At midnight on June 9,trucks from Khandala arrived at the National Archives,breaking the normal stillness at such a time. The police had been informed,and special permission taken to unload the trucks after dark,part of what was an unusual yet important task.
The material the trucks brought 88 sealed boxes of papers,letters,books,jottings,literary material and a copy of Tennessee Williamss Cat on a Hot Tin Roof belonged to Mulk Raj Anand. Shepherded by a team of archivists led by Raj Jain,these were deposited into the National Archives,which will have a room dedicated to the legendary writer.
Anand,who died in 2004,was among the first Indians to write in English. In a writing career of 75 years,he won international acclaim besides Sahitya Akademi awards well before Indians writing in English became a trend.
The papers acquired by the National Archives cover a long period in Indias recent history. They include Anands original sketch of Indira Gandhi,drawn four days after her assassination,his pictures with Mujibur Rahman,his collection of books,notings on the books he wanted to write,and letters that virtually cover the history of the world,including a whole set between him and Mahatma Gandhi.
The full extent of what we have managed to get here in the Archives will not be known till we complete the air-cleaning of the boxes,sealed for years,then the fumigation and then finally the unbundling and reclassification, says Raj Jain,who led the team to Anands house in Khandala and,despite some resistance from his granddaughter,managed to get the collection with police help and an authorisation letter from the Archives.
Says Mushir ul Hasan,Archives director general: We have set out space we will use to have a Mulk Raj Anand room here… There is so much here about the Afro-Asian conference,the debates of this crucial period,which we can get from Anands papers.
The process was sparked by a letter to the PMO by a close friend of Anands based in Canada,requesting that the PM get the Archives to take charge of these papers. Anand has a small private museum of sorts dedicated to him in south Delhi,but differences between some family members and the trust led to the locking away of these papers since his death in 2004.
Then Katy,daughter of Anands very close associate Dolly,wrote to the Archives. Excited at the prospect of an entire room being set aside for him in the heart of Delhi,she suggested that the government waste no time in taking charge of the invaluable material before it got lost in neglect. The team that followed it up says family members initial reluctance finally gave way to the acceptance that the Archives would give these papers the care and profile they deserve.
It is all still in 88 boxes. Dr Meena Gautam,consultant archivist,is in charge of the work and will gradually open them and classify their contents.
Says a member of the team that went to Khandala: It is a story Mulk Raj Anand would have liked to write in English,but complete with whiffs,smells and the idiom of India.
Mulk Raj Anand
Born in Peshawar
Among first Indians to write in English,founding president of Progressive Writers Association
Wrote on caste system and other social evils
Was a leftist who challenged several status-quo-ist positions in the country
E M Forster wrote a foreword to Anands The Untouchable; george orwell reviewed The Sword and the Sickle; Edward thompson and pablo picasso were among Anands friends
Went to Spain to play a role in the civil war; Anand was also close to Bloomsbury Club
Engaged with Mahatma Gandhi on many issues,staying at his ashram and working there.
Got a Ph D from Cambridge in 1929
During WW II,worked as a scriptwriter for the BBC
Returned to India in 1946