- Toward a Regional Cosmopolitanism: The Case of Mulk Raj Anand
Speaking toward the end of his long life, the celebrated writer Mulk Raj Anand commented on the genesis of the novel in India:
The English writing intelligentsia of India was . . . a kind of bridge trying to span, symbolically, the two worlds of the Ganga and the Thames through the novel. . . . Their roots lay in the local landscapes of North and South India. But they seem, along with quite a few others to have done something which is not generally admitted, to have brought some roots from abroad.(Roots 15)
An Indian fiction writer known for his commitment to representing the lives of ordinary Indians, championing Indian folktales and other art forms, and fighting for the cause of Indian independence, Anand found his subject matter and his purpose within Indian life. He became one of the so-called “big three” novelists of the latecolonial period in India, a key figure in the development of India’s English-language literary tradition and a vocal advocate for Indian autonomy. Why then does Anand make such a point about his writing being a bridge between India and Great Britain? Does that make him less of an Indian or regional writer? How can a perspective be “rooted,” as Anand describes, in both the local landscape and the cosmopolitan world? [End Page 142]
To answer these questions requires us to rethink our assumptions about regionalism, cosmopolitanism, and literary traditions. It also requires us to re-examine our assumptions about the development of national consciousness within the twentieth-century Indian novel and its connections to both local and cosmopolitan traditions. Anand’s formation combines an apprenticeship with the celebrated Muslim poet Iqbal, early activism in the Indian independence movement, 1 and graduate studies in the 1920s in the United Kingdom. He frequented literary circles in London, worked at the Hogarth Press and for T. S. Eliot at the Criterion, and was inspired to write fiction by reading James Joyce. Yet on his return to India in 1932, he traveled almost immediately to Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram, where, the story goes, Gandhi himself advised him to eliminate the Bloomsbury elements from his writing.2 From that moment onward, he dedicated himself to writing about everyday life in India and to advocating, both at home and abroad, on behalf of Indian independence.
Like Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, Anand found his vocation in seeking to forge the “uncreated conscience of [his] race,” (Joyce 218)3 writing experimental novels about the struggles of ordinary Indians to achieve self-definition and political autonomy, while speaking out on such issues as partition and Indian socialism. The list of his publications over his long life (he died in 2004 at the age of 99) is enormous, including at least fifteen novels, several collections of stories, a variety of works on Indian culture, and seminal essays on Indian politics.4 He was also devoted to bringing the diversity of Indian folk traditions and culture into circulation in the twentieth century and into contact with modernity, editing or providing forewords or afterwards to such collections as The Hindu View of Art (1933), Meet My People: Indian Folk Poetry (1946), and Indian Fairy Tales (1946). As his late book Is There a Contemporary Indian Civilisation? points out, the process of Indian development out of the colonial situation was based in long term “efforts to build a contemporary Indian Civilisation, different from the old feudal Civilisation and also different from the Civilisation of the West” (3). In this sense he was a proponent of the Gandhian concept of “swadeshi” or self-sufficiency (also sometimes defined as “of one’s own country”) that sought to create the possibility of selfrule (“swaraj”) out of a vibrant homegrown culture and economy. Anand was active in social and political organizations at the local and national level, working with the Lokayata Trust to create a community and cultural center for a village in New Delhi. He was also engaged in the international sphere, contributing essays, such as “The Search for National Identity in India,” to a conference sponsored by the International Progress Organisation in cooperation with the UN. He returned...