Coolie : A Story of Sufferers in Indian Society

Article Posted in: Research Articles



Ashvamegh : October 2015 : Issue IX : ISSN : 2454-4574

by – Dr. N Padmamma



Reading novels in Indian English writing written by writers such as Mulk Raj Anand is a sort of eye opening part of life. In the paper I tried to point out some of the interesting things such as the problems of caste which has divided the whole Indian nation into several communities and religions. Coolie is one of the most interesting novels in 1930s which describes the story of Munoo as a victim of an exploitative system. My paper, apart from  comprehending and understanding his suffering and exploitation take place in his psychological, emotional and spiritual growth; a dialogue that continues between h is existential problem and his questioning of basic tenets of humanism that he is constantly denied of, it also tell why the guy has to undergo such problems. Finally, he is forced to accept his existential condition as determined by his fate, his karma and accepts his class identity, for many others suffer like him.

My paper also studies how the novel revolves around the migration of a young boy Munoo from his home in the hills of Kangra to the towns, the city finally, embracing the end of his life in Simla. Anand uses humanism to bring Munoo to life and follows his sexual awareness, his adolescence, his innocence and his simplistic view of life. Munoo’s innocent life is crushed under the cruelty of the world. The experiences he gather in life’s journey are pitiful, a saga of misery that finally bring his life to an end. Anand invokes pathos of the readers as well as exposes the exploitative system that victimizes Munoo.

Munoo is born poor and for the rest of his life is unable to get away from his poverty that leaves him broken. The class system ensures that assimilation to a higher class is not possible. The bourgeoisie expand their class through institutions and ideology. But the reality of the working class in Coolie is that it itself is without demarcations. Thus the Coolies can move in and out of this class. There is no ideological barrier that demarcates/ brackets the working class. Anand himself refers to the striking mill workers as Coolies; the word means unskilled workers.




In the year 1925, Anand was awarded the Silver Wedding Fund Scholarship of 300 pounds a year (ironically for his father’s service in the British army) for his research on the thought of Locke, Hume, Berkley and Russell at the University College, London under the supervision of the Kantian scholar and realist G Dawns Hicks. The coal miners’ strike in Great Britain in 1926 upset the balance of his student life. The repressive measures adopted by the Government to break the General Strike that followed the miner’s strike revealed that British government was organized and run in the interest of a small minority. The violent suppression of the majority in Britain was indicative of the kind of suppression the colonial administration indulged in the colonies. To Anand who observed the violence from a close quarter, international Socialism seemed to be the only solution to the problems of the world. Anand observed that the West with all its wealth and its allegiances to democracy was not free from a discreet despotic mind set. Soon after the strike Anand bought a copy of The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels and this had a great influence on him. He writes in, Apology for Heroism, that, “a whole new world was opened to me. All the threads of my past reading, which had got tied up in knots, seemed suddenly to straightened out, an d 1 began to see not only the history of India but the whole history of human society in some sort of inter-connection” (1946:67-8).


Taking up the cause of Suppressed

Anand took up the cause of the oppressed early on in his career that to a large extent influenced his creative pursuit. But many in India have considered his work as propaganda. Even the Marxist-oriented All India Progressive Writers Association declared him to be a decadent in 1949 because he found evil and cunning both in the poor as well as in the rich. Although ideologically influenced by the left Anand was concerned about the humanistic values’. He believed in man’s latent goodness, which must triumph over evil. According to Anand, Socialism alone can provide the right climate for man’s total development. Thus Marxism is the foundation of Anand’s humanism and for him an individual’s development is at the centre of Marxist thought. In Anan d’s work there is strong evidence of a close relationship between Marxism and Humanism. Anand wrote extensively on art and maintained that art did reflect life; but could not be taken as life itself. The fact that Anand himself did not belong to the marginalized sections of society provided him the necessary understanding that there was a distance between art and l ife. Anand’s political ideologies therefore have a definite place in the study of his novels. They arise from his concept of literature that reveals life in all its contradictions. To him, a work of art is first a social event and the duty of a novelist is to create but not to determine. His obligation to his fellow m en lies in changing the world, making it a better place for each one of us.


Voicing the exploited

Anand’s Coolie represents the voice of the suppressed and exploited. The Coolie can be seen what Marx and Engels term as: ” the lumpen proletariat, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old society, m ay, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions for life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool…” (1992: 14). The Coolies as a class belong nowhere as Anand points out even the lower caste rejects and casts away the Coolies. When Munoo arrives in Bombay and goes for a refreshing drink, for which he pays, the moment he introduces himself as a Coolie the proprietor tells him to sit on the floor and not on the chairs; he is treated like a leper. “‘Oh! Look, Mummy! Our coolies are there cried little Circe. Her mother shushed her and asked her to behave. The sights of the creatures were challenges to the complacency of the ladies and gentlemen who had come for tea”(298). Munoo’s experiences as a servant, a factory worker and a mill worker are his class identity. As a servant, he is of the lower class, as a factory and a mil l worker he is of the working class; in each he has a productive role whether as a servant or a worker. But as a Coolie his identity is reduced to nothing. In the class system the two extremes of the wealth y imperialist bourgeoisie and the Coolie serve as objects of hope and fear. While each class emulates and aspires to attain the status of next superior class it also harbors a fear of being de-classed. The anxiety in class relations is a product of ideology rather than economics as seen in Anand’s introduction of Prabha’s past as a Coolie who has risen to the ranks of a Seth. There is an ideological undercurrent that moves in the entire class system. The imperialist bourgeoisie’s fear of the ‘native’ being equal to him both economically and socially infuses in him a sense of insecurity for which he engages in abuse and exploitation in the name of racial superiority.


Introducing the marginalized into writing

He introduces the economically and socially marginalized sections of society into his novels, making them the focus of his narrative. Anand however has a clear understanding of his own position within society that he belongs to the upper class hence there is an economic and social distance between him and those that he sympathizes with. He is also aware that as a bourgeoisie he would be writing about the proletariat from a bourgeoisie point of view or with the influence of bourgeoisie ideology. Thus he declares in Apology for Heroism that he could not, of course, sense the suffering of the poor directly because I had always been comparatively better off. No, mine was a secondary humiliation, the humiliation of seeing other people suffer. I do not know to what extent envy of the rich on my part was disguising itself as a hunger for social justice. Perhaps there was an element of this. Also the inadequacies of our life in India may have contributed something to m y pre occupation. But I do not apologize for this because it is not easy in the face of such wretchedness and misery as I had seen in India to believe that material happiness and well- being had no connection with real happiness and the desire for beauty. So I sought to recreate m y life through my memories of India in which I grew up, with a view to rediscovering the vanities, the vapidities, the conceits and the perplexities with which I had grown up, indifferent to the lives of the people around me. I felt guilty, for needless suffering was no matter for complacent pride or gratitude (1946:76-77).


The novel Coolie (1936) presents the life of an orphan Munoo who is despised by society, rejected by his relatives and oppressed by h is masters. He tries to avail chances of progress but his ill fate produces obstacles in his way. Conceived on an epic scale, the novel follows the tragic odyssey of Munoo as he finds himself in relation to different strata of society in different locations- the village, the towns, the big city, the hill station- each is not free from the ideology of exploitation and suppression. In Conversation s in Bloomsbury, Anand writes that, ” …our epics have everything Love and War and death and jealousy and utensils and dice and things out of the toilet” (1993:92). He introduces different ideologies such as Capitalism, Imperialism, Industrialism and Communalism to show their influence on the dispossessed and socially oppressed. Munoo experiences all the negative aspects of the world. His journey from innocence to experience is mediated through ideologies of suppression and empowerment.

At the beginning of the novel, we find that Munoo, a boy of fourteen years age, is stud yi ng in class V in a rural school in the village of Bilaspur situated on the Kangra Hills on the banks of the river Beas. In the company of his friends he grazes his cows all day. He finds time to sit under the shade of a large Bunyan tree to enjoy the fruits of the season. His life in the village comes to an end when his uncle Daya Ram decides to take him to Sham Nagar, a town ten miles away from their village. His uncle, Daya Ram and aunt, Gujri believe that he is quite grown up and therefore should earn his own living. Munoo’s father had died of shock and disappointment when he could not pay the debt to the landlord. His mother died working hard to support Munoo. Munoo ‘s life in the village was hard and he could not forget the miserable deaths of his parents. In spite of these sad memories and the ill-treatment of his aunt Munoo is happy and contented.

Driven by the dire necessity of an independent livelihood, he follows his uncle to work as a domestic servant in the house of Babu Nathoo Ram, a sub-accountant in the imperial Bank of Sham Nagar. But Munoo is badly mistreated by the Babu and his wife and receives no sym pathy from his uncle. Munoo is held responsible for the loss of the letter of recommendation that his master sought from the sahib Mr. W.P England. After degrading the master’s house, unintentionally, by relieving himself in front it and accidentally hurting their daughter while playing he cannot bear the abuse and beating and runs away and boards a train with no definite destination to go to. In the train he meets a man named Prabha Dayal, who is an orphan and was once a Coolie. But now Prabha is a Seth, the owner of a Pickle Factory at Daulatpur and is in partnership with Ganpat Seth. Prabha takes Munoo with him to Daulatpur and provides him with employment in the Pickle Factory. Prabha feels some affinity with Munoo because they are both orphans and he himself was a hills man from Kangra. Anand introduces in Coolie a complex and exploitative world.


Cruelty and Hypocrisy in Indian Feudal life

Munoo’s life in the village is not romanticized by Anand; he exposes the “cruelty and hypocrisy of Indian feudal life…” (1946: 53). Munoo is full of life, high spirits and has a zest for life. He is the leader of the village boys and an expert tree climber. But his life in the village is not a joyful one; his mind is haunted by the death of his parents. Anand gives a realistic portrayal of Munoo’ s life in the village which is not free from exploitation. The novel speaks about the denial of basic necessities of life to a simple and landless peasant boy. It seems that Munoo is aware of his deprivation:

He had heard of how the landlord had seized his father’s five acres of land because the interest on the mortgage

covering the unpaid rent had not been forthcoming when the rains had been scanty and the harvest bad. And he

knew how his father had died a slow death of bitterness and disappointment and left his mother a penniless

beggar, to support a young brother-in- law and a child in her arms… the sight of her as she had laid dead on the

ground with a horrible and yet sad, set expression on her face had sunk deep into him ( I I ).


With the statement “I am Munoo, Babu Nathoo Ram’s servant,” (46), Munoo has realized his position in the world and his self identity is also based on this role assigned to him b y society. He accepts it without questioning the exhausting work, the abuse or the cruel treatment. To him there are only two kinds of people in the world, ” …the rich and the poor.” (69), and Munoo, the hill-boy, has realized from what kind of people he comes from and to which kind of people he belongs to. The caste system is no longer relevant; it is the class system based on economic status that has put its stranglehold on society and Munoo displays a keen understanding by being able to grasp this turn in the history of society. He remarks, “I am a Kshatriya and I am poor, and Varma, a Brahmin, is a servant boy, a menial, because he is poor. No, caste does not matter. The babus are like the sahib logs, and all the servants Iook alike…” (69).

The fiasco of the tea party set up by Babu Nathoo Ram for Mr. W.P England speaks volumes on Anand’s view of Imperialism and its affect on the minds and outlook of the ‘natives’. The unquestioning sense of inferiority of Munoo is matched by his master’s sense of inferiority with the sahibs. Nathoo Ram is on the look at recommendation from a sahib which will facilitate his promotion. He knows that Mr. England has not been long enough in India to turn down an invitation for tea from a native. After receiving some advice on how to pick u p a conversation with a sahib, that is, talking about the weather, Nathoo Ram is able to extract an acceptance for the tea party from Mr. England; who realizes, a bit too late, the importance of the warning of the Club members about being too familiar with the natives. At the tea party, Mr. England is clearly uncomfortable in the sweltering heat, seated on a throne like chair with the clay image of a Hindu God staring at him and the over powering sweet smell of the gulabjamans making him sick. Dr. Prem Chand seeks advice on courses of study’ in England, a topic which the confused sahib has no idea about since he himself studied only typewriting and shorthand. But in keeping with the image of the sahib he pretends to be more than he is; as advised by his fellow Club members. Munoo, who has all along been in a state of excitement and curiosity at the presence of the sahib, is asked to fetch the tea. He trips, and the precious china smashes onto the floor destroying any chance of Nathoo Ram’s letter of recommendation for promotion to the post of accountant.

This episode of the tea party reveals the bitterness of Anand towards the British imperialist, and this can be seen in his portrayal of the character of Mr. W. P. England, a colonial gentleman who is really a hollow individual d riven solely by the directives of the Empire. Any traces of individualism are lost in Mr. England’s weakness; he sacrifices his principles to the tenets of Imperialism. Thus we have the laws of the ‘Club’ being played out in Mr. England ‘s mind- do not get familiar with the natives, always pose to be more than you are- ” …his com patriots at the Club had always exhorted him to show himself off as the son of King George himself if need be” (53). There is the ‘sahib’ Mr. England while the man Mr. England is lost in Imperialism.


British Rule and its Influence in India

The episode also illustrates Anand’s conviction that the British Empire not only has exploited India’s natural resources, it also degraded and debased the character of the Indians who were serving it. It created a group of native flatterers who looked up to the English sahibs, cowering before them and becoming easy prey for exploitation in the hands of their masters. And the Indians such as Nathoo Ram, Daya Ram lost their sense of humanity, decency, and self-worth. They are dehumanized in the service of the Raj and lose all feeling of affinity with their fellow men leave alone their countrymen. Their status in society, their superiority over others is defined by the sahibs who visited their homes. Nathoo Ram’ s reaction is evidence enough of the way the natives look up to the gore sahibs, after the disaster of the tea party he goes to drop Mr. England and returns with ” …tear- filled eyes” (59). On the other hand we have Dr. Prem Chand who is an independent medical practitioner and is not subservient to the English. And we see that he alone conducts himself with dignity and self respect. Another result of the British rule apart from its exploitation and suppression of the natives and the creation of sycophants is the creation of the class system in Indian society through the industrial revolution. The British brought to India an industrial-capitalist ideology because it was obvious that they were themselves solely concerned with profit. The plight of Munoo and others of his kind is the direct result of British rule. Munoo’s position in life raises the question of freedom in a Capitalist society.


Munoo’s experiences in Daulatpur and Bombay respectively, make up the bulk of the novel. Munoo has been picked up by Seth Prabha Dyal, who owns a pickle factory in partnership with Seth Ganpat. Prabha was once a Coolie and has understood Munoo’s plight. In the preceding chapters the relationship of masters and servants is explored between Nathoo Ram and Munoo and Mr.England and Nathoo Ram. But at the pickle factory in Daulatpur the relationship between Seth Prabha, Munoo and the factory em ployees is different from the above mentioned relationships. As observed the master- servant relationship is one of submission, abuse and inhumanness. But Anand goes on to show that in the relationship among equals, there are none more equal than the poor. With nothing to hope for their common cause is all that they possess and it binds them together. The relationship of Prabha (who is at heart a Coolie and a hills man), Munoo and the other factory employees is one of empathetic humaneness. But at the other end of the scale we have Ganpat, the frustrated son of a well- to- do broker, who reminds us of the way Nathoo Ram treated Munoo.

The police who are merciless, corrupt, sadistic are a symbol of oppression than British sense of justice and serve more as ready tools of their masters, the Capitalist moneylenders. Prabha is broken mentally, spiritually and economically after he is cheated by Ganpat. He leaves for the hills with his wife and says, “It is as it should be. Man comes to this world naked and goes out of it naked and he doesn’t carry his goods away with him on his chest” (150).

In Prabha’s simple homilies there is an indescribable power. This is because Anand brings to our notice a complex world borne out with the familiar and obvious truths that we have either forgotten or dismissed as cliches. It would be a mistake to assume that Anand only attacks the bourgeois ideology while sympathizing with the poor; he in fact attempts to expose the degradation of humanity as a whole. It would be an over simplification to assume that the poor are always virtuous and that the rich always abusive and oppressive. What Munoo suffers at the hands of his masters is no less than what he suffers at the hands of his fellow workers. This is the result of the oppressive ideology of capitalism that has made them cruel and callous in their struggle to survive. Anand is quick to show that the prejudices and abusive nature of the elders have a strong infl uence even on the children. In spite of their innocence they imitate their elders and in their state of thoughtlessness they could be cruel. Nathoo Ram’s daughter Sheila pushes Munoo away when he prances on all fours like a monkey to entertain her. She tells him: “You are a servant, you must not play with us” (46). Sheila’s words echo her parent’s prejudice. Munoo and Tulsi have to fight with the other Coolies to get a place to sleep in the Market courtyard and in the morning they fight one another in a mad rush to carry heavy sacks for the merchants. The evil that one sees in the poor is the direct result of the ideology of the capitalist exploitation and the indifference of the British Government towards the lives of millions of its subjects, especially those who belong to the lower class. There is a difference between Prabha’s creditors fighting among themselves to recover what they can and the Coolies vying with each other to earn a few annas so that they might live another day.

Anand realistically portrays the life in the pickle factory. In Morning Face (1968) he recalls a pickle factory next to his house in Amritsar and the nausea he felt from the smell of the drain and the sour vinegary. His experience of the factory comes alive in his description of the one where Munoo works:

Thus they worked from day to day in the dark underworld, full of the intense heat of blazing furnaces

and the dense malodorous smells of brewing essences, spices and treacle, of dust and ashes and mud, which

became kneaded into sticky layer on the earth of the passage with the overflow of water from the barrels of

soaking fruit, and plastered the bare toes of the labourers…Only the sweat trickled down their

bodies and irritated them into an awareness that they were engaged in a strenuous physical occupation (110).


The life of the factory is contrasted with the life of the Coolies outside. In India the Coolie serves as a beast of burden akin to the oxen, the asses and the horses. A Coolie is a product of the capitalist system; he through his sweat and blood makes the capitalist juggernaut move while being abandoned without any care or concern. The capitalist’s increased greed increases his exploitation and dehumanization. He is treated like a dumb animal without the voice of resistance. To draw a kinship between man and beast, Anand puts them together:

The square courtyard w a s crowded with rude wooden carts, which pointed their shafts to the sky like so many

crucifixes, cram med with snake- horned bullocks and stray rhinoceros- like bulls and skinny calves bespattered

with their own dung pressed against these were the bodies of the coolies, coloured like the earth… (37).


The courtyard belongs first to the animals and then to the Coolies; their earth coloured frames are “pressed” (37) against the dung-plastered hides of the animals; among the beasts of burden, society has placed, through necessity and indifference, man at the bottom. Man has crept into the world of the animals and carved a place for himself. The reference to the “crucifixes” (37) could be interpreted as the crucifixion of man on the ideology of Capitalism. The entire novel centralizes Munoo’s role as a Coolie and brings into focus the class divisions in the society. In the traditional Indian society that follows the caste system, an untouchable though at times kicked and abused for offending the caste law still has his place in society as none other can do the work assigned to hi m or the members of his caste. But a Coolie though apparently able to move freely beyond the caste system and choose his work is in fact working under a system that is more exploitative than the caste system. The Coolie has nowhere to go, he is underpaid and over worked, is cheated by his employers and lives in constant dread of losing his job. Munoo, by birth, belongs to the second highest order in the caste system but it is his place in the class system that is in question in the novel. If an untouchable suffers under a social system, a coolie suffers under the imperial-capitalist system that has been instrumental in creating the Coolie class. With the help of the elephant- driver at the circus Munoo is able to get a free train ride from Daulatpur to Bombay. When Munoo gets down in Bombay, the elephant- driver warns him: “The bigger the city is the more cruel it is to the sons of Adam” (177). But Munoo has conjured up an image of Bombay as a city where work is easy to find and one must see it before one dies. We find that the life o f the poor in Bombay remains the same, the change is mostly in scale; the larger the city the more ruthless the exploitation of the poor and the great or the human misery. The most agonizing picture of the life of the poor in Bombay is portrayed when Hari along with his family and Munoo are on their way to the m ill. They reach a clearing that has surprisingly not been occupied by the multitudes of Coolies, beggars and lepers in the city. A half- naked woman explains to them that her husband had died in that spot the previous night. “He has attained the release,” said Hari,” We will rest in his place” (190). These simple words of Hari, like Prabha’s words, speak of a lost wisdom that provides sustenance to the poor, the peasants and the oppressed in their suffering and misery. To them, Death is a welcome release from the suffering of the world; it is their own lives that they find unbearable and fear it. For them there is no middle path; there is no m iddle class there is only the rich and the poor.

Contrasting the Rich and the Poor

Anand contrasts the rich merchants in starched muslims against the dark Coolies in rags, the impressive bungalows of the English residents looks down on the congested slums of the Coolies. The garish opulence exists alongside rampant filth, deprivation and poverty. As soon as Munoo emerges from the station, he is overpowered by the confused medley of colours, shapes and sounds of Bombay’s strange, hybrid and complex character. There are Europeans in immaculate suits, Parsis in frock suits and white trousers, Mohammedans in long tunics, Hindus in muslim shirts and dhotis; there are Arabs, Persians and Chinese the road swarming with trams, cars and motorcycles. And ever present are the lepers, the beggars, and the Coolies in the dim damp alleys and slum s, filled with the groans of the sick, the starving and the dying. The complexity and diversity of the city gradually disappears subsuming whatever the social back ground, ethnic, racial and religious identity one might have and ultimately classifying one either rich or poor. The pickle factory of Daulatpur is now replaced by the Sir George White Cotton Mills where the working conditions are even more grueling and the foreman Jimmie Thomas is more abusive and tyrannical than Ganpat. The world of the poor is one of comradeship surrounded by foul smell, abuse, suffering, torture, exploitation, dust, heat and sweat. The British management offers no security of tenure. Jimmie Thomas rents out dilapidated huts at exorbitant rates. The Mill mechanic, a money- lender and the Sikh merchant exploit the Coolies. The ill- paid, ill-housed, under-nourished, exploited, cheat and bullied Mill worker is beaten body and mind as we find in the case of Hari. Munoo is saved from such a fate by his youthful vitality. In the Mill we have the ‘Red Flag Union’, a workers union led by the Communist leader Sauda who, ironically, exhorts the poverty stricken workers to go on a strike when all they can think about is where their next meal will come from. The preparation for the proposed strike leads to a bloody Hindu- Muslim communal riot; instigated by the employers to divert the attention of the workers. In the riot some of the workers lose their jobs, their livelihoods and even their lives.

In the last chapter Munoo finds himself in Shimla. Many critics have criticized the over emphasis on Mrs. Mainwaring, who is a minor character in the novel; adding that the accident is not in harmony with the flow of the narrative because all of a sudden Munoo emerges from the bloody communal riot in the mill into the caring arms of a memsahib. This can be taken as an act of destiny, contradicting Anand’s disbelief in God, providence and fate. But Anand is able to take Munoo away from the harsh life in the city and brings him back to the hills to regain his identity where his life finally ends under the strain of pulling his memsahib’s rickshaw. It is the correct finale to the concerto: the boy who has come from the hills sees the world and goes back to the hills to die thereby ensuring a narrative circularity in the novel. Some critics have pointed out Mrs. Mainwaring character being overemphasized.

The problem is that she is not authentically portrayed but it is observed that Anand goes out of his way to chastise her thereby the entire Anglo-Indian community. The novel does not substantiate the “bitch” (288), which Anand makes her out to be. Little or no information is provided about the background of some of the more important characters in the novel. Munoo’s background revolves around him being an orphan bullied by his aunt; his childhood in the hills abruptly ends in the beginning of the novel itself when he is taken to Sham Nagar. Prabha is a coolie from the hills and Hari a villager working in the Bombay Textile Mill. Whereas we are given a detailed description of Mrs. Mainwaring’s childhood, her struggle as an Anglo- Indian and her sordid history with men. But through her Anand gives a subtle comment on the conflicts of the Anglo- Indian community who belong neither here nor there, not being able to identify with the native nor being acceptable by the English. Mrs. Mainwaring lacks a sense of belonging and throws herself to everyman who comes her way because of this lack; she seeks a sense of belonging if not to a community then at least to someone.

The Memories Of Village

The sight of the mountains and valleys of Shimla revive in Munoo the memories of his village, and this section contains one of Anand’s best Nature descriptions. He is a painter of Nature in all its moods and has a remarkable flair for evoking the smells and colours of the Nature. The steep hills overgrown with rich green foliage, the streams and the waterfalls, the clouds rolling swiftly across the sky, the crisp cool air, all stand in sharp contrast to the heat, the dirt and humidity of Bombay. Munoo responds mentally and emotionally to the beauty of the world around him and observes the world of the rich upper classes of society and wishes he too could belong to this class. His mistress is kind to him and her affection for him fires his adolescent passion till he is unable to bear his feelings and crumples at her feet in an orgy of tears and kisses. Sexual urges- half expressed and half understood- had tormented Munoo from the very beginning, and like much of his life these feelings were never truly comprehended or realized, as in an adolescent growing up without any guidance. Anand prevents Munoo’s feelings from being diverted entirely to the physicality of his sexual awareness rather he describes the effects of his sexual awareness on the emotional aspects of his character. Thus Munoo when unable to understand why he finds himself looking at Sheila’s body outlined in her wet garments feels ashamed. Later the warmth of Parbati’s body as he nestles against her arouses confused feelings in him. The same confused feeling prevails when he returns to them ill after a night out with Ratan at the local brothel. Hari’s wife, who understands the boy’s feelings, takes him in her arms and whispers, “We belong to suffering! We belong to suffering” (247).


The pace of the narrative throughout the novel is modulated to suit the changing scenes such as the transition from the pastoral to the semi-urban and to the big city. Munoo’s journey from Daulatpur to Bombay is another instance where the narration is attuned to the varying speed of the train, vividly bringing to life the cities and the vegetation that Munoo rushes past. Anand is perhaps among the first Indian novelists to render the Punjabi and the Hindustani idioms and metaphors consciously into English. He finds that certain expressions in the local dialect could not be expressed in any other way except in a literal translation into English. No doubt Indian idioms and metaphors give rise to fresh imagery and reveal the unique quality of the narrative even at the cost of violating the norms of English usage.


Coolie is ideologically loaded for it draws its strength from Anand’s social commitment. British imperialism transformed the traditional economy of India into an industrial economy. Furthermore it considered India as a vast market for its own industrial goods. Thus the Imperialist system is identified with an oppressive capitalist system in which the bourgeois rule the roost. Indian aristocracy and the feudal class are bought over to side with the Empire and the old feudal caste system is replaced by the class system based on capital and industrial productivity. Marx and Engels write that, “The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal r elations. It has torn asunder the motley feudal ties …and has left remaining g no other nexus between man and man than naked self- interest, than callous cash payment” ( I 992: 05). Colonialism forced India into a new economic and social structure with the intention of maximizing profit unmindful of the repercussions it would have on the traditional socio-economic structure of the colony. Marx and Angels add that, “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society” (1992: 06).

In spite of his ideological inclination, Anand is realistic that the old caste system cannot disappear overnight even if it has been simply over- whelmed by the rapid introduction of industrialization. The parasitic residues of the old system has mutated and morphed themselves into the class system. In Munoo’s consciousness the notion of caste is still there but even a young mind like his has been able to comprehend the powerful class system of rich and poor that overshadows the caste system. But as the scene shifts from the small town of Sham Nagar filled with the lower middle class such as assistant- accountants to the urban towns of Daulatpur to the city of Bombay and finally, to the hill station of Shimla, the ideology of the imperialist bourgeoisie and the elements of the old caste system become more and more subtle, rigid and at the same time more degenerate. Within the middle and the lower classes, there are sub-classes based on income and within these sub- classes there are caste and religion division. The m ill workers in Bombay Textile Mill belong to the working class but even among them there are Hindus and Muslims. In Sim la Mrs. Mainwaring faces the prejudice against the Anglo- Indian community from both the English and the Indians to the extent that even the Coolies’ advise Munoo to leave her service since she is not a ‘pukka’ memsahib. Mohan comments that the English have a, “caste system more rigid than ours. Any Angrezi woman whose husband earns twelve thousand rupees a month will not leave cards at the house of a woman whose husband earns five hundred t he rich don’t really want to mix with each other” (314).

The process of industrialization was not conducted in a manner conducive to the Indian economic and social life. It was done in a manner benefiting only the British Empire. Thus the changes that took place in the Indian society did not completely wipe out the old feudal system although the class system replaced the caste system yet there remained traces and residues of caste sentiments if not caste structure. And these sentiments clung parasitically to the ideology of the class system of the British imperialists disseminated through their educational and religious institutions, the ideology of the ‘Other’ attributing in priority and savagery to the ‘native’. This mechanism of theorizations was employed by the middle class to the lower classes of Indian society. The lower classes, in particular, the Coolies fell prey to this new and even crueler social stratification that carried both the caste and class sentiments.


After the Revolt of 1857 the British oppression was so severe that some peasants and traditional craftsmen abandoned their profession or were disposed by the colonialists, ultimately took to robbery, became dacoits and bandits, preferring these to starvation and poverty. The Indigo Revolt of i 859-60 is one of the most militant and violent peasant movements that rendered many landless and homeless. Munoo’s migration from the hills to the city is based on economic necessity. In his village there is one rich man and many poor villagers. He observes that many poor villagers come to the city but he is not sure if there are more rich people in the city or in the village. The Imperialists have made the peasants impoverished making them dependent on the city. By making the cities as the seat of economic power the colonial-industrial regime managed to attract cheap labour from the villages thereby destroying the whole agrarian economy and making the colonies dependent on the Empire.



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Dr. N Padmamma, An Introduction to the Author

N Padmamma Paper in AshvameghDr. Nenavath Padmamma holds a Ph. D degree in English Language Education (ELE/ELT) from The English and Foreign Languages University. Before she finished her doctoral research, she completed her M. Phil from the same university (The English and Foreign Languages University) in 2009 and PGDTE in 2008 from the same university. Padmamma had an M.A. in English from the Osmania University in 2007. Apart from research, she wrote research articles on different topics in English Languages and Literature and published in various journals. She also delivered lectures on various problems of the language learning faced by the Tribal learners from the Telangana region. Reading widely and writing research papers is her passion.

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