Trio of Indian Novelists Writing in English: Mahatma Gandhi influenced their Narratives

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and Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of life become the important subject matter of the novels written by three major novelists. They are Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao and R.K. Narayan. They are called the trio of the Indian novelists, who write in English. Basudeb analyses the contribution of these three novelists, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different .

The growth of Indian novels written in English in the twentieth century was a phenomenon. This was due to the freedom movement under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. The struggle for both violent and non-violent inspired all Indians to stand united against the Colonial rule in India. Indeed the Indian nationalism at the conceptual level was in existence even at the time of the Sepoy Revolt against the British in 1857.

The contribution of the National Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi was enormous in reinforcing as well as consolidating the concept Indian nationalism. Indian nationalism and Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of life become the important subject matter of the novels written by three major novelists. They are Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao, and R.K. Narayan. They are called the trio of the Indian novelists, who write in English. One major trend that unites the trio of the twentieth-century novelists is that these three novelists Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao and R.K. Narayan are inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of life.


A study of Anand’s novels shows that Anand champions the underdog and the oppressed people of the Indian society. He delineates the indescribable sufferings of the have-nots of the Indian society in his novels. That the caste-divided Indian society is a hindrance to the formation of Indian nationhood is perhaps the sub-text of Mulk Raj Anand’s novels.

Raja Rao in his novels shows how Gandhi’s principle of non-violence helps Indians to fight against the colonial rule in India. R.K. Narayan in his novels evaluates the importance of Indian ethos, which Gandhi in every phase of his freedom movement in India emphasises.

Important novels written by Mulk Raj Anand are Untouchable (1935), Coolie (1936), Two Leaves and a Bud (1937), The Lal Singh Trilogy (1939-42), The Big Heart (1945), Seven Summers (1951), The Private Life of an Indian Prince (1953), etc. Untouchable is a potent condemnation of the evils of a degenerated and distorted orthodoxy. Bakha is an 18-year-old boy, one of the sons of Lakha, the head sweeper. Bakha’s day begins with the work of latrine cleaning. He is an efficient sweeper. Sisir Das comments:

Mulk Raj Anand’s first novel Untouchable is yet another powerful novel exposing the dehumanising role of caste narrativised through a fine analysis of a day’s activity of a sweeper boy. The dirt and filth of the latrines, the odour of the hides and skins of carcasses, the most offensive abuses heaped upon the boy by the upper caste make his life, an unending nightmare, with all its horrors and pain, Bakha. (Das, 316)

How the caste divided Indian society inflicts pains upon this poor Bakha has been photographically delineated by Mulk Raj Anand in this novel. Coolie shows the indescribable suffering of Munoo, a 15-year-old orphan boy, who represents the misery of the oppressed and subjugated class of people in India. The locale of this novel is not a particular village or a city. Munoo moves from one Indian city to another. The novel is epical in nature.

Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand and R.K. Narayan, these three Indian writers gave the novels written in Indian English not only Indian style and structure but also content, which is typically Indian. R.K. Narayan was born in Madras in an orthodox Brahmin family in colonial India, in 1906. He died in 2001 when he was 94 years old. He belongs to the long span of the 20th century. R.K. Narayan’s first novel is Swami and Friends. His other novels are The Bachelor of Arts, The Dark Room, The English Teacher, Mr. Sampath, The Financial Expert, Waiting for the Mahatma, The Guide, The Maneater of Malgudi, The Vendor of Sweets, The Painter of Signs, A Tiger for Malgudi, Talkative Man, The World of Nagaraj, Grandmother’s Tale.

Truly speaking, he did not experience the environment of 21st century’s homogenised and indivisible world and market economy. He experienced the legacy of the liberal and humanist nineteenth century English tradition as well as the twentieth century western development in science and technology. He travelled extensively the European countries as well as the other side of the Atlantic. He received Western education, visited the United States several times and assimilated the western ethos consciously as an educated enlightened Indian. He also served in one university in Texas as a faculty member. But at the same time his upbringing in a traditional Brahmin family led him to accept the Brahminical cult of the Hindu religion.

R.K. Narayan had a deep rooted commitment to the ancient Indian heritage. Narayan had not settled abroad. In novels, The Bachelor of Arts (1937), The Dark Room (1938), The Guide (1958), The Vendor of Sweets (1967), the prime period of his acceptability by Indian readers as a novelist. Narayan’s popularity increases immediately after his novel The Guide is made into a film in Hindi.  He brings about the ultimate triumph of Indian values through the characters like Savitri, Raju and Jagan. Conservatism, which is the kernel of the Hindu religion, in general, and the Brahminical cult, in particular, and the zeal for reforms, both are contrasted in Narayan’s novels. A modern man and at the same time an Indian, championing the values of ancient Indian heritage, Narayan ultimately bends towards the India past. We find in him two opposite on life – the first, is his intellectually realised modern on life. The second, is his emotional faithfulness to the Hindu attitude to life, which Narayan inherits from his orthodox Brahmin family. Finally, the second one triumphs over him. And his novels are the reflection of this triumph.

Savitri in The Dark Room struggles to be independent and self-sufficient. Her sanity is wounded when she finds that her husband develops extramarital attachment with Shanta Bai. Even Ramani hardly cares his wife’s sentiment when he takes away Savitri’s favourite piece of furniture for the decoration of Shanti Bai’s room. She walks out of her home. But finally she decides to go back to her husband. She yields to the age-old values of Indian wife, sacrificing the democratic as well as moral values in the relationship between husband and wife. The concept of the of woman is western. The Guide presents a thesis on the dichotomy between appearance and reality in the character of Raju. The Vendor of Sweets shows how the protagonist finally eschews the modern life suggested by his son and takes refuge in the mystic world. Jagan in The Vendor of Sweets becomes a worst suffer of the predicament arising out of their confrontation between the Indian and the modern western values of life.

©Basudeb Chakraborti

Photos from the internet.

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Basudeb Chakraborti

Basudeb Chakraborti

Basudeb Chakraborti is a retired professor of English and Faculty Dean, University of Kalyani. He founded the Department of English in Sikkim Central University (2013). He taught in the USA and India. He wrote more than 100 articles in different literary journals in India and abroad. Among his books, Thomas Hardy's View of Happiness, Some Problems of Translation: A Study of Tagore's Red Oleanders, Indian Partition Fiction in English and in English Translation, etc.
Basudeb Chakraborti