Untouchable: Summary


Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable gives you a real feel for a day in the life of Bakha, a sweeper from the untouchable caste in India during colonial times, showing the struggles he faces because of his low social status.



Bakha lives in a small mud house with his father, Lakha, brother Rakha, and sister Sohini in a town called Bulashah. Their community, considered outcastes, lives near the town’s latrines. Bakha is fascinated by English ways, and he and his friends imitate them, calling them “Tommies.” However, Lakha, who works as a sweeper and leads others, disapproves and constantly criticizes Bakha. Despite his father’s abuse, Bakha thinks about his friends and dreams of an English lifestyle. Lakha scolds him for not cleaning latrines, but Bakha, indifferent to his father’s words, remembers his deceased mother and believes the abuse intensified after her death.

While lying in bed, Bakha hears the voice of Havildar Charat Singh, a respected figure. He quickly responds to Singh’s call, showcasing his expertise in cleaning latrines. Singh, impressed by Bakha, shares his plan to gift him a hockey stick, as he is a skilled hockey player. Excited by the promise, Bakha happily resumes his work. Later, he collects refuse, finishes his shift, and heads home to find Lakha sleeping and there is no water to drink. Sohini offers to fetch water.

In the town, outcastes like Bakha and his sister Sohini are not allowed to directly get water from the well. They have to wait for someone from a higher caste to help them. Sohini goes to the well with a pitcher, joining others in the hope that a kind person will assist. Among them is a washerwoman named Gulabo, who starts using mean words towards Sohini. At first, Sohini thinks it’s a joke, but Gulabo continues, and Sohini realizes the intentions are real. Gulabo even tries to hit Sohini, but another woman, Waziro, stops her. Despite the shocking incident, Sohini stays calm and thinks about her thirsty brother, Bakha.

A soldier comes to the well but ignores the pleas of the outcastes and leaves without helping. Later, a temple priest named Pundit Kali Nath arrives. He is pursued by women, and after some drama about who came first, he finally agrees to pour water for them. Sohini stays aside, refusing to join the group. Impressed by her, Pundit Kali Nath asks her to come forward, pours water for her, and then instructs her to clean the temple. Sohini follows his orders and returns home with water.

At home, Lakha scolds Sohini for being late, using harsh words. He instructs her to gather her brothers. Rakha escapes to play, leaving Bakha as the only one at home. Lakha pretends to be ill and makes Bakha take over his duties as a sweeper. Bakha reluctantly agrees, aware of his father’s fake illness. After drinking tea, he heads towards the temple to sweep.

Bakha walking outside his neighborhood, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. His friends tease him for acting strangely. Ram Charan shares that his sister is getting married, making Bakha a bit sad as he has feelings for her. Chota asks about Bakha’s duties, and he tells his brother Rakha to clean the latrines while he does another task. Rakha isn’t interested, so Bakha heads towards the town, refusing to join gambling.

As Bakha heads towards the town, two high-caste boys, sons of Burra Babu, approach. They discuss hockey and agree to play later. When the boys mention school, Bakha’s curiosity peaks. Eager to learn, he offers to pay for a lesson from the older boy. They agree to meet for lessons later. Despite teasing from Chota and Ram Charan, Bakha takes it lightly and walks toward the town with great anticipation.

Bakha goes to town, buys a cigarette, and enjoys the sights and sounds. He’s drawn to sweets, ignoring his father’s disapproval. At a shop, he buys candy, but the shopkeeper cheats him on the weight. Bakha doesn’t complain, just happy to have some candy.

While observing ads, a high-caste man runs into Bakha, blaming him for the collision. The man shouts, attracting a crowd. Bakha apologizes, but the man won’t listen. A merchant’s buggy disperses the crowd, but the high-caste man slaps Bakha before leaving.

Feeling anger and frustration, Bakha considers revenge, but the merchant advises against it. Bakha, recalling the untouchables’ chant, heads to the temple. Reflecting on the incident, he questions society’s mistreatment, regretting not retaliating. He realizes his job as a latrine cleaner makes him despised in society.

Bakha after observing the happenings of the town finally reaches the temple. He likes the peaceful temple but can’t go inside.He’s curious about worship but can’t enter the temple. Hearing prayers, he wonders about gods like Narayan and Hari. Trying to glimpse inside, he’s discouraged and resumes his work.

Later, at the temple’s top stair, he witnesses worship and falls into a divine state. Suddenly, cries of “polluted” arise, not for him but his sister Sohini. Pundit Kali Nath accuses her, leading to her forceful removal. Sohini explains Kali Nath’s inappropriate touch, enraging Bakha. He confronts the worshippers, but Sohini stops him, emphasizing the barriers of tradition. Bakha, filled with anger, lets go, and they part ways – Sohini home and Bakha to collect food.

Bakha goes begging for food but faces rejection. Tired, he rests near a house. A Sadhu’s arrival wakes him. A woman scolds Bakha, but another woman gives him a chapatti. The first woman orders him to clean before getting more food. Bakha obeys, frustratedly. Then, the higher caste woman throws bread into the ground for Bakha to pick. Unable to do anything, Bakha picks the bread and frustrated throws his work broom. The woman complains about lower castes, saying they’re getting too bold.

Bakha returns home to his frustrated father, Lakha, who questions the small amount of food. Bakha, unaware of many people in town, explains the day’s events sadly. Lakha tries to convince Bakha that high caste people are superior and recalls an incident when he sought a doctor’s help for Bakha’s severe illness. Desperate, Lakha begged outside the doctor’s home, ignored the circumstances, and pleaded for help. Despite the doctor’s furious reaction, he saved Bakha’s life. Bakha, hearing this story, controls his emotions and discusses Rakha, who arrives with food. Bakha, skeptical of its cleanliness, makes an excuse to attend Ram Charan’s sister’s marriage instead of eating.

Bakha heads to Ram Charan’s sister’s wedding, reminiscing about their childhood games and imaginary marriage. Shy to enter the washerman wedding area, he fears Gulabo’s hatred. Luckily, Chota helps get Ram Charan’s attention, but Gulabo chases them away. They run to the hills, where Bakha contemplates nature, drinks from a pool, and takes a nap. Chota’s prank makes Bakha sneeze strangely, raising concerns. Bakha reveals the mistreatment incidents, leaving his friends shocked. Ram Charan feels ashamed, and Chota expresses frustration but cheers Bakha, emphasizing their upcoming hockey game. They decide to meet later, Chota goes home, and Bakha heads to Charat Singh’s to receive a promised hockey stick.

Charat Singh resides in an abandoned barracks guarded by two sentries and a mysterious solar topee. Bakha, once tempted to steal it, reflects on his waning courage. Approaching Charat Singh’s house, he hesitates to ask about the topee but is warmly greeted when Charat Singh emerges. Bakha explains his absence from hockey games due to duties, yet Charat Singh urges him to prioritize the game, creating a contradiction. Despite this, Bakha values the time spent with the renowned hockey player. Charat Singh invites Bakha into his house, surprising him with the acceptance, and asks him to fetch coal. Bakha joyfully complies, feeling love for Charat Singh. In return, Charat Singh gifts Bakha a new hockey stick, which he initially hesitates to accept but eventually does. As he leaves the house, he immediately thinks about the lessons promised by the elder son of Burra Babu.

Burra Babu’s youngest son brings the hockey gear for the game, and Chota conceals Bakha’s identity by claiming he’s a Sahib’s bearer. Bakha proudly displays his new hockey stick, earning congratulations from others. The youngest son, unable to play, receives solace when Bakha assigns him the task of safeguarding his cherished overcoat. Bakha proves exceptional on the field, scoring a goal, but is injured by an enraged goalkeeper. Chaos ensues as players fight, throwing rocks without realizing the youngest son is among them. Struck by a stone thrown by Ram Charan, the boy falls unconscious and bleeding. Bakha rushes him home for treatment, only to face unwarranted abuse from the child’s mother, attributing blame to his untouchable status. Disheartened, Bakha returns home, expecting more abuse. In a heated confrontation, Lakha orders Bakha to leave, disowning him. Fueled by rage, Bakha runs away without looking back, leaving his family and the colony behind.

After running a considerable distance, Bakha seeks solace under a sacred pipal tree, hoping for relief from his troubles. Unexpectedly, Colonel Hutchinson of the Christian Salvation Army approaches and attempts to console him. Despite the Colonel’s efforts to convert untouchables to Christianity, Bakha is surprised by the Englishman’s touch. They exchange introductions, and the Colonel speaks about Jesus, inviting Bakha to the Church. As they head to the Church, the Colonel sings hymns about God, but Bakha, unable to comprehend, daydreams about wearing trousers like the Colonel. However, the religious discussions bore Bakha, and he contemplates escaping. When the Colonel mentions Jesus treating Brahmins and Untouchables equally, Bakha is briefly intrigued by the concept of equality. However, as the Colonel delves into more religious aspects, Bakha loses interest. Upon reaching the Church compound, the Colonel’s wife interrupts, expressing her displeasure at Bakha’s presence with derogatory remarks like ‘blackie’. Fearing the consequences, Bakha takes leave and runs away from the Church, leaving the Colonel helplessly watching him escape.

Feeling distraught by the blame placed on untouchables, Bakha wanders aimlessly and reaches the Bulashah railroad station. There, he encounters a crowd eagerly anticipating Mahatma Gandhi’s arrival. As people in white attire walk towards Golbagh, where Gandhi is scheduled to address the gathering, Bakha’s curiosity prompts him to join. Lacking his tools, he blends in, unnoticed as an untouchable among the crowd. Bakha strategically takes a shortcut through a nearby marsh, leading some followers to a closer spot near the stage where Gandhi will speak. Choosing to stay under a tree, Bakha overhears discussions about Gandhi’s struggles, political contributions, and dedication to uplifting untouchables. When Gandhi arrives, he starts his speech with a prayer, making Bakha feel cleansed. Gandhi acknowledges his imprisonment for protesting against British rule but shifts the focus to the issue of untouchability, considering it a severe flaw in Hinduism. He shares childhood experiences, emphasizing the need to abandon practices like drinking, scavenging, eating carrions, and gambling. Despite criticisms, Bakha grasps the importance of Gandhi’s message. Gandhi advocates for untouchables’ access to temples, schools, wells, and urges them to accept only good food and grain. The speech resonates with Bakha, who remains spellbound as Gandhi passes by after concluding his address.

As Mahatma Gandhi departs, a Muslim named Mr. R. N. Bashir criticizes him as a hypocrite, catching Bakha’s attention. Bakha recognizes a young poet named Iqbal Nath Sarshar defending Gandhi, acknowledging his mistakes but praising his ability to unite the nation for freedom. Bashir, a lawyer, expresses disagreement with Gandhi’s approach to eradicating untouchability. Iqbal counters, attributing the creation of untouchables to cruel Brahmins misinterpreting holy texts and suggesting the “Flush System” as a solution. This system would render human intervention unnecessary for cleaning latrines, potentially eliminating the untouchables’ profession. Unable to counter Iqbal’s argument, Bashir and he leave. Bakha, inspired by the discussion, feels cleansed and decides to follow Gandhi’s instructions, especially regarding the potential benefits of a flush system. He resolves to share these insights with his father.

If you are looking forward to prepare for UGC NET/JRF, you may find this article useful.




©2024. Md. Rustam Ansari [profrustamansari@gmail.com]


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