‘Untouchable‘ is the first novel by Mulk Raj Anand, published in 1935. This novel is a portrayal of ground reality in India, about the suppressed. He throws floodlight on the darkest spots of the untouchability that prevails till date. It is said that this novel is based on an experience of Anand’s aunt who was treated as an outcast (untouchable) in a Muslim house.
Mulk Raj Anand is considered to be one of the ‘founding fathers’ of Indian English Novels. ‘Untouchable’ was published in England with E M Forster’s preface. His other novels are: Coolie, 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.
In the novel, Anand depicts a particular day in the life of Bakha, an untouchable by his profession as a ‘latrine cleaner’. This novel is set in Bulandsha, a fictional Indian town. His father, Lakha, is the head of all the sweepers in the town. Lakha is lazy, tolerant and submissive. But Bakha is intelligent and questions his suppressive state in society.
Lakha yells at Bakha to get out of bed and go for his duties. Yet Bakha continues to be in bed. A high class man named Charat Singh, a famous hockey player, arrives and yells at Bakha to clean the latrine so that he can use it. Then Charat Singh changes his mind and invites Bakha to visit his house later in the day. He promises a high-priced hockey stick at his visit. Bakha overjoys. After completing his duties he hurries back home to quench his thirst. But he finds the water bucket empty. Sohini, Bakha’s sister goes to fill the water bucket.
Sohini stands at the queue of several other outcasts in the well. A jealous woman named Gulabo also standing there for water. She hates Sohini very much and is just barely stopped from striking. Pandit Kali Nath, a priest in the local temple comes and help her take water. He then leaves instructing her to clean the temple later in the day. She agrees and comes back home.
Lakha pretends to be ill. Bakha goes in his place to clean the town square and the temple courtyard. As Bakha is eating his favourite candies, a high-caste man attacks him as he forgets to give the untouchable’s call. A big crowd gathers and Bakha feels he is put into a public shame. Bakha hurries to temple crying for such a ruthless inhuman public shaming.
At the temple Bakha remembers to give untouchable’s call. Some service is being done inside the temple. His mind is intrigued to watch the service. He is dare enough to enter the temple. Inside the temple, a scream from behind reaches Bakha’s ears. A crowd gathers around where Kali Nath is accusing Sohini for polluting the temple. He pulls away Sohini from the crowd and comes to know that she was sexually assaulted by the priest. Furious Bakha seeks to confront the priest, but is stopped by Sohini.
Bakha goes to beg for food. He is screamed at in a house. The woman who screams at him offers to give him food if he can clean the area around her house. As he is cleaning, her child is relieving there. Disgusted Bakha leaves the place dropping all things there itself. Back at the home Bakha pours out all his emotions to his father. Lakha convinces him telling there are bad as well as good people in the high caste.
Unwilling to eat leftovers of the high castes, Bakha leaves home to attend his friend Ram Charan’s sister’s wedding. Ram Charan’s mother hates Bakha as he is an outcast. Despite of his mother’s warnings, Ram Charan joins his friends Chota and Bakha to a jollity. Alone, the two other boys sense something wrong with Bakha.
When they force him to tell, Bakha breaks out and recollects what has happened early in the day. Chota is ready to revenge them, but Bakha doesn’t believe in revenge as it may bring them a havoc. Chota tries to cheer Bakha up by reminding the hockey game they will play in the evening. Suddenly Charat Singh’s invitation to his house strikes in mind. So he hurries to Charat’s home.
Bakha waits under a tree at Charat Singh’s home not sure of his presence. He is both excited and afraid to think about how he would be treated at Charat Singh’s home.
Charat Singh comes out and invites Bakha to have a cup of tea with him. Bakha is really happy to be with such a wonderful human. He is treated cordially. He is allowed to touch anything at his house. Unlike everyone he has met earlier, this man is something different who doesn’t mind that his presence pollutes his home. Bakha is gifted with a brand-new hockey stick.
An overjoyed Bakha joins the hockey game with his friends. He scores high in the game. The opposite team gets angry. A sudden clash occurs between them that ends up in an injury to a young boy. Bakha takes the boy and rushes home for first aid. But the boy’s mother reprimands Bakha. Distraught, Bakha gets back home. His father screams at him for having neglected his duties all the afternoon. Bakha is banished from home insisting never to return.
Colonel Hutchinson, the chief of local army, takes the listless Bakha with him. But his wife doesn’t like a black man with her husband. So, Bakha reverts back to streets. Mahatma Gandhi’s arrival at the city is being spoken off. Bakha joins the group of people going to attend the meeting.
Gandhi arrives and begins his speech. He talks about the plight of outcasts and how it is his mission to emancipate them from such a pathetic condition. He concludes his speech requesting people to spread his words.
After his departure, Bakha listens to two educated men discussing about the possibility of ending untouchability. Their elevated language attracts Bakha so much rather than their words. One of them informs the imminent arrival of flush toilet in India that will gradually eradicate the need for men to clean human refuse. Bakha hurries back to home and shares Gandhi’s speech and the imminent arrival of flush toilet with his father.
UNTOUCHABLE CHARACTERS LIST
The protagonist of the novel. An untouchable, his experience during a span of one day is the plot of the novel.
Lakha is Bakha’s father. Lakha is very much a lazy man who wants all his works done by his sons. He is also submissive of his untouchable status.
Sohini is Bakha’s sister. She is molested by the priest of the local temple, Pandit Kali Nath. She is also ill-treated at many places because of her untouchable status.
One of Bakha’s friends. Despite being a higher caste, Ram Charan is friendly with Bakha with all compassion and empathy.
Charat Singh is a popular hocky player. He is so kind with Bakha and gifts him a valuable hockey stick.
A woman in the locale of Bakha. She hates Sohini very much, because she is an untouchable, ostracized by their society.