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Mulk Raj Anand, 98; Wrote About India’s Injustices

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Mulk Raj Anand, one of India’s best-known writers of English-language novels and short stories, who attacked religious bigotry and exposed social injustice, died Tuesday of pneumonia in a western Indian hospital. He was 98.

Anand wrote more than two dozen novels and short story collections during a career launched in 1935 with the novel “Untouchable,” which criticized India’s caste system and dealt with the lowest class, whose members were reviled by Hindus because they cleaned latrines. The book was based on an incident in which Anand’s mother accused a lower-caste person of polluting her son by going to his aid. Anand made him the protagonist of the novel, which critics found compelling in theme and technique.

“The action takes place within the compass of a single day,” Saros Cowasjee wrote in the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, “but the author manages to build round his hero ... a spiritual crisis of such breadth that it seems to embrace the whole of India.”

E.M. Forster, who wrote the preface to the novel, said it “has gone straight to the heart of its subject and purified it.”

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Anand’s reputation as a writer of distinction was cemented the next year when his second novel, “Coolie,” was published. Continuing the author’s concern with social issues, it focused on an orphan boy who, while not an untouchable, suffers from the unfairness of Indian society.

Anand, who won several national awards for his contribution to English literature, was in the midst of writing a proposed seven-volume series of autobiographical novels when he died.

Born in Peshawar, which was part of India in the early 1900s and is now the capital of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, Anand graduated from Punjab University and studied at Cambridge and the University of London, where he earned a doctorate in 1929.

He lived in Britain in the 1930s, writing books on art and history and working as a scriptwriter and book critic. He began friendships with a number of prominent English writers, including George Orwell and Forster.

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He credited his association with the London literati, as well as the writings of Mohandas K. Gandhi and India’s struggle for freedom, as major influences on his literary accomplishments, which flowered after he returned to India.

He lived in a humble, brick-walled cottage -- which a Times of India writer once described as “an erstwhile horse stable” -- despite owning a huge bungalow on a five-acre plot in Khandala. As he neared 100, he continued to write two pages of his autobiography every day and had published four of the volumes.

The writer is survived by his wife, Shirin Vajifdar, and a daughter, Sushila Anand.


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