Untouchable

“A bit superior to his job,’ they always said, ‘not the kind of man who ought to be doing this.”

The quote is referring to Bakha, who is taking up a position as a sweeper. People wonder why he’d take a job that’s below him, given how he functions in society. The job of a sweeper is perceived to be for low-life members of society, the job seems frowned upon. Given that his father is a jamadar of all sweepers, a position of power, people of society view it as strange and baffling that the son would be a sweeper and not in a position of power.

Untouchable

“It was a pleasant sensation in spite f the disconcerting suddenness with which it had engulfed him. He felt suspended, as it were, in a region of buoyant tenseness. As he emerged from the world of that rare, translucent lustre into which he had been lifted, he stumbled over a stone and muttered a curse”(Anand 26).

Anand, M. R., Guha, R., & Forster, E. M. (2014). Untouchable. London: Penguin Books.

 

This book has a unique narrative style that offers both personal details that behave as indirect discourse, change the readers relationship to the past and present, and offers insight into the motives and feelings of each character.

 

 

 

Anand, “Untouchable”: Proletariat

“He liked babu’s sons, respected them, not only because they were high-caste Hindus whom he, as a sweeper’s son, had to respect, but also because their father held a position of extraordinary importance in the regiment, almost second to the Colonel Sahib himself.” (Anand, 91)

Mulk Raj Anand. Untouchable . London: Wishart, 1935.

The imagery in this novel is amazing. However, this simple description shows, not only the virtue and gratitude of Bakha but also the odd social structure in India.

The proletarian subject matter

Also, the old man suggested the removal of my deliberate attempts at melodramatic contrasts of the comic and tragic motifs through which the spontaneous feelings, moods and lurking chaos in the soul of Bakba had been somewhat blurred. Furthermore, the Mahatma asked for the deletion of those clever tricks which had made the experience of the concrete into a deliberate effort at style.

I find it interesting that in this passage the old man notices that the writer is attempting to attach his own characteristics to the main character in his novel. From my understanding there is something about the writer that is bleeding into his work (which the old man deems unfit for the novel about his kind of love). I believe it is the writer’s reliance on eloquent literary tools and storytelling devices that is creating the dissonance between who the main character is and what the writer wants him to be.

 

Anand, “Untouchable”: The Proletariat

“But he worked unconsciously. This forgetfulness or emptiness persisted in him over long periods. It was a sort of insensitivity created in him by the kind of work he had to do, a tough skin which must be a shield against all the most awful sensations” (18).

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. London: Penguin, 1940.

Bhaka dissociates his mind from his body through his work. Perhaps this is a sort of defense mechanism  (“a shield”) against reality .

Anand, “Untouchable.” Topic: The Proletariat

“He could not overstep the barriers which the conventions of his superiors had built up to protect their weakness against him. He could not invade the magic circle which protects a priest from attack by anybody, especially by a low-caste man. So in the highest moment of his strength, the slave in him asserted itself, and he lapsed back, wild with torture, biting his lips, ruminating his grievances” (Anand 54).

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. London: Penguin, 1940.

even though the priest sexually assaulted his sister, hierarchy keeps him from retaliating, keeps Sohini from recieving justice, “magic circle”

Anand, “Untouchable”, Proletariat Divides

“But then his father had told him that schools were meant for the babus, not for the lowly sweepers. Later at the British barracks he realized why his father had not sent him to school. He was a sweeper’s son and could never be a babu. Later still he realized that there was no school that would admit him because the parents of the other children would not allow their sons to be contaminated by the touch of the low-caste man’s sons” (Anand 33).

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. London, United Kingdom: Penguin Books, 1940.

The caste system rigidly enforces a lower class proletariat through the control of what people can go to school and get an education. Those who from birth were marked as low-caste are locked into life within the proletariat with no hope of moving up the social ladder.

Untouchable: The Proletariat Cycle of Dependency

“The outcastes were not allowed to mount the platform surrounding the well, because if they were ever to draw water from it, the Hindus of the three upper castes would consider the water polluted. Nor were they allowed access to the near- by brook as their use of it would contaminate the stream. They had no well of their own because it cost at least a thousand rupees to dig a well in such a hilly town as Bulashah. Perforce they had to collect at the foot of the caste Hindus’ well and depend on the bounty of some of their superiors to pour water into their pitchers” (Anand, 20).

Anand , Mulk Raj. Untouchable . London, United Kingdom: Penguin Books, 1940.

This passage symbolizes the cycle vulnerability and dependency enforced on the proletariat. The only way poor people can get water is with the help and permission of higher caste members. They can’t get it for themselves because they are “dirty”, and they can’t make their own well as they have no money. They live and die by those who have money, and the only way they can ever have anything, even that which they need to survive, is by the “generosity” of those who have already depraved them of everything. It’s a cycle that reinforces the idea that they are weak and need the rich to survive, and it allows for the rich to comfortable keep their power and money without fear of retaliation.

Untouchable – The Proletariat

“Why aren’t the latrines clean, you rogue of a Bakha! There is not one fit to go near! I have walked all around! Do you know you are responsible for my piles? I caught the contagion sitting on one of those unclean latrines!” Untouchable, Anand (14).

The proletariat of Hindu society are those that belong to the lowest castes. The caste system is a more formalized version of what informal class systems are in the rest of the world, like the proletariat and bourgeouis. In the caste system, there is an element of cleanliness that marks your position in society. Those of the higher caste, like Havildar Charat Singh, are “clean” and therefore exempt from the dirty jobs that the lower caste performs. Meanwhile Bakha, belonging to the lower caste, is seen as dirty and unclean, therefore being relegated to jobs like cleaning latrines.

“The Postmaster”

“So the traveller, borne on the breast of the swift-flowing river, consoled himself with philosophical reflections on the numberless meetings and partings going on in the world – on death, the great parting, from which none returns.

But Ratan had no philosophy.”

Tagore, Rabindranath. The Postmaster. Macmillan, 1918, page 169

Both, Ratan and the postmaster, have different perspectives on their separation. While the learned postmaster justifies his leaving Ratan through a tragic philosophy on life, one where death and parting are inevitabilities of life experienced by all, the uneducated Ratan continues to believe in the possibility, no matter how small, that the postmaster might return some day. At the end of the day, no matter how profound or simple each character’s self-consolations might be, they both desperately try to move on with their lonely lives, giving up the strong connection that they had felt in each other’s company.

commonplace the postmaster

When the postmaster had finished his supper, the girl
suddenly asked him : ‘ Dada, will you take me to
your home ?’ The postmaster laughed.  ‘What an idea !’
said he ; but he did not think it necessary to
explain to the girl wherein lay the absurdity.
That whole night, in her waking and in her
dreams, the postmaster’s laughing reply haunted
her * What an idea !

Postmaster

The surest proofs meanwhile are disbelieved. One clings desperately to some vain hope, till a day comes when it has sucked the heart dry and then it breaks through its bonds and departs. After that comes the misery of awakening, and then once again the longing to get back into the maze of the same mistakes.

I chose this passage because of its reflection on the situation between Ratan and the Postmaster (Dada). Throughout their interactions, it is clear that Ratan holds the position of a servant, maid, or assistant. However, the Postmaster’s treatment was misinterpreted over time; this created the paradigm in which “the surest proofs meanwhile are disbelieved”.  The following lines of this passage go on to literally define the resolution of their relationship which I found very powerful. There is much more to say about this passage and its message.

“The Postmaster” Commonplacing Journal

“And the exile was not disappointed. Ratan ceased to be a little girl. She at once stepped into the post of mother, called in the village doctor, gave the patient his pills at the proper intervals, sat up all night by his pillow, cooked his gruel for him, and every now and then asked : ‘ Are you feeling a little better, Dada?’ ” (164-165).

This passage, as well as the narrator discussing Ratan’s “little heart” (162) and calling her the postmaster’s “little pupil”, show that the narrator is fond of Ratan and wholly admires her. She is a delightful companion to the postmaster, a fast learner who is hungry for knowledge, and, perhaps most importantly, she is there for Ratan in his times of need and seems to have a motherly intuition. There is also a naive pathos that seems to follow her around, highlighted by Ratan calling the postmaster “Dada”.

Tagore, Rabindranath. The Postmaster. Macmillan, 1918, page 164-165.

Commonplace-Book Entry: “The Postmaster” by Sir Rabindranath Tagore, How Close the Narrator Relates to Ratan

“The master said: ‘You need not be anxious about my going away, Ratan; I shall tell my successor to look after you.’ These words were kindly meant, no doubt: but inscrutable are the ways of a woman’s heart! Ratan had borne many a scolding from her master without complaint, but these kind words she could not bear.”

Tagore, Rabindranath. “The Postmaster.” Mashi and Other Stories, Macmillan and Co. Limited, 1918, page 167.

I think that this quote shows how the narrator relates to Ratan, since it seems to both relate to her distantly and closely in these sentences. The narrator expresses Ratan’s feelings to the audience first in a way that is distant from her and tells these emotions in a more general way, as the narrator speaks of women’s hearts instead of just Ratan’s heart. Especially  using the word “woman” makes this feel as if the narrator is not just referring to Ratan, and this also makes the narration feel even more distant from her, as she is being buried beneath the generalization of all women in the world, since Ratan is usually referred to as “girl” throughout this story as opposed to “woman”. However, the narrator then relates more closely to Ratan’s individual feelings, referring to her personal experience with the postmaster and how she had taken his words in the past in comparison to how the change in his words when telling her that she should not worry since he will tell his successor to look after Ratan after he leaves, makes her feel in this moment. Therefore, I think that the narrator’s relation to Ratan does not get too close to her personal thoughts and feelings, since sometimes the narrator decides to make judgments on Ratan’s emotions based on what the narrator knows or thinks they know of other people generally, and brings about these judgments first to the audience’s mind before even beginning to focus on Ratan as an individual. 

“The Postmaster” by Sir Rabindranath Tagore Commonplace-Book Entry: A Narrator Who Knows and Sympathizes with Ratan

“After a while Ratan rose, and went off to the kitchen to prepare the meal; but she was not so quick about it as on other days. Many new things to think of had entered her little brain. When the postmaster had finished his supper, the girl suddenly asked him: ‘Dada, will you take me to your home ?’

The postmaster laughed. ‘What an idea !’ said he; but he did not think it necessary to explain to the girl wherein lay the absurdity.

That whole night, in her waking and in her dreams, the postmaster’s laughing reply haunted her ‘What an idea !’”

Tagore, Sir Rabindranath. “The Postmaster.” Mashi and other stories, Macmillan and Co., 1918, page 166-167

This passage shows that the narrator knows about all of Rattan’s actions throughout the story, as well as her inner thoughts that she has, since it describes what she does both around the postmaster and by herself, as well as when there are a lot of thoughts swarming her mind and what she even dreams about, so this suggests that the narrator of “The Postmaster” is not the postmaster or any other character in the book that may be observing Ratan’s actions, but a third person narrator that is not part of the story and whom has access to the actions and consciousness of both of the main characters of this story, which are Ratan and the postmaster. The only person in the story that could have access to all of Ratan’s actions and thoughts would be Ratan herself, but the narrator does not use the word “I” when talking about Ratan nor use her language throughout the whole story, and since Ratan would not be able to know all of the postmaster’s actions and thoughts as well, which is also shown in this passage when the narrator says that the postmaster did not feel the need to explain how odd Ratan’s request to him was. It is also implied that the narrator may be older than Ratan and/or has sympathy for what she goes through, since it refers to her and her brain as “little,” which could mean that the narrator views Ratan as a young girl who is not done growing yet, but also sees her as a nice girl since referring to her as “little” multiple times could show that the narrator cares about Ratan in some way, or that the narrator thinks that the amount of thoughts going on in Ratan’s head might be too much for her to handle and would easily overwhelm her.

“The Postmaster” Commonplacing

“It may be that she had still a lurking hope in some corner of her heart that her Dada would return, and that is why she could not tear herself away. Alas for the foolish human heart” (Tagore 169)!

At the very last line, the narrator makes the exclamation “Alas for the foolish human heart!” without using quotation marks. Even if it is not a direct quote, the words seem to be coming from Ratan herself. Therefore, the narrator switches from a third person narration to showing a glimpse of Ratan’s first person account, without explicitly saying so, showing free indirect discourse.

Tagore, Sir Rabindranath. “Tagore, Postmaster and The Hungry Stones (Required).” MacMillan and Co,. Limited, 1918.

The Postmaster: Narrators relation to Ratan: Bryant Magdaleno

“Alas, the mistaken human heart! Its delusions never end, the laws of reason enter the mind after much delay, disbelieving incontestable evidence it embraces false hop with both arms and all its might to its breast; in the end one day, severing the umbilical cord and sucking the heart empty of blood, it flees there is then a return to one’s right senses, and the mind grows restless again to embrace its next delusion.”

This text appears after Ratan told to be weeping and hoping for the postmaster to come back but as the narrator states there own opinion on the matter for they deny Ratan her thoughts and calls her foolish for it. The narrator tells a cynical truth as they put it and frame Ratan to be in delusion only willing to believe what she wants to believe. In this instance the relation of narrator to Ratan is one almost antagonist to the hope she has, the narrator denies not only Ratan the idea of a happy ending but also the audience and call them out for expecting anything but there cynical take on the matter.

Tagore, Rabindranath. The Postmaster. Macmillan, 1918, page 164.

“The Postmaster” and the narrator’s relation to Ratan

“But Ratan had no philosophy. She was wandering about the post office in a flood of tears. It may be that she had still a lurking hope in some corner of her heart that her Dada would return, and that is why she could not tear herself away.”

The narrator’s relation with Ratand and the Postmaster is shown here. While the Postmaster is utilizing philosophy to help him cope with his inevitable death, Ratan is left with no coping mechanisms. Ratan is alone like she has been most of her life as an orphan.

Tagore, Rabindranath. The Postmaster. Macmillan, 1918, page 169.

The Postmaster; the Narrator & Ratan

” ‘Well, Ratan,’ perhaps he would begin, ‘do you remember anything of your mother?’ That was a fertile subject. Ratan partly remembered, and partly didn’t … She called to mind a little brother that she had – and how on some bygone cloudy day she had played at fishing with him on the edge of the pond, with a twig for a make-believe fishing-rod. Such little incidents would drive out greater events from her mind.”

Tagore, Rabindranath. The Postmaster. Macmillan, 1918, page 161.