Untouchable Summary and Analysis of "Bakha and Two Great Speakers"


Bakha walks along and talks to himself. “Everyone thinks us at fault,” he says, thinking of the various Hindus over the course of the day that blamed him for various deeds to the Colonel that called him a sinner to the Colonel’s wife who was furious at the sight of him. He walks, feeling heavy and oppressed by his memories from the day. He thinks back to the look of hatred on the touched man’s face, and how it mirrored the look on the face of the Colonel’s wife. But, the fury of the wife was “a hundred times more terrible than the fear inspired by the whole tirade of abuse by the touched man” (Anand 260).

The sight of a begging black leper jerks Bakha out of his musings. He looks up and sees that he has wandered to the Great Trunk Road near the Bulashah railroad station. Suddenly, he hears the rumbling of an incoming train and a chorus of voices crying, “Mahatma Gandhi ki-jai! The Mahatma has come! The Mahatmas has come!” (Anand 263). The shouting people are all dressed in white and are heading to the golbagh, where the Mahatma will speak. Bakha is caught in the crowd and swept along by their eagerness at the word “Mahatma.” He too is drawn like a magnet by the word. Luckily for him no one notices he is an untouchable because he doesn’t have his broom and basket. Thus he is able to stand amongst the crowd without a fuss.

The crowd at the golbagh is a myriad of races, colors, castes, and creeds. Bakha uses the clothes of the people to tell them apart, noting for example that the Kashmiri Muslims are wearing white cotton, while the Hindu lallas are dressed in fine silks. There are even some Europeans in the mix. The one thing everyone has in common is the pressing, urgent desire to see and pay homage to Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi.

Bakha looks ahead and sees he still has a long way to go before reaching the golbagh. Swerving into a little marsh, he forges a shortcut. The crowd behind him follows, trampling the flora populating the patch of green. Beyond the marsh was the oval where the speech would take place. Rather than joining the thousands milling on the concrete, Bakha leans against a tree. He wanted to remain detached. He felt connected to the emotions fueling the mob of people that had come to see Gandhi, but had been reminded of his place in the world. His dirty khakis, when compared to the pristine white clothes most of the crowd was wearing, made him remember the barrier of caste separating him and the rest of humanity. Still, Gandhi united all of them, however fleetingly. And so he waited for the Mahatma’s arrival.

Next to Bakha, a lalla and babu discuss Gandhi, speaking of his past struggles with the Indian government, his recent release from prison, and his ability to change the world in its current age of political upheaval. Much of what the men say goes over Bakha’s head, but it makes him remember his own nugget of information about the Mahatma. He recalls hearing that the man wanted to uplift the untouchables, and had even fasted for the sake of the bhangis and chamars. Bakha doesn’t completely understand how Gandhi thought he could help the untouchables by fasting, but appreciates the gesture.

Then, from where he is standing, Bakha watches the crowd surge towards a motorcar that has just pulled up. He realizes he cannot rush with them even if the Mahatma himself says untouchables are fine. He decides to climb up the tree he was leaning against to get a better view. From above Bakha can view everything. He sees Gandhi, swathed in a milk-white blanket, with his protruding ears and glinting glasses. The feature that registers the most with Bakha is Gandhi’s skin, which is as black as Bakha’s. With the Mahatma are two women, an Indian woman and an Englishwoman. Bakha hears another person crouched in the tree say that the Indian woman is Gandhi’s wife and the Englishwoman is the daughter of an English admiral.

As the crowd chants his name, Gandhi goes to and sits on a platform in the center of the oval. He raises his arm and blesses the crowd with a gentle benediction. As a result, silence falls rapidly over the crowd. Ready to begin, Gandhi closes his eyes and begins to pray. As he recites a Hindu hymn, every person present is transfixed, including Bakha, who feels the horrible details of his day wash away. And then, the Mahatma begins his speech, his voice a soft whisper through a loudspeaker. He first speaks of his time in prison, where he paid penance for going against the British government and their rule of India. He says one of the agreements of his release is that he won’t speak negatively about the government. So he will focus his speech on the plight of the untouchables. The Mahatma points out that while Indians are seeking release from British rule, they themselves have oppressed and ruled over millions of people for centuries without any remorse. In his opinion, untouchability is the greatest blot on Hinduism.

At this, Bakha’s ears perk up. Gandhi goes on to share a personal anecdote from his childhood when he was confused about why he needed to wash himself after accidentally touching a boy named Uka that cleaned his family’s latrine. He then confesses that he loves to scavenge, and that he wishes to be reborn as an untouchable, as an outcaste, in the next life. At these words Bakha is thrilled to his core. He forgets to pay attention to Gandhi’s speech because he is so happy at the Mahatma’s admissions. When he tunes back in, he hears Gandhi say that the untouchables must purify their lives and rid themselves of gambling, drinking, and eating carrion. These remarks seem unfair to Bakha, who believes Gandhi is blaming them. But then the great speaker instructs untouchables to refuse the leavings from the plates of high-caste Hindus, and to accept only good, sound grain. If they do all of this, says the Mahatma, they will be emancipated. These words are more to Bakha’s liking. He feels them like a balm in his soul. He thinks, “If only [Gandhi] could go and tell my father not to be hard on me!”

Gandhi finishes his speech by declaring that all public wells, temples, roads, schools, and sanatoriums must be made open to the untouchables. He tells the crowd that if they love him, they will spread his message of ending untouchability. With that, he blesses the crowd again and begins to depart. Spellbound, Bakha is frozen in the tree and so sees the Mahatma pass by right under him.

The crowd Gandhi leaves in his wake is full of good cheer and brotherhood. One man declares that the Mahatma has made Hindus and Muslims one. Another suggests they “discard foreign cloth” and soon enough people begin to throw their felt caps, silk shirts, and aprons into a pile and light it on fire. Among the throng, there is only one dissenting voice that wasn’t impressed by Gandhi’s speech. He calls Gandhi a humbug, a fool, and a hypocrite. This man is Muslim, dressed in a fine English suit and wearing a single monocle in his eye. His companion, a young man dressed in flowing Indian robes like a poet, tells him it is unfair to abuse the Mahatma. The poet says that Gandhi may have his faults, but he is the greatest liberating force of the age.

As the two intellectuals enter into a debate, Bakha comes down from his tree and moves away from them while staying within listening distance. The two men continue to argue passionately about Gandhi and India’s place in the world. The poet argues that India is one of the richest countries in the world because of its abundant natural resources and knowledge of life’s secret flows, a flow that India’s British slavers are ignorant of. He says that unlike the British, India will not become slaves to gold and will see life steadily and wholly. When the poet, who a spectator identifies as Iqbal Nath Sarshar, finishes his harangue, the crowd he and his companion, a barrister named Mr. R. N. Bashir, attracted falls silent.

Bashir returns by attacking Gandhi’s views on untouchability. At this Sarshar is amused, saying that Gandhi’s views on untouchability are his most logical. Sarshar goes on to trace untouchability to its origins, describing it as system devised by “wily Brahmins” who misinterpreted the philosophical idea of karma for their own gain. As such, untouchability is a man-made system, one that can be easily dismantled since all men are actually equal. Sarshar finishes by saying that since the British-Indian penal code broke the legal and sociological basis of caste, the only remaining determinant of caste is profession. Once India accepts and installs the flush system, a way of clearing dung without human handling, sweepers can change their profession and leave behind the stigma of untouchability.

To this, Bashir has no response. He complains about the heat and urges Sarshar to leave and find some shade. The two men depart, the crowd surrounding them following in their wake. Bakha stands still. He only understood bits and pieces of what the men said. He is most intrigued by the machine the Sarshar described, the one that can remove dung without anyone needing to handle it. He wishes the lawyer hadn’t hurried the poet away, so he could have asked him more about it. Around Bakha, the fires of sunset “blaze on the horizon.” He feels at a lost, unsure of what to do or where to go. The day’s misery and anguish begin to creep back over him. Suddenly, the Mahatma’s parting prayer, “May God give you the strength to work out your soul’s salvation to the end” resounds in his ears. He wonders what the Mahatma meant by these words. No answer is forthcoming, but Bakha still draws strength from the words. He resolves to try and follow Gandhi’s instructions. On the outside, he is calm as he walks, though the conflict in his soul over his commitment to Gandhi’s message and the realities of his own life is fierce.

The sun sets. Bakha emerges from the grassy area that housed the tree he sat on during the Mahatma’s speech onto the dusty road. As the Indian twilight flashes through the sky he comes to a decision. “I shall go and tell father all that Gandhi said about us… and all that the poet said,” he whispers to himself. And so Bakha turns his feet homeward.


As mentioned in the previous Summary and Analysis, the final two movements 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” and “Bakha and Two Great Speakers,” however, it feels as if Bakha is a mere spectator in his own life. The relegation of Bakha to the sidelines returns during Gandhi’s speech and the debate between Sarshar and Bashir. Although all three men speak Hindustani, their advanced ideas and speech sail above Bakha’s head. He isn’t so much listening to the men speak, as he is a medium through which information is funneled to us, the readers. It feels as if Anand uses Bakha as a means of explicitly telling the reader his opinions about the political issues Untouchable raises, including the fate of the untouchables. The shift in the storytelling in these 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 Two Great Speakers,” as in the last section, remind us that Untouchable is a political, sociocultural piece of writing. It is no coincidence that when Bakha runs away from the Christian missionary (in the last section), he stumbles upon the speech of Mahatma Gandhi. A symbol of revolution and reform, the Mahatma represents a new interpretation of Hinduism, an interpretation that does not include the subjugation and untouchability of sweepers. Gandhi recognizes that unless Hinduism wishes to continue losing its believers to Christianity, it must change its relationship with the lowest of those followers. This tug of war between Hinduism and Christianity is just another manifestation of the "religion" theme that’s prevalent throughout the whole novel.

The debate between the lawyer Bashir and the poet Sarshar is another element that demonstrates Untouchable’s roots as a political work. Over the course of the debate, the two men reference everything from colonization to modernity to the corruption of religion. Sarshar in particular is passionate as he describes India’s current place in the world and speculates about the heights to which it can climb. As Sarshar pontificates, the reader gets the sense that Mulk Raj Anand himself is talking directly to the reader about his fears and hopes for India and the untouchables. This sense is aided by the distinct lack of mental interjections from Bakha as the two intellectuals volley back and forth. We are told nothing about Bakha’s reactions to or feelings about the men’s words. All of this evidence supports the claim that this final scene is an exposition mostly for the reader’s benefit. The only thing Bakha gleans from the men’s lively discussion is that there is a machine on the horizon that can clear away dung without human contact. He doesn’t understand when Sarshar says the arrival of this machine in India hinges on the country’s acceptance of industrialization. The deeper nuances of the men’s talk, including Britain’s role in all of this, is lost on Bakha.

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. Though he continues to reject his Indian roots, it is possible that Gandhi’s speech instilled in him a sense of pride and belonging. Judging from his reactions whenever he receives a modicum of kindness from high-caste Hindus, part of the reason Bakha rejects his Indian heritage is because he feels like India rejects him, his family, and other untouchables. Gandhi calling for the abolition of untouchability and Sarshar’s news of the flush toilet raises the question of whether Indians will be able to accept untouchables as one of their own after all. The uplifting image at the book’s denouement, of Bakha silhouetted in the Indian twilight going home to share with his father stories of a machine that will unequivocally change their lives, gives a glimmer of hope.