Coolie– an Overview:
Coolie, a social novel written by famous author Mulk Raj Anand, presents pre-partition Indian society. Coolie is Anand’s second novel. It came out in the year 1936. The author depicts various social issues that prevailed during the British rule in India. He brings out the plight of people belonging to the weaker section of the society through the young orphaned boy Munoo.
The plight of a young Coolie:
Munoo, a fourteen-year-old village boy, is orphaned after the death of his parents and is brought up by his uncle. His irate aunt considers him a burden, and he is forced to eke out his own living. He dreams of a life in the hills but is forced to travel out of his village to earn a living as domestic help, porter, factory worker, and rickshaw driver, which is basically a foot rickshaw.
He is sent to work in a ‘Babu’s (government official) bungalow as a servant. The lady of the house deplores his presence and denies him even the most basic right. One such instance is when Munoo is forced to control his urge to answer the nature call, which really instills a sense of disgust in the reader. ‘Oh, don’t beat me, please don’t beat me, uncle,’ cried Munoo. ‘I only want food.’(Coolie 47).
The offensive treatment he receives forces him to flee to Daulatpur to find a better life. In contrast, things get even worse, and he is subjected to endless misery. He suffers physical and mental torture, which exhibits the prevailed suppression of poor orphaned children. When Munoo sees no prospect of survival, he goes to the ‘‘City of Dreams’’, Bombay.
The city is different from small towns only in size and magnificence but not how it treats its poorer citizens. Bombay is seen as a microcosm of Indian society at large. British citizens viewed educated Indians as second-class citizens, and they in turn meekly accept the fact with servile flattery.
The most striking resemblance between the two groups was their conformance to the belief that the poor existed only to be trampled upon. By a cruel turn of events, Munoo is forced to leave Bombay and reaches Shimla, where the novel reaches a tragic end. He dies of tuberculosis in the end because of poverty. Munoo universally symbolizes the suffering of the oppressed and those taken advantage of. Through his work, the author shows the decline and upturn in the life of Munoo.
“India saw third class-a continent whose bleakness, vastness, and poverty are unshaded by a touch of the glamour more or less fictious, that so many English storytellers, from Kipling to Major Yeats-Brown, have preferred to draw across the scene”- words of Peter Quenelle.
The Novel as a reflection of the pre-partition Indian society:
The novel describes the conditions of the poor people and how they were treated during the pre-independence era. The pathetic condition of Munoo serves the good intention of evoking the conscience of the educated Indians to the economic and social injustices in India.
It gives insights into the tyranny of the caste and class system, exploitation of the poor by the rich, and the social, moral, and economic consequences it has on society. The story does not really have a “quintessential” good individual but rather the goodness in a few individuals which springs up now and then. But these instances are far too few in number rendering the poor helpless.
The author has brought out the dark aspects such as brutal suppression of the poor by the aristocrats, domination of bureaucrats over the downtrodden people, hypocrisy, capitalism and colonialism, caste system, and inhumane behavior of so-called upper caste people. He brings into prominence the requirement of re-establishment of kindness in the world lost in capitalism and colonialism. (Colonialism means oppression, humiliation and suppression of people of the colonized regions).
His philosophy is extremely against fascism, feudalism, imperialism, and tendencies that obstruct man’s efforts to attain freedom. These forces separate people into groups and classes, which is why it should be deliberately avoided. There should be democracy, socialism and nations must be in harmony with each other. Everyone should have social, economic, political, intellectual and emotional freedom without destroying another’s freedom. He reveals the stipulation of the subjugated people through different characters in the novel.
A realistic picture of aristocratic domination and the impact of oppression over the poor people are well rendered. Coolie is a great novel of pre-independence India that has stood the test of time gallantly. His writings arrest the critical attention of the learned people towards the atrocities, detestation, and unjustified conditions of the downtrodden and deprived of Indian society.
His humanitarian approach and humane attitude have always prompted him to use his mind and art for social welfare.” Anand’s Coolie carries no specific indictment of individuals: the indictment is against society as a whole- a society that breeds such prejudice and cupidity and cruelty.”The general effect is panoramic, good and evil being thrown together as in actual life; there is no time for us to pause, to think, to judge (K.R.SrinivasaIyengar, 341).
This novel brings out the appalling conditions reined during the pre-partition period of India and its awful effects on the livelihood of the oppressed people. So, it is renowned for the realistic depiction of the pre-partition Indian society, and the author is reputed for his socialistic novel.