Untouchable Summary and Analysis of "Bakha and the Christian Missionary"


After running for a few minutes, Bakha begins to slacken his pace. He asks rhetorically what he’s done to deserve such an unlucky day. He realizes he is homeless, something he’s familiar with since his father frequently threatened him and his brother in that way. As he muses about his horrible day, he spies a pipal tree and sits under it.

Resting under the tree, Bakha longs for a sympathetic person to come and comfort him, but thinks such a person will not pass by. He is wrong. Colonel Hutchinson, chief of the local Salvation Army, is never far from the outcaste’s colony, much to his wife’s chagrin. Her husband’s efforts to convert untouchables amongst the rubbish heaps and latrines of Bulashah do not impress her. In his 25 years working in India, the Colonel has only converted five Indians to Christianity, making his mission here a waste of time in Mrs. Hutchinson’s eyes. Still, Colonel Hutchinson persists.

The Colonel comes across Bakha sitting under the pipal tree. He surprises Bakha by touching his shoulder and asking him in broken Hindustani what’s wrong. Both the touch and the language shocks Bakha, so rare it is to find Englishman that deigned to learn the native tongues of India. Bakha feels flattered that he is the recipient of the Englishman’s pity and sympathy. The two go through the typical pleasantries of asking about each other’s health before the Colonel pronounces himself as a “padre” whose God is Yessuh Messih. He quotes some Scripture, telling Bakha “come all ye that labor and I will give you rest” (Anand 243).

Perking up at “labor” and “rest” Bakha asks who Yessuh Messih is. Colonel Hutchinson says he will explain, and begins to drag Bakha with him towards the church. As he leads the way the Colonel begins singing Christian songs about Jesus, which confuses Bakha because he cannot understand a word. He wonders how the Christian God is different from Rama, the God his father and their ancestors worshiped. He tries to ask the Colonel to explain, but the man is caught up in his singing and rambling. Any questions he manages to ask simply sparks another round of hymn singing. Bakha is bored by the proceedings but is happy and proud to be walking with a white man, so he suffers through the boredom.

Eventually though it grows too tiresome even for the English-loving Bakha. He followed the Colonel because the priest wore trousers and trousers were his dream. For Bakha, interacting with Colonel Hutchinson had conjured up visions of himself wearing trousers and speaking English. But now, Bakha begins to think maybe he should try sneaking off by telling him he needs to go clean the latrines. Just as he is about to make his escape, the Colonel notices Bakha’s lagging interest and tries to engage him in conversation. He tells Bakha that Yessuh Messih is the Son of God and died for their sins. Noticing that this bit of information didn’t grab Bakha’s attention, Hutchinson adds that Yessuh Messih sacrificed himself for the Brahmin and the Bhangis, and sees them as equals.

At this, Bakha is captivated. But then the Colonel loses him again by saying they are all born sinners and must confess their sins in order to be saved. Not only does Bakha take offense at being called a sinner, but he also doesn’t understand the concept of confessing your sins. At this point, he only continues to follow the Colonel in hopes the man will give him a pair of cast-off trousers.

The pair finally reaches the compound containing the church and the Colonel’s bungalow. Before they can enter the church, the shrill voice of the Colonel’s wife pierces the air. She screams that the afternoon tea is ready, to which the Colonel replies automatically, “Coming, coming” (Anand 254). He is afraid of his wife and doesn’t know if he should go meet her or take Bakha into the church. Before he can decide, it’s too late. His wife comes out their house and at the sight of Bakha begins to shout again. She scolds her husband for “going to [those] blackies again,” even when he is met with derision and violence. In the face of her anger, Bakha tries to slip away, thinking he is the cause, but the Colonel tells him to wait. At this, Mary Hutchinson says she refuses to wait for the Colonel while he “messes about with all those dirty bhangis and chamars” and goes back inside (Anand 256).

All this time Bakha hadn’t understood the argument between the Colonel and his wife, but at the words bhangis and chamars he grows fearful. He quickly says goodbye to the Colonel and runs away, as the Colonel stares forlornly after him.


The final two movements (discussed in this and the next section) in Bakha’s story are vastly different from the rest of the novel. For most of the novel, it is clear that Bakha is the main character. He plays an instrumental role in many of the book’s events. Apart from a short sojourn with Sohini, the third-person narrator relates Bakha’s trajectory through the day.

During “Bakha and the Christian Missionary,” however, it feels as if Bakha is a mere spectator in his own life. He is mute and inactive during the Colonel’s argument with Mary Hutchinson, even though it appears he is the source of their feud. In Bakha’s defense, he didn’t fully understand what was happening since he does not speak their language. The shift in the storytelling in the last two vignettes reminds us that while Untouchable is a story of someone’s life, it is also a novel of social commentary. It is somewhere between a bildungsroman and the work of a muckraker.

Other elements of “Bakha and the Christian Missionary” remind us that Untouchable is a political, sociocultural piece of writing. For example, the tug of war between Christianity and Hinduism that occurs. First seduced by Colonel Hutchinson’s whiteness, Bakha is eventually convinced to accompany the Salvation Army chief when he says that Yessuh Messih can give him rest from his labors. Though he doesn’t want to convert, Bakha is intrigued and slightly swayed when he hears that Yessuh Messih sees no difference between himself and the Brahmins.

Because the argument between the Colonel and his wife scares Bakha off before the Colonel can explicitly bring up converting, we do not know what the young sweeper would have decided. However, this scene is important because it is an allusion to the real-life conversion of untouchables from Hinduism to other religions in order to escape caste prosecution. This tug of war between Hinduism and Christianity is just another manifestation of the "religion" theme that’s prevalent throughout the whole novel.

Though Bakha remains ignorant of the deeper social and political issues that impact and govern his life, it is obvious he has grown and matured over the course of his long day. He is still enamored with the British and their ways of life, but his obsession is tempered by self-awareness. He now knows that sometimes he takes his predilection for the British too far.