Mulk Raj Anand 1905–
Indian novelist, short story writer, autobiographer, essayist, and nonfiction writer.
The following entry provides an overview of Anand's career through 1992. See also Mulk Raj Anand Criticism (Volume 23).
Along with R. K. Narayan and Raja Rao, Anand is credited with establishing the basic forms and themes of modern Indian literature written in English. At the core of his writing is a humanist philosophy that incorporates elements of socialist political and economic theory. Critics argue that his socially conscious works have shed keen insights on Indian affairs and enriched his country's literary heritage.
Born in Peshawar, India, Anand began his formal education at a time when the Indian educational system emphasized proficiency in English. The author has since criticized the education he received in Indian primary and secondary schools and at the University of Punjab for neglecting Indian and European culture and leaving students ill-prepared for adult life. Anand attended University College and Cambridge University in England, where he studied English literature and forged friendships with members of the Bloomsbury Group, including E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf. After receiving his doctorate in English in 1929, Anand spent several years in Europe before returning to India to join Mohandas K. Gandhi's crusade for national independence from British rule. Anand's first novel, Untouchable, was published in 1935 and included an introduction by Forster. Anand has held several teaching positions, including the first Tagore Professorship of Fine Arts at the University of Punjab from 1963 to 1966, and has served as editor of the Indian arts quarterly Marg since 1946. He has been recognized with a number of awards, including the Sahitya Academy Award in 1947, the World Peace Council Prize in 1952, and the Padma Bhushan Award in 1968.
His personal experiences and the reform of India's political, social, and cultural institutions are major elements in Anand's writings. Such early fictional works as Untouchable, The Coolie (1936), and Two Leaves and a Bud (1937) dramatize the cruelties inherent in the caste system and the suffering induced by poverty. Untouchable, for example, was inspired by the author's childhood memory of a low-caste sweeper boy who carried him home after he'd been injured; the boy was, however, beaten by Anand's mother for touching her higher-caste son. The book was a revelation to readers unaware of the circumstances of life in a caste society and sparked extensive critical debate. Anand's interest in social themes continued in The Coolie and Two Leaves and a Bud, which relate the tribulations of working-class life in India. Critics assert that in his early work Anand employed a markedly polemical style when attributing India's social problems to the caste system, British rule, and capitalism. His style and thematic focus shifted to more psychological and humanistic interpretations in such later works as The Private Life of an Indian Prince (1953)—which explores the emotional and mental deterioration of a young royal who neglects his duties in pursuit of an affair with a peasant woman—and in the autobiographical novels comprising his "Seven Ages of Man" series, in which he relates the events of his life through the character Krishan Chander. The first volume in the series, Seven Summers (1951), spans the first seven years of the author's life and explores the interplay of reality and imagination unique to childhood. In Morning Face (1968), Anand recounts the inadequacy of his early education and the cruel treatment he and other students endured at the hands of their schoolmasters, memories that led the author in later years to campaign for educational reform in India. Confession of a Lover (1984) explores the pain of a lost love during the author's college years. The Bubble (1984), which covers his life as a student and young writer in London, includes much discussion of his involvement with the Bloomsbury Group writers.
For his realistic portrayals of the social and economic problems suffered by Indians because of the caste system and British colonial rule, Anand is considered by many critics to be one of India's best writers. The value of his novels, according to Margaret Berry, "is the witness they offer of India's agonizing attempt to break out of massive stagnation and create a society in which men and women are free and equal." Although Anand's early works were faulted by some critics for stereotypical characterization, didacticism, and melodrama, critics have noted a restraint in later novels that enhances the persuasiveness of his appeals. Krishna Nandan Sinha has remarked: "While the later novels retain the passion for social justice, they sound greater emotional depths."