Socio-Psychological Spectrum of Child Life in Mulk Raj Anand’s Short Stories

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A Socio-Psychological Spectrum of Child-Life in ‘The Lost Child and Other Stories’ by Mulk Raj Anand.

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About the Author:

        Lalita Gupta is pursuing Ph.D. from Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar University, Agra, under Dr. Lucky Gupta, Reader and Head Department of English T.R.P.G. College, Aligarh. The Topic of her Ph.d. is ‘Critical Study of Child Characters in the Fiction of Mulk Raj Anand’. She takes a keen interest in fiction.



                The fall of imperialism and the growing awareness of freedom brought a change in the society. In the discourse on the fate of marginalized communities, the writers were encouraged to represent the sufferings of women and children. Besides social-political awareness, the development of psychology has modified the perception of life. With these changes, there came a wave of children’s literature. The representation of the children’s world has always been a source of fascination for the writers during all ages and all countries.

                The Indian English Fiction that is not more than a century old has faithfully recorded the challenges and confrontation of values and process of transition and transformation going on in the Indian society. A large number of novels and short-stories from pre-independence to post-independence India present a vivid account of child life. The writers have taken child characters as an instrument to project the social-vices. And there is a strong affinity of these works with the best in world literature. The short stories of Tagore like Kabuliwalla and other Stories’,’Home and the World’, R.K. Narayan’s ‘Swami and Friends’,’Malgudi Days’, ‘Vendor of Sweets’ present different dimensions of child life particularly the struggle of children against the cramped conventions of society. In this direction Mulk Raj Anand in English and Prem Chandra in Hindi revolutionalized the well knit pattern of literary aesthetics. They made efforts to make a representation of the social-evils through the consciousness of their child protagonists.

                The present paper is focused on the Mulk Raj Anand’s short story collection ‘The Lost Child and Other Stories’. The paper is divided into two parts. In the first half the focus is made on the Indian short story as a genre its origin and importance. In the second half the focus is on the socio-psychological study of the child- characters presented in the different stories of the collection.





                Fiction and short story are the kindred branches of literature and both are related to each other in the same way as the big and small sisters to their parents. If Indian English Fiction originated in 20th century, Indian English short story can’t be thought of earlier than this time. Of course the short story is a simpler and more popular form of communication than the wide ranging and complex fiction. A.J. Merson in his introduction to his edited work, dwells at some length on the comparative merits of the novel and the short-story. He observes.

        The scope of the novel is usually wide, it may cover

themes of several generations and range in its setting

from pole to pole. Its main theme is often complicated                by numerous side issues, only less important than the              central plot, no one of which can be detached from                 the structure without a certain loss of continuity or of            essential detail. The short story on the one hand is                        conceded with episodes and not with histories….it                         confines itself to what happened to one person or a                small group of persons within a limited period of time           and within a limited radius of activity.

The short story is, and always has been disproportionately represented in literatures of colonial and post- colonial cultures. Short story is deeply rooted in our Indian tradition which used to give us folk tales and fables from the earliest time. And this tradition has always been enriched by oral as well as written tales. It is unquestionably as old as Indian society and culture.

                The early short story writers of India had mostly found their source of inspiration and sustenance in the ancient tales of the Panchatantra and in the Buddhistic Jataka Tales, which are usually didactic in tone, gripping in narration and epigrammatical in structure. Both the works may be said to be ‘beast fables’, in which some animals symbolize human beings and their virtues or vices. There was yet another variety of tales, generally known as ‘folk tales’, in ancient India, and this variety is well-preserved in the ‘Kathasarit Sagar (which is based on the Brihatkatha of Gunadhya) and the Dashakumaracharitam of the noted Sanskrit author, Dandin. Apart from these, the anicient Indian tales are also found in several Upanishads and Purans (like the Bhagavata and the Brahmanda) and in well-known epics called the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Jains have not been lagging behind in his genre, and they have added such works to its stock as the Padampurana by Ravisena and the Mahapurana by Jinasena and Gunabhadra. All these works provided stimuli and motivations to Indian short story writers.

                As with other genres so with the Indian short-story in English, the beginnings were made under the influence of Britishers, who had given us not only a steady nation but also an international language. It is, therefore, in the fitness of things to speculate that the Indian short story writer in English is an inheritor of British legacy bequeathed to him by such eminent practitioners as O. Henry, John Galsworthy, Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling.

                To being the history of Indian English short story there is a publicaton of Kamla Satthianandan’s stories from Indian Christian life in 1898, while Venkataramani contributed two collections of short stories under the titles Paper Boats in 1921 and Jathadharan and Other Stories in 1937, Nagarjan’s ‘Cold Rice’ in 1945. In the early twentieth century, Rabindra Nath Tagore was an internationally known literary personality, who wrote his short stories mostly in Bengali and then translated them into English. Some of his popular stories are ‘The Kabuliwallah’, Subha’,’The Post Master’.

                The twentieth century saw the publication of a genuine artistic work in the genre, and it is Mulk Raj Anand’s ‘The Lost Child and Other Stories’, which proved to be ‘an immediate success’. With Anand begins era of big names, such as Manjeri Isvaran, R.K. Narayan, Raja Rao, Khushwant Singh and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Anand is with the poor and the down trodden voicing the concerns and predicaments of the lower classes in our society and siding with the lost ones and the sufferers. The hummanism of Anand is so evident in his short stories and he lashes at the lies, shame and hypocrisies of our people with relentless vigour and robust satire. The social injustices and the high brow prejudices move him most, and he forcefully ventilates his strong feelings against them, as may be gathered from his stories like ‘The Cobbler and the Machine’, ’Boots’, ‘The Old Watch’ and ‘The Story of an Anna’, In his long short story, ‘Lament on the Death of a Master of Arts’. Anand takes to satire to hit at the rooted in human social customs and conditions-the proud parents, the child marriage, the stubbornness of the elders, hypocrisy, insanitation and cruelty in education and many other things.


                Every studies opens the new windows for the fresh interpretations and new vision about the text. No literary text has its value without its lingering and repeated effect on the consciousness of the critic as this consciousness assumes a new proportion in the shifting modes of social changes. The works of Mulk Raj Anand gives a new insight to the readers being the pillar of Indian cultural heritage. His works have a soothing sense and caste upon the stark realities of society. Anand’s concerns for the varied problems that human beings come across in life with a sincere desire to seek solution of these problems made him the writer of all times. His motive is not only to highlight the problems and miseries but the meticulously makes an effort to suggest the ways out of theme. He is a realist in his visionary dispositions about the betterment of the human being. Where Premchand choose his themes from peasantry and humble folk of Uttar Pradesh, Anand selected themes from day to day expressions surroundings around him and select heroes from his environment. He wrote in an unselfconscious way about what he had seen at first hand in the years of his childhood, boyhood and youth.

                The collection ‘The Lost Child and Other Stories’ contains thirteen stories in which Anand depicts his profound concern for the life of children with a psychological insight. His stories deal with the emotions, feelings and psyche of child characters. The first story of the collections is ‘The Lost Child’ that is a remarkable example of Anand’s dealing with the psyche of a child who is lost in a fair. The story is divided in two parts. In the first part the child goes to a fair with his parents where colourful articles of the fair like roundabout dancing cobra, rainbow-coloured balloons, Gulab-jamun, rasgulla, burfi, garland of gulmohar fascinates the child. He is attracted towards the colourful items of the fair. In this, Anand, very beautifully, presents the happy emotions of the child. The child is very excited when he enters into the fair. His attention is captured by the mustard field, a group of dragon flies and so he legged behind. Then his parents called him. ”Come, child, come”9 After the call the child runs towards his parents. With these simple incidents of the life of the child, Anand presents a carefree mental state of the child and his concern with the social environment. The child is only enjoying the beauty of the fair. The natural description of the fair portrays a picture of human emotions. Children are very sensitive. Each and every aspect of nature attracts them. The description in the story reveals how the child is eager to have each article that is present in the wordly fair. Yet the child is conscious of the fact that his parents would not allow him to have all therefore without waiting for their reply he goes forward.


        He went towards the basket-where the flowers lay heaped      and half murmured, ‘I want that garland’. But he well knew      his parents would refuse to buy him those flowers because they would say they were cheap. So without waiting for an     answer he moved on. (12)

This reveals the obsessed psyche of the child. Today is the world of pressure and depression. Little children feel pressure of their environment and sometimes become the victim of depression and sometimes fight with their surroundings. What Anand had pointed out in his writings has become the issues of post-colonial India. The recent release and Oscar awarded movie Slum Dog Milllenium deals with the predicament of a child who was born and brought up in slums. The movie was appreciated and accepted due to the natural presentation of the emotions of a child protagonist revealed in the story. Again, the story of ‘Paa’ whose protagonist is a deceased child. It presents eminently a child-psyche that demands nothing from the society except the union of his parents. It gives a message that children contribute in the development of the healthy society.

                The second part of the story lost child deals with the pathetic emotions of the protagonist when he was departed from his parents when a stranger wanted to give him all that he desired earlier, he doesn’t accept that, he wants his mother and father.

The child turned his face from the sweet shop and only sobbed: I want my mother; I want my father. (15)

                The second story of the collection is ‘The Eternal Why’ that deals with the curiosity of a child protagonist. Here Anand reveals the child psychology of questioning. The child wants to know everything. The child is fascinated by the river Lunda. He puts several questions related to the river and his own reflections in the river. Then he saw the people bathing in the river. He questioned,


‘What is that, mother’? he asked, bewildered. ‘They are the holy man bathing in the river, child’ his mother

answered. ‘They are swimming’.


I want to swim, too’ he said, and almost made towards the



No, no,’ said the mother, running after him. Bringing him   near her, she began to console him: ‘You are too small to     swim yet'(19)


The child was a ‘bit cross’ with his mother for not letting him do what he desires. He wants to know the origin of the river. Like a true little philosopher, he wants to know the last cause of all things,

                ‘Where does the water go, father?’

‘It goes to the sea, my son’.

‘But it came from the sea, did it not?’

‘Yes my son, it came from the sea: from the boundless,         infinite ocean it came, into the vast ocean will it go.’

‘Where is the sea, father?’

It is on the other side of the world, child’. (22)

The child’s thirst is not satisfied he wants to know why is the river this side when the sea is on the other side of the world. The father ultimately has to surrender before the eternal whys of the child.


They are really in the same world, child. Only they appear

to be separated. The river comes from the sea and goes

sweeping incessantly onward to it. But I do not know,

Child. I cannot go on answering your eternal whys. (23)


Again, the story ‘The Conqueror’ is the tale of a five-year-old child who is enthusiastic to his goal. It is a small account of subjugation of a younger child by a group of a little senior one. There is a group of bright eyed children with shooting arrows and bamboo bows who were not older than ten and not younger than six. There was a higher peak before them that was their fort which they have to conquer. This young child of five years of age was disallowed to take part in the battle because ‘he was too small.’ Anand presents the eagerness of the child thus,


There was in him a secret, innocent impulse for friendliness, such as is primeval and spontaneous in all things nearest to nature and which had now taken in him the form of a vague eagerness at the prospect of company. (25)


Anand in a very natural manner expresses the emotions and zest of the child to follow his companions. With enthusiasm the child could not restrain his eagerness and follows them saying ‘Wait, I am coming.’ (25) All the boys decided the child not to follow them and shouted ‘Go back, go back.’


But in the darkness of swiftly approaching night he                         ran up the hill his bright face showing to his fellows                  the torchlight of the conqueror. (27)


Anand’s one of the best stories in this collecting ‘The Barber’s Trade Union’ deals with the emotions a barber boy of the village. The protagonist Chandu was not good in studies but he recites good poetry. Anand also points out the caste-discrimination in the story. While Chandu was of a ‘low caste barber’ mother does not allow him to play with Chandu as the narrator belongs to the high class. Chandu wanted to look like Dr. Kalan Khan as he expressed to the narrator’


I learnt how to treat pimples, boils and cuts on people’s

bodies from my father, who learnt them from his father

before him. (31)

Chandu had an enthusiasm of being socially recognized. Therefore one day he dressed himself in a doctor’s attire. Seeing this the village landlord Bijay Chand abuse him saying that he has defile his religion bringing a leather bag of cow-hide and a coat of the marrow of some other animal. Chandu tries to resist that he is wearing the clothes of a doctor but Jagirdar Sahib said,


Go away you, swine, go away and wear clothes befitting

you low status as a barber. (32)


Even Sahukar insulted Chandu by rebutting him on his disguise and does not allow to cut his hair. Chandu subjugated psyche was realized by the narrator. He suggested him to go to Pandit Parmanand. But Chandu received the same response from him,


What right has that low-caste boy to such apparel? He

has got to touch our beards, our heads and our hands. He

is defiled enough by God. Why does he want more?

defiled? You are a high-cast boy. And he is a low-caste

devil! He is a rogue! (33)


But Chandu was not such kind of a boy who could easily be adjusted with the situation. Anand shows that Chandu resisted with the society making fun of the upper-class Sahukar and saved money, bought new clothes and new tools for himself and opened a new shop of barber with his qualities of head and heart.

                Mulk Raj Anand was the most important writer that activated the new wave of realism in the colonial and post-colonial era. All Anand’s short stories are motivated attempts to expose the agony and misery of the lower castes and classes of India.


                He talks of the castes, rich-poor drift, problems of those, who are in economic depravity and problems of those, who face psychologically suffering at one level or the other. Anand has a plethora of concerns but all have common motive surging behind, i.e. to let the common human beings come up with a resistance against the hardships of their life. Anand’s approach is not like that of Renaissance humanism, which just theorizes the betterment of human life, but he is very realistic in his visionary dispositions about the betterment of the human beings.





Works Cited


  1. Merson, A.J., Macmillan India Ltd., Modern Short Stories, First Series Bombay, 1981 p. ix.


  1. Anand, Mulk Raj, ‘The Lost Child and The Other Stories, Orient Paper Backs,2007


(All the subsequent references are from the same edition.

The page numbers are given at the end of the quotations.)


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