town with his uncle.
On coming to town, he feels he is shown a different world. Every sight attracts his thought. He joins as a servant for three rupees under Babu Nathoo Ram, a sub-accountant in Imperial Bank, Sham Nagar. He comes to admire Prem Chand, a doctor and the younger brother of Babu Nathoo Ram. Prem admires the young boy and kindly towards him. He experiences many an abuse in the hands of Bibi Uttam Kaur, the wife of Babu Nathoo Ram. One day Munoo accidentally bites Babu Ram’s daughter Sheila’s cheek when he is doing a monkey dance and this makes the situation upside down. Munoo is beaten up severely by Babu Nathoo Ram. Unable to tolerate such torments mentally and physically from dawn to dusk, he escapes the house and takes a train.
The train lands him in Daulatpur where he is employed in a pickle factory run by Prabhu Dayal with his partner Ganpat. Life in Daulatpur is a happy one for Munoo since everyone is kind to him. Particularly Prabhu and his wife treat him very kindly and it is more than expected for a coolie. Prabhu Dayal’s neighbour Sir Todar Mal, the public prosecutor, has made a complaint against the pickle factory as it emits an unbearable amount of smoke which may cause a damage to his walls and some ailments. But Prabhu deals it with humility, able to convince him with some free pickles. One day, Ganpat cheats Prabhu Dayal as he goes bankrupt. It becomes clear that Prabhu cannot think running the factory. So he returns to his village. Munoo is left alone in streets once again.
An elephant driver helps Munoo reach Bombay. He hopes to earn more money in Bombay working in factories. But he soon realizes that Bombay is no exception where also coolies slept on the streets. He gets employed in Sir George White Cotton Mill. Hari becomes his close friend there. The exploitation is at its worst in the factory. Long working hours, but meager wage. The economic condition of coolies makes them prone to the capitalism. Ratan, a co-worker and wrestler, becomes Munoo’s role model as he is not afraid of Jimmy Thomas, the bullying foreman of the factory. Soon the factory is shut down due to lack of work and when a communal riot breaks out.
Munoo is unlucky enough to strand on roads. When Munoo is roaming among Bombay roads, Mrs Mainwaring’s car knocks him down accidentally. Mrs Mainwaring takes him to Simla as her servant. Mainwaring is kind to Munoo. He works as her personal assistant. He also takes over her rickshaw. However he soon contracts tuberculosis and dies at just fifteen.