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Having lived through almost the entire 20th century (from 1905 to 2004), Mulk Raj Anand had been an active observer of the myriad changes taking place in social, cultural, political and economic landscape of pre and post-independent India. His short stories sketch the deep-rooted caste, class and gender bias in the lives of Indians.
‘Lajwanti’ is a heart-rending portrait of a woman who tries to flee to her father’s home in order to escape the brutal and sexual advances of her brother-in-law in her husband’s house. She is caught mid-way by Jaswant, her brother-in-law, who forces her to return back to her husband’s house. However, she is briefly rescued by a woman passing by in a jeep who helps her go to her father’s house. Lajwanti’s only moment of glory comes when the rich woman delivers a resounding slap on Jaswant’s face. On arriving at her childhood home, Lajwanti quickly realises that she is not welcome here too. Her father refuses to acknowledge her as a member of the family and tells her that she must return to her husband’s house. With absolutely no support from her father or her in-laws, Lajwanti’s only source of strength, comfort and hope is her caged Bulbul.
Even though the book was released back in 1999, his stories seem old fashioned and clichéd. Some of his tales are also strangely similar to the stories of today’s Hindi TV serials. Stories which are stuck to the same old rut of portraying the poverty, caste and gender divide of India. In ‘Anjali Hasta’ a high caste foreign educated son is deprived of his wish to meet and express his admiration towards a talented dancer girl by his parents purely because she belongs to the category of dancer girls. In ‘Silver Bangles’ a wife admonishes and dismisses a servant girl from work for no fault of hers but only because her husband eyes the servant girl’s attractive body.
Originally Mulk Raj Anand’s claim to fame lay in the fact that he was one of the first few Indian authors who brought refreshing and ground-breaking stories on the various eccentricities of the Indian lifestyle under the exploring eye of the foreign reader. In ‘The Hiccup’ Anand portrays how a simple hiccup eructed by a daughter-in-law could be perceived as ‘unholy’ and a possible insult to her mother-in-law’s cooking.
In ‘The Priest and the Pigeons’, Anand presents a humorous account of a priest being constantly disturbed by the mating of pigeons. In the end, out of frustration, the priest vainly attempts to gun down the two procreating pigeons. Ironically, he himself (knowingly or unknowingly) worships the very act of reproduction – Lord Shiva’s lingam.
Mulk Raj Anand’s stories reflect his deep socialist views and the heavy influence of Gandhian philosophy on him. For someone who began his career by writing short reviews for ‘The Criterion’ in London, and was also honoured with the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1972, this book was a mediocre read.
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