September 29, 2004
In the passing away of 99-year-old Mulk Raj Anand, we have lost the founding father of the Indian-English novel. Among his famous contemporaries were R.K. Narayan and Raja Rao. Born in Peshawar, Anand carried with him, in all his writings, the courage and conviction of a Pathan.
His heart always bled for the downtrodden. This is evident in his novels like Coolie and Untouchable, which made him world famous. He was a patriot to the core and lived a simple life, no scandal ever touched him.
Anand left for London at the height of the freedom movement in the 1930s at the instance of Allama Iqbal. The great poet felt that with Anand’s command over the English language, he would get better opportunities in the United Kingdom. Anand soon achieved success there, writing novel after novel, in which he depicted the social degradation of the deprived and the dispossessed in his trilogy — The Village (1939), Across the Black Waters (1940) and The Sword and the Sickle (1942).
He was totally devoted to Gandhiji and despite being a Marxist admired the determination of the Mahatma in fighting British Raj. On his return after Independence, he founded the art magazine Marg, which brought the treasures of Indian art to the attention of the world. In the last decade of his life he worked on his autobiography entitled Seven Ages of Man; it was to be in seven volumes but he could complete only four.
My association with him was close and I loved him as one of the finest human beings. I quote below a short account of my relationship with him from my book The Price of Partition: ‘‘Apart from V.K. Krishna Menon, the other Indian who assisted me in a big way to further the cause of Indian freedom was Mulk Raj Anand. I met him at the end of 1944, during the last phase of Second World War, when I attended one of his lectures. He had shot to fame and was much in demand in English literary quarters. Mulk is a far better writer than speaker; he never missed an opportunity to give an accurate picture of India to the English-speaking public or to correct the wrong propaganda unleashed against her, particularly by the Tory press. Unlike Menon, he was both admired and loved but while Menon got his deserts from free India in full measure, I feel Mulk, despite his great contribution, has not received his due. He has not been nominated even once to the Rajya Sabha in the last 50 years despite his eminence as a writer and apart from being a freedom fighter’’.
As an Urdu poet has said:
Janewalle kabhi nahi aatey
Janewallon ki yaad aati hai
(Those who pass away never return but / They always remind us of what they were).