Published in 1935, Untouchable is Mulk Raj Anand’s first major novel. The novel’s format is very simple—it follows the day in the life of an “untouchable,” a member of India’s lowest social caste. Despite its simplicity, Untouchable is a powerful...
Mulk Raj Anand was an Indo-English writer born in Peshawar, British India (now present-day Pakistan). After graduating from Khalsa College in 1924 Anand moved to England, completed his undergraduate studies at University College London, and went on to earn a PhD in Philosophy from Cambridge University in 1929. While in university he became friends with members of the Bloomsbury Group (also known as the Bloomsbury Set), a loose collective of influential English writers, intellectuals, and philosophers. Among their members was the English realist novelist E. M. Forster, who became a close friend of Anand.
Family tragedy sparked Anand’s career as a writer. One of his aunts committed suicide after being excommunicated by her family for sharing a meal with a Muslim woman. This violent, explicit, and personal consequence of Indian’s uncompromising caste system led Anand to write his first prose essay. His first main novel, Untouchable, followed shortly after and is considered a seminal work for its inclusion of Punjabi and Hindustani idioms transliterated into English. A character study of a member of India’s untouchable caste, Untouchable earned Anand the moniker “India’s Charles Dickens.”
Following this early success Anand continued to be a prolific and socially conscious novelist. During the 1930s and 1940s he bounced between India and England penning propaganda on the behalf of India’s independence movement. Simultaneously he supported movements for freedom around the world, most notably the Spanish Civil War. He traveled to Spain to volunteer for the conflict as a journalist. During World War II he worked as a scriptwriter for the BBC in London, became friends with George Orwell, and published in 1942 The Sword and the Sickle, a novel about the rise of Communism. At this point Anand was renowned as a pioneer of Indo-Anglian, or Indian writing in English, literature.
After the end of the Second World War Anand returned to India. From a village in Western India he continued to craft a range of literature on a plethora of topics, including poetry, autobiographies, essays, and novels. The Private Life of an Indian Prince, one of his most celebrated works, was penned during this time. During this period he also founded a literary magazine, Marg, with the intention of creating a “loose encyclopedia” of Indian arts. Today it is a quarterly magazine and a publisher of books on the arts. Besides Marg he was also a founding member of Progressive Writers Association, a national organization that was highly influential during India’s struggle for independence.
For his rich collection of works and the substantial role he played in India’s literary and sociopolitical spheres Anand received the International Peace Prize from the World Peace Council, the Sahitya Akademi Award, and the Leverhulme Fellowship, among other awards and accolades. Today Mulk Raj Anand is remembered for his seventy-five-years-long literary career that mirrors the trajectory of India’s search for a just, equitable, and progressive society. He died of pneumonia in Pune, India at the age of 98.