Tag Archives: Caste

The Hyperawareness of Caste

“Bakha picked up the packet and moved away. Then he opened it and took out a cigarette. He recalled that he had forgotten to buy a box of matches. He was too modest to go back, as though some deep instinct told him that as a sweeper-lad, he should show himself in people’s presences as little as possible. For a sweeper, a menial to be seen smoking constituted an offense before the Lord” (42).

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. London, England: Penguin Books, 1940. Print.

This moment, among many others, features Anand’s use of excessive clarifications of caste distinctions, representing Bakha’s hyperawareness of his own class and his subordinate relation to other characters in the novel, something he perceives through aesthetics and standards created by his society and forces him to understand himself solely in terms of his relationship to others.

Buying sweets

“The confectioner smiled faintly at the crudeness of the sweeper’s taste, for jalebis are rather coarse stuff and no one save a greedy low-caste man would ever buy four annas’ worth of jalebis. But he was a shopkeeper. He affected a casual manner and picking up his scales abruptly, began to put the sweets in one pan against bits of stone and some black, round iron weights which he threw into the other. The alacrity with which he lifted the little string attached to the middle of the rod, balanced the scales for the shortest possible space of time and threw the sweets into a piece torn off an old Daily Mail, was as amazing as it was baffling to poor Bakha, who knew he had been cheated, but dared not complain. He caught the jalebis which the cconfectioner threw at him like a cricket ball, placed four nickel coins on the shoe-board for the confectioner’s assistant who stood ready to splash some water on them, and he walked away embarassed, yet happy.”

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. 36-37. London, England: Penguin, 1986. Print.

Hypocrisy?

“Ever since he had worked in the British barracks Bakha had been ashamed of the Indian way of performing ablutions, all that gargling and spitting, because he knew the Tommies disliked it. He remembered so well the Tommies’ familiar abuse of the natives: ‘Kala admi zamin par hagne wala’ (black man you who relieve yourself on the ground). But he himself had been ashamed at the sight of Tommies running naked to their tub baths. ‘Disgraceful,’ he had said to himself. They were, however, sahibs.”

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. New York: Penguin Group, 2014. 18-19. Print.

What I find interesting about this is the level of seeming hypocrisy that can be found in his feelings towards the caste system. On one hand he looks up to and wants to emulate the Tommies, while on the other, he still has a level of disgust for their behaviors. Taking this idea even further, while he seems to want to abandon the ideas of a horrid  caste system, he acknowledges the Tommies position in a form of globalized caste system (being sahibs, masters over the Indian people). Therefore, it doesn’t appear that he so much wants to abandon the idea of castes completely, but that he wants to move up the ladder to a more civilized level of a more globalized caste system.

Breaking Social Barriers

“For a sweeper, a menial to be seen smoking constituted an offence before the lord. Bhaka knew that it was considered a presumption on the part of the poor to smoke like rich people”

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. New York: Penguin Group, 2014. 42. Print.

Despite being lower in the Caste system, Bhaka chooses to engage in behaviors outside of the realm of what is “acceptable” for people of his caste. Smoking the cigarette near the lord is a breaking of this barrier where Bhaka engages in behaviors that imitate that of a higher caste.

Copying As a Form of Admiration

“So he tried to copy them in everything, to copy them as well as hecould in the exigencies of his peculiarly Indian circumstances” (11).

Source:

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. New York: Penguin Group, 2014. Print.

This refers to Bakha’s desire to be more than solely a member of the untouchable caste.  By copying the wardrobes of those of higher rank than him, both within Indian and British society, Bakha is showing a sense of admiration and urge to be a part of a different group than his own. From the beginning of the work, his family does not understand his reasoning behind this because although he wears the same attire, he is not reaping any rewards from the act regardless.