"The Price of Bananas" and "Old Bapu" both by Mulk Raj Anand
There is no literary tradition with roots older than that of India. I will always admire Edmund Burke (Anglo-Irish-1729 to 1797) for telling the English Parliament that England had no right to rule a country with a culture much older than their own.
Mulk Raj Anand was a founding father of the Indian novel in English. He along with R. K. Narayan (on whom I have already posted), Ahmed Ali and Rajo Rao was one of the first writers from India to gain an international readership in English. Anand (1905 to 2004-99 years-Peshanar, India) after graduating from college in India went to England to receive his PhD. While at Cambridge (the university of choice for Bloomsbury) he became friends with people like E. M. Forester and George Orwell. He was a passionate admirer of Gandhi and a strong supporter of the movement for Indian independence. His first novel, Untouchable (1935) brought him world wide acclaim as the Charles Dickens of India. He was a friend of Pablo Picasso. His literary output was very large including several novels, lots of poetry and numerous highly regarded short stories. He was a strong force for good in the world. (You can read more about him here). I read two of his short stories this morning and really liked them a lot. (I do not know the dates these stories were published but I think it was between 1939 and 1945 when he was in London working as a script writer for the BBC).
"Old Bapu" is set in the mid 1930s. Were it not for a reference to a paved road, it could be 1000 years ago. Bapu, born into the caste of the untouchables, was orphaned at an early age. He lived for a while with his uncle but one day the uncle tired of feeding Bapu and throw him out with the admonition to "eat dung". When we meet Bapu he seems a very very old man. He begs for day work at half wages as he knows he cannot do the work he could when he was younger. In a conversation with a man he once worked for, we see Bapu is a very intelligent thoughtful man though he is completely uneducated. Bapu sees his own decline and total poverty as reflecting the state of Indian in the pre-WWII era. His old boss turns Bapu away, giving him the smallest of coins for which Bapu prostrates himself in genuine gratitude. The ending of the story is shocking. In this story we see how brilliantly Anand has made us feel not just acknowledge the effects of the terrible poverty which has been the only reality Bapu has ever known.
"The Price of Bananas" is set on a train. We start out with a telling piece on the different way people are treated and acted in different classes of seats on the train. It is great social satire. "The Price of Bananas" draws directly on ancient Indian culture and edified me a good bit. It really is a funny story. We get to see what happens when a monkey steals someones head covering (a great cause of loss of dignity) and I admit I laughed when we found out the monkey had been trained to do that! I really felt like I was along on the train ride. Anand really made the story interesting in his descriptions of the different sorts of people on the train.
Both stories can be read HERE.
I will be reading more of Anand work and hope to read his great novel Untouchable soon. I plan to post soon on short stories by Rajo Rao and Ahmed Ali soon.
I know there are readers of my blog who are experts on Indian Literature. If I have made factual errors in this please correct me.