A Research Paper
The Registration of the Self: A Postcolonial Study in Anand’s Two Leaves And A Bud
Dr. Anuradha ChaudhuriDepartment of English, Lanka MahavidyalayaLanka, Hojai, Assam
In Two-day International Seminar
Socio-Cultural Assimilation in Northeast India and Southeast Asia
Internal Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC), Jhanji Hemnath Sarma College
Sivasagar, Assam, India
In collaboration with
UGC approved Gandhi Study Centre, Jhanji HNS College
Assam College Principals’ Council, Assam
Institute of Tai Studies and Research, Moranhat, Assam
Krishak Nyash, Gaurisagar, Sivasagar, Assam
Date: 30th & 1st May, 2018.
The Registration of the Self: A Postcolonial Study in Anand’s Two Leaves and A Bud
Dr. Anuradha Chaudhuri,
Department of English,
Lanka, Hojai, Assam.
The postcolonial theory attempts at looking at the colonial situations from newer perspectives so that rearrangement of thoughts and ideas can be made to give way to newer conditions of life, novelty in literature and unconventional and dynamic trends in critical notions. Particularly, in countries of Indian Sub-continent, the postcolonial study of socio-economic, political and literary tendencies is quite relevant and important because of its having a detrimental and complex colonial past. A number of Indian novelists including Mulk Raj Anand began to write in English during the 1930s with a view to communicating their feelings and observations regarding the sufferings undergone by the people of India at the hands of stern imperialists. In postcolonial era, there has been a reawakening, resurgence and registration of the self on the part of those who have been the worst victims of chronic colonial excesses, the so-called subalterns of the society. And Anand can be comprehensively evaluated by having a genuine understanding of the socio-political history of his own time which has a strong bearing on his major novels, even in his Two Leaves and A Bud (1937). The entire colonial situation has got a unique literary representation in the novel providing a glimpse to the multiple layers of colonialism that reigned supreme in the subjugated land of the Indians. The germ of postcolonial agenda can be traced back in the text itself through the heart-rending and genuine utterances of certain characters representing both the groups of the colonizers and the colonized-Dr. De la Havre, Gangu, Leila, Narain etc. and it has been possible only because of the writer’s mission of taking his art as a means to the development of the consciousness of the toiling masses as to how to overcome the strangling realities of imperialism and colonialism as such. Anand says,
The era to which I had been born was, thus, the historic turning point of my country. For, having gone so far through the sheer logic of its own acts of aggression the British bourgeoisie refused to go any further, while the Indian people, growingly conscious of the exploitation of their country, had begun to challenge authority and to demand their right to carry out the social evolution in India to its inevitable conclusion. We wanted to win control of the means of production to abolish the profit system and to undertake large schemes of industrial and social planning with the help of the latest researchers in science and technology, through which alone we could appease the great hunger all over the country and become dignified members of the human family. (Anand, Apology For Heroism 109-10)
Thus from this comment of the author, it is obvious that the country, devastated by colonial regime on all fronts-social, economic, political and cultural was voicing forth its ardent desire for registering its independent self-free from all kinds of oppression, suppression, superstitions, exploitation and injustice. A well-drawn vision of a better future of the country, strengthened and enriched by the scientific and technological developments world over and the inner urge to get back the lost dignity and register their names in the history of the world by the Indians as documented by the author makes him quite fit to be treated from postcolonial angle of vision.
The colonial theory brings out not only the geographical and ethnic transculturation, but also works on the creation of such texts which expanded the colonial interests. Postcolonial theory decodes the hidden myth of sub-text within the text. Postcolonial theorists like Edward W.Said, Homi.K.Bhabha, Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak, Ranajit Guha and Ania Loomba analyse the effects of such texts and work on to decolonize the Euro-centric textuality in their theoretical principles. Spivak in her essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” (1988) critiques the partiality shown to men and women of the illiterate peasantry, the tribals and the lower strata of the society. This disparity between elitism and subaltern makes her write a treatise for displaying the colonial historiography, especially of the marginalized subjects. In the analysis of Spivak and Guha, the concept of ‘common people” becomes synonymous with the concept of the subaltern group. The continuous suppression of the subalterns, especially of women packed them with “an insurgent consciousness” and thus literatures written during postcolonial period reflect the theoretical reactions against colonization. The colonial rule also brought into being the concept of binarism. As Postcolonial writers strive to accomplish their own identity, they use the indigenous myths and images in their writings and thus generally avoid to imitate the style and language of the former colonizers and venture forth to develop something of their own.
Now, the colonial rule of the British in India forms a major period of social and economic life largely influencing the modern society of to-day. With the growth of industrialization in India and the establishment of estates of timber, tea, rubber, coffee etc. the need for labour mobilization greatly increased. More so, the transport facilities with its network of railways and four wheelers enhanced the labour movement inside the country. The administrative tact involved in running the day-to day work of the tea plantation was consonant with the larger administrative strategy and the policy of the British rule in India. Exploitation of poor and ignorant labourers formed the major instrument of administrative policy in the Tea-Estates. The colonisers’ skilful handling of the poor mass yielded them a lot of profit leading to the accumulation of money and power in their hands. Without any resistance or organized protest, the labourers accepted all sorts of humiliation and restraints so that they could get at least something that fell into their lot for keeping their body and soul together.
In order to keep the labourers in bondage the British framed policies to create a near-poverty situation- an inescapable trap. Despite temperamental differences, mutual hatred and fear of each other, the colonizer and the colonized were tethered to the Colonial Economy. The colonizers needed maximum profits, larger outputs at the cost of the labourers’ blood and sweat. The suppressed labour mass got only a starvation wage-a less than human standard of living in an unhygienic condition. Such being the larger framework of Mulk Raj Anand’s novel, Two Leaves and a Bud, the writer seeks to project a social reality of the time past with pointers to the time present and the time future as well. A tea estate in Anand’s Two Leaves and a Bud is a world within a world, a prison, an inescapable trap that projects ethnic intolerance, suspicion, cruelty and exploitation of the poor labourers by the Britishers who perpetuate a sort of “Internal Colonialism.” But this is also true that the plantation workers in the novel reveal a growing psychological stamina to survive in the face of exploitation and there lies the germ of their reassertion with the passage of time.
Against this background, a postcolonial reading of the registration of the self in Anand’s Two Leaves And A Bud becomes an interesting survey. It has been a common theoretical concern that postcolonial voice is always silenced and marginalized by the colonial centre. The colonial forces and their so-called agents are always at work to dehumanize and devastate the true human spirit in the colonized masses in order to perpetuate their reign of mischief, deceit, oppression, terror and exploitation. Consequently, the life of those socio-political and economic victims as represented in the novel under study becomes a saga of continual struggle against those destructive, erosive and defacing forces. Their journey of life becomes a journey towards darkness and uncertainty unredeemed by rays of hope and joy, culminating in their tragic fall. The life of time-tested character, Gangu in the novel bears witness to these facts. But the positive thing of the whole affair is the emergence of individual selves occasionally amidst an exploitative, tormenting, horrible, and hellish experiences of life during the colonial regime and even afterwards.
A writer, the prince of pen, Mulk Raj Anand is the true voice of the million mass, particularly of the untouchable and the vulnerable victimized by undeserved tyranny and injustice from time immemorial. This is what prompted Mulk Raj Anand to present the deplorable description of the destitute when he writes:
‘The world I know best was the microcosm of the outcaste and peasants and soldiers and working people. In so far as, however, as my works broke new ground and represented a departure from the tradition of previous Indian Fictions, where the pariah and the bottom-dogs had not been allowed to enter the sacred precincts of the novel’ (Preface: Two Leaves and a Bud’).
The historical background of Indian Society unfolds that subaltern issues are inseparable part of this society because of the presence of extreme categorization and marginalization. Therefore, the pains and miseries of the society affected the sensitivity of Anand which get poignant expression in his novels. Two Leaves and A Bud is a popular novel of Anand which tells the pathetic story of a coolie, named Gangu. Gangu and his family were forced to leave their house in premises of Hoshiarpur district of Amritsar. Buta, an agent of tea planters appeared before them as a saviour and promised them money, land and security in the distant Macpherson Tea Estate in Assam, a microcosm of colonial India. Gangu failed to detect his hypocrisy and believed him true which ultimately brought tragedy to his entire family consisting of his wife Sajani and children Leila and Buddhu. Gangu, the stereotype, representing the colonized India was lured to the hideous world of serfdom thanks to a number of circumstantial realities like native blood-sucking money-lender, the guileful lawyer, Gangu’s own advanced age, and of-course (as has already been mentioned) the eloquence of the barber-turned-recruiter Buta Singh just as the case of the enslavement of any country by an alien race. The postcolonial followed by subaltern study of the novel illustrates poverty and hunger to be the root cause of all the multifarious exploitations undergone by the family of Gangu in particular.
Colonial world as depicted by Anand in the novel is thus a world in which the innocence has to bend down before cruelty, where the wives and daughters of the workers have to satisfy the lust of the white Sahibs, guiltless workers have no right to raise their voice against their masters, where the insulted and the injured have also to be the victims of pestilence, hunger and poverty, where a man like De la Havre, a sympathetic and ideal protector of the underprivileged has to lose his job only because of his sympathy for the oppressed and suppressed. Anand, therefore, finds imperialism as a dangerous part of capitalist exploitation.
However, wherever there is suppression, there is resistance at one period of time and it affects not only the natives but the masters also as is reflected in the protests raised by Dr. Havre. For example, on learning the high-handedness of Reggie in dealing with the coolie uprising, Havre volunteers to lead them to the Burra Sahib. Though he is aware of the implications of his action, he emboldens himself to face the anger of the bosses. Havre is ashamed at the inhumanity of his fellow Englishmen. He sacrifices his job at Macpherson Tea Estate for the sake of the coolies, just to prove that Indians have the ability to rule themselves better than the British. What can be a better example of the registration of a self than this, particularly when a text written during colonial period about colonial situation is receiving a postcolonial treatment, the voice of a coloniser launching against the fellow colonisers is a matter to be appreciated and critically handled, a deviation from the tradition. So, human beings are, after all, human beings- neither British, nor Indian, nor Japanese, nor American. They are just two categories-good and bad. Throughout his stay, Havre is found constantly thinking about the welfare of the coolies but it is always met with cynicism and mockery from the other sahibs like Croft Cooke, Macara and Reggie Hunt. He is also criticized for his outspokenness against the policies of the British. He avoids the parties and week-end get-together enjoyed by the sahibs in the plantation. Thus the irony of Havre’s life is that he tries to protest on many occasions as he does when Dr. Chunni Lal was insulted by Reggie Hunt and Mr. Croft Cooke did not help Gangu in performing his wife’s funeral but as he himself is involved, though unwillingly in the process of colonialism, he is unable to go directly against the authority but does not hesitate to call spade a spade.
A strong individual self erupts in Gangu, the protagonist of the story who has been submissive so long and a symbol of extreme endurance when he joins Narain, a fellow Gorakhpuri labourer and the Bhutia coolies to raise choral voice against the highhandedness demonstrated by Reggie Hunt in suppressing a sudden uprising among the coolies causing much injury to them. But because of guiding the coolies, Havre is dismissed from his job and Gangu is fined fifty rupees for being the ring leader of the mutiny. It does not matter as the main point of contention is that there has been a rise in the inner self against the reign of domination and suppression.
Even Leila, the daughter of Gangu does not submit to the animal lust of Reggie like Chambeli and Neogi’s wife who serve as Reggie’s mistresses which, if argued would give rise to a strong debate on the issue of ethics and the division created by the British colonisers even among the natives as well as the role of socio-political environment in shaping an individual’s mindset. As rightly pointed out by Said of the binaries existing in colonial situation, the struggle between human egos, the perpetrators of exploitation and the exploited, centre and margin, occident and orient and self and the other persists which gets a befitting representation in the character of Reggie and his dealings with the tea labourers and their families culminating in the raising of the voice of protest by the victims leading to the tragic doom of Gangu, the tragic hero of the novel under consideration. But a postcolonial study of the novel Two Leaves and A Bud cannot ignore the heinous and notorious role played by the nasty opportunists and the parasitical class which emerged in between the two groups of exploiters and the exploited which could not evade the piercing eyes of the author, the characters of Babu Sashi Bhusan, the sahukars, Dalals like Buta, chowkidars in the Tea Estate, grocers like Dhanu Mal, the catalytic agents, the force behind the perpetuation of colonialism in the Tea Estates of Assam.
The strong registration of self is also marked in Narain who fights for the injured coolies of the mutiny and allows his friends to hold secret meetings in his hut every evening. He speaks to Croft Cooke overlooking the anger of the Sahib and is also fined for his role in the uprising of the coolies.
Gangu once bursts out against Buta saying ‘The liar, he killed my Sajani with his lies!’ (Anand, Two Leaves and A Bud 143)
De la Havre reminds the coolies of their rights when they came to beg for some suggestion with regard to the uprising following the quarrel between Chambeli and Neogi’s wife and says ‘You want a coolie raj, you people. Why do you let them beat you? Why can’t you beat back-all of you together?’ (200)
The colonial situation is reflected in his helpless condition when Havre says ‘I am not your mai-bap, I am like you, a slave of the planters….They and their like beat the workers of Vilayat in the same way as they beat you.'(200) So the cruelty of the Britishers is exposed by one of their brethren in a quite heart-rending manner and his sense of oneness with the victimized subalterns also comes out distinctly. Havre does not hesitate to open up his heart and thus bursts out against British colonizers and colonialism as such.
He, therefore further reiterates
“You take courage Gangu. You take courage, all of you. Get together, and go and tell the Burra Sahib the whole story. And tell him you won’t work till he gives you justice.'(201)
When Leila is approached by Reggie with the comment ‘come to my bunglow’ (272), Leila shrieks and raises her protest as such
‘Go away. I will call my father. I don’t care who you are, whether you are a sahib or….'(272)
A novelist with some unique modernized notions, Mulk Raj Anand has taken a hammer in his hand to blow hard on the dead customs and misleading traditions. He is a novelist who pleads for those unnoticed pearls and diamonds which ‘the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear.’ The voice of the subalterns has always raised a wave in the heart and mind of the writer which is reflected time and again in most of his literary creations. A postcolonial reader will not find it less fascinated while going through his works including the novel under study (though written in pre-independent period) because the seeds of resistance and protest as well as the resurgence of individual souls are already sown in those writings. Mulk Raj Anand went ahead of his time and his progressive thoughts and pathos inherent in his writings have definitely made his creations immortal. C.B.Christesen writes, “He (Anand) is one of the most stimulating men I have ever met.…….Above all, he has insisted on the need for VALUES – the civilizing values which help nourish an enlightened and humane society.” Indian English Literature originated as a necessary outcome of the introduction of English education in India under the colonial rule. It is one of the most authentic voices of India. Among the prolific writers of 1930s, along with R.K Narayan and Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand deserves special mention. Among the trio, Anand took up the cause of social reform through the depiction of the malaise of the impoverished class thereby paying back the Europeans with their weapon, namely the language. In his “Apology for Heroism” (1943), Anand points out that the modern writer has to play a constructive role in the reconstruction of the human society. Anand?s novels cover the entire cultural perspective of India. Indian society experienced a qualitative structural transformation during the British rule. The British economic policies, blatantly imperialistic, were mostly exploitative and suppressive, designed for ethnic subordination. At home Gangu, the innocent Punjabi peasant is exploited by Seth Badri Das, the moneylender and in Assam he is exploited by the imperialist machinery of the Tea Estate. Soon after their arrival, Gangu is shrewd enough to realize that they have been doomed for ever. But he makes up his mind to fight back. In the context of the Two Leaves and a Bud, Gangu’s spirit of rebellion reaches its culmination when he pounces upon Reggie to prevent him from molesting his daughter, Leila. It does not matter whether Gangu was victorious or not but the fact remains that being the protagonist of the story Gangu has been able to register his name in the domain of postcolonial treatment of literature in general and literature created by Mulk Raj Anand in particular. Gangu very often indulges in self-discovery and a war goes on within him about his pathetic situation and the prospects of a better life. His desire to live keeps him going and at the same time makes him alert about the safety of his family. To end, it can be said that though the white man is always legally right as is being projected by the colonizers and even perceived by the author in the novel as well, in every hut of poverty and suffering, there lives a Gangu, of-course fighting to prove his existence as a human being. In the words of Boehmer, “The European in the Empire rejects the native, yet he also requires the native’s presence in order to experience to the full his own being as a white colonialist”, an assimilation amidst segregation and seclusion, quite an ambivalent situation which makes the postcolonial reading of a text rather interesting and meaningful.
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