Bakha Talks to the Other Colony Boys
Taking the lane that connects the outcaste colony to the rest of Bulashah, Bakha notes the difference between the “odorous, smoky” air and the “clean, fresh air” of the empty space beyond the colony. He stops, stands in place, and tilts his body towards the sun and revels in the rays, imagining the warmth of them embracing his body. It takes Bakha a minute to realize that his brother Rakha and his friends Ram Charan, the washerman’s son, and Chota, the leatherworker’s son, are watching him. He feels embarrassed that Ram Charan and Chota saw him because they often make fun of him for his unorthodox ways, even though they also aspire to emulate the British.
The boys trade insults and joke amongst each other. Ram Charan announces that his sister will get married today, which sends a slight pang through Bakha because he likes her. Chota then asks Bakha where he’s going. Bakha remembers his assignment for the day and tells Rakha to hurry back and clean the latrines in his absence. Rakha seems to resent his brother’s orders but heads home anyways. Chota and Ram Charan try to convince Bakha to skip his work so he can go gambling with him. Bakha refuses because his sense of duty is too strong and he is afraid of his father’s ire.
Just as Bakha goes to leave, the sons of the burra babu, a caste man, approaches their little group. At 10 and 8 years old, they are considerably younger than Bakha and his friends. Bakha greats them respectfully while Ram Charan and Chota ask them impudently if they would like to join a hockey game later. Because their father is close with the captain of the regimental hockey teams, the sons of the babu have access to lots of spare hockey equipment. The boys agree and then the younger one reminds his brother they must hurry to school. At this, Bakha’s ears perk up. He has a fierce desire to learn how to read but the schools refuse to admit untouchables. Seizing the opportunity in front of him, Bakha asks the eldest son of the babu to teach him how to read in exchange for one anna per lesson. Eager for the extra pocket money the babu’s son agrees and the boys arrange to meet later in the day for their first lesson.
The babu’s sons leave and Bakha’s friends tease him about his forthcoming knowledge. They jokingly predict that soon he won’t even want to talk to them. Bakha brushes their jokes aside and continues on towards the town gates, his heart light.
Bakha Touches a High Caste
After he enters the town proper the first thing Bakha sees is a funeral procession. At the sight of the body, he feels a twinge of fear but shrugs it off. He stops and buys some cigarettes. He forgets to buy matches but feels embarrassed at the idea of going back to the cigarette vendor. He sees a Muslim man smoking and asks him for some coal to light his cigarette with. The Muslim man allows Bakha to light up using the same piece of coal he is already using.
Bakha smokes and walks along the main road. Because his duties at the latrines are so time consuming it has been almost a month since he was last in town. He takes in all the sights and sounds avidly. He becomes engrossed in the various products displayed for sale. The sweets shop catches his eyes, and he goes to have a closer look. At the sight of the candy, Bakha’s mouth begins to water. He thinks about his father’s anger if he finds out that his son spent money on candy, but brushes the thought aside, reasoning he has but one life to live. He asks the shopkeeper for 4 annas worth of the cheapest candy. The shopkeeper cheats Bakha by weighing the candy for the shortest amount of time possible. Bakha knows he’s been cheated, but is too timid and shy with people of higher castes to complain. He takes his candy and walks away, embarrassed but happy.
Munching on his candy and walking along, Bakha pauses in front of the signboards advertising lawyers and doctors. He’s standing there lost in thought when an angry voice jerks him out of his reverie. It’s an irate high-caste man that has accidentally run into Bakha. This unnamed man begins to verbally abuse Bakha, calling him everything from a “cockeyed son of a bow-legged scorpion” to a son of a bitch (Anand 88). Though the man bumped into Bakha, he blames Bakha for running into him and for falling to warn others of his approach. Poor Bakha, though used to this type of verbal attack, is struck dumb and silent. He tries to apologize and express his humility, but the high-caste man won’t listen.
Soon a crowd is attracted by the man’s aggrieved shouting and gathers around. They join in on denouncing Bakha, who is stuck in the middle. He cannot move because to escape he would have to touch the people surrounding them, which would result in their contamination. So he stands still and absorbs the insults and curses spat him, until a little boy accuses him of terrorizing the children of the town. At this lie, Bakha smarts and tries to defend himself to no avail.
And so it goes until a traveling merchant in a horse and buggy comes and scatters the crowd. The merchant tells the only two people remaining, the high-caste man and Bakha, to move aside too so he can pass, but the high-caste man ignores him. Instead, he gives Bakha a slap across the face and storms off. Bakha is stunned. Tears roll down his cheeks while inside he boils with fury, horror, and indignation. His humility is abandoned; he hungers for revenge. The merchant, a Muslim man who witnessed the slap, tries to console Bakha. Bakha gathers up his things and hurries away. As he scurries away, a shopkeeper that was also watching the proceedings reminds him to announce his presence. Thoroughly chastised, Bakha begins to yell the untouchable’s chant.
As he walks along, Bakha’s mind furiously turns over his recent traumatic experience. He asks himself why he was so humble, why he did not strike the touched man back, why he didn’t remember to shout his approach, etc. Eventually, his thoughts arrive at the question that is at the center of everything: why are untouchables always abused? He realizes it is his job of handling dung that makes him anathema to Hindus. In this moment, he fully understands what being an untouchable truly means. He pauses in the street to fix his turban that the touched man’s slap unraveled.
Though still early on in the novel, this section of Untouchable contains the novel’s climax. The climax of the novel is when a high-caste person accidentally touches and then slaps Bakha in the Bulashah town center. This moment impacts all subsequent events and interactions in the novel. It stays in the forefront of Bakha’s mind for the rest of the book and influences many of his choices and behaviors. In addition, the climax features two of Untouchables key themes and motifs. The touched man’s reaction after realizing he touched Bakha is a fundamental example of the "untouchable’s responsibility" theme. He places the blame for the accidental touching wholly on Bakha’s shoulders, first accusing Bakha of touching him, then verbally abusing Bakha for not announcing his presence. Bakha is also tasked with maintaining a healthy, non-polluting distance between him and the angry mob gathered around to witness the drama, even though he wants to flee the scene. Again, the responsibility of protecting the “purity” of the high-caste people falls on the untouchable.
The motif of violent language is used liberally in the climax of the novel as well. The touched man and the crowd that gathers to support him verbally abuse Bakha with an array of colorful language. Some of these insults, such as “cockeyed son of a bow-legged scorpion” are most likely the transliterated Punjabi to English idioms that Mulk Raj Anand is famous for. Similar to Sohini’s fight with Gulabo, some of the language and anger of the high castes can be comical for readers because the grievances of the high castes are overexaggerated. However, for Sohini and especially for Bakha the violent language the high castes use against them is no joke. As both experience first hand, the verbal abuse of the high castes can quickly slip into physical abuse.
Many of the novel’s other themes and literary elements can be found in these two vignettes. One of the first is the "class struggle" theme. In “Bakha Talks to the Other Boys of the Colony” we see both intra- and inter- caste conflict. Though Bakha and his friends Ram Charan and Chota are all outcastes, because Bakha is a sweeper he is an untouchable and lower than his friends in the caste hierarchy. The difference in social standing amongst Bakha and his friends is exhibited when the boys discuss the marriage of Ram Charan’s sister. Though Bakha has always had feelings for his friend’s sister, he could never even dream of acting on them. Besides rules of the caste system forbidding a marriage between the two, Gulabo, the girl’s mother, would probably have a conniption. The struggle between the different castes is exhibited when Bakha thinks about his lack of an education. The fear of his contaminating presence means schools and professors refuse to admit and teach him. As an untouchable, he is virtually forbidden from learning how to read, to write, to do math, etc. which puts him at a significant disadvantage to people of the higher castes.
The barrier to education for untouchables is also an example of the "cyclical oppression" theme. Because they cannot learn skills and trades in school or in apprenticeships, the untouchables are unable to rise through the ranks of society by changing their professions. Without the opportunity for education they are stuck in a cycle of poverty, suffering, and oppression. Another example of the "cyclical oppression" theme appears just before the book’s climax. When Bakha buys candy, the shopkeeper cheats him and gives him significantly less candy than his money is actually worth. This effectively means that the candy was more expensive for Bakha than it would have been for non-untouchable person. Higher prices for the untouchables contribute to the perpetuation of their poverty. It is also paradoxical and nonsensical to have the highest prices for those with the least amount of money.
Finally, the theme of religion is imbedded throughout this section of the novel, starting with the moment Bakha asks a Muslim man for some coal to light his cigarette. The Muslim man has no problem with using the same coal as Bakha, a fear that most of the novel’s Hindus would definitely have. This is a great example of the religious differences that divide India’s populace. Another example of the religious divisions between Muslims and Hindus vis-à-vis their treatment of untouchables occurs after Bakha has been slapped. The Muslim merchant that witnessed the slap is shocked by the touched man’s violence against Bakha, and stops to console our protagonist. Thus far in the novel, no Hindu person has given an untouchable the kind of compassion the Muslim merchant gave to Bakha. The fact that Muslims do not believe in untouchability is one major difference between them and Hindus, a difference that is thrown into great relief in Untouchable.
Similes and metaphors are used liberally throughout Untouchable. There were a few noteworthy ones in “Bakha Talks to the Other Colony Boys” and “Bakha Touches a High Caste.” When Bakha leaves the outcastes' colony he stops to take in the fresh air of the area directly outside of the colony. He has escaped the “odorous, smoky world of refuse” and all the burdens that world has for him. Outside of the colony, he can breathe deeply and enjoy the clean air surrounding him. In this way, air is used as a metaphor for freedom. In that instance, as Bakha stands in the sun, just breathing deeply and allowing the fresh air to settle in his lungs, he is free from the weights and responsibilities holding him down. Unfortunately for Bakha, this moment of freedom is short-lived. “Like a ray of light shooting through the darkness, the recognition of his position, the significance of his lot dawned upon him.” This simile marks the moment Bakha is forced to realize that because he is an untouchable, his freedom is limited. Though he is intelligent, Bakha is also naïve about his place in the world. Until now he believed that if he dressed like a sahib he would be treated differently than other untouchables. His altercation with the high-caste man in the Bulashah town square is just the beginning of his fall to reality.