"The Tractor and the Corn Goddess" (1938, 6 pages)
Two Short Stories by Mulk Raj Anand
A Pioneer Anglo - Indian Author
There is no literary tradition with roots older than that of India. I will always admire Edmund Burke (Anglo-Irish-1729 to 1797) for telling the English Parliament that England had no right to rule a country with a culture much older than their own.
Mulk Raj Anand was a founding father of the Indian novel in English. He along with R. K. Narayan (on whom I have already posted), Ahmed Ali and Rajo Rao was one of the first writers from India to gain an international readership in English. Anand (1905 to 2004-99 years-Peshanar, India) after graduating from college in India went to England to receive his PhD. While at Cambridge (the university of choice for Bloomsbury) he became friends with people like E. M. Forester and George Orwell. He was a passionate admirer of Gandhi and a strong supporter of the movement for Indian independence. His first novel, Untouchable (1935) brought him world wide acclaim as the Charles Dickens of India. He was a friend of Pablo Picasso. His literary output was very large including several novels, lots of poetry and numerous highly regarded short stories. He was a strong force for good in the world.
In April I read and posted on two of Anand's short stories, "The Price of Bananas" and "Old Bapu". I really enjoyed both of these stories. Anand's stories brought life in rural India during the reign of the Britisth Raj to life for me and as a bonus were very entertaining and beautifully written.
"The Lost Child" is, I think, one of the most read and taught of Anand's short stories. It is set at a religious festival celebrating Shiva. The crowds are huge, overpoweringly large. The people in the story are a married couple and their young son, maybe eight or so. The parents are devout followers of Shiva. Like any child he wants everything for sale by the many vendors. In the crowd there are 1000s of devotees to Shiva dressed in ritualistically correct Orange Robes. There is a merry go round set up at the festival. The boy is very attracted to it and runs to ride it. I am assuming the merry go round is meant as a symbol for the wheel of life. Every parents worst nightmare happens (and this is in the days with no cell phones etc to track children). I will leave the rest of the plot unspoiled. Anand did a great job of making me feel what it would be like to be at the festival.
"The Tractor and the Corn Goddess" is a fascinating story that tells us a lot about how the ordinary Indian felt about his English rulers and the coming of western technology to rural India. I really liked the treatment of the conflict of Indian religious traditions and the British Raj. It also shows the very conservative attitudes of many that in effect worked to keep the British in power. I will tell a bit of the background setting and the plot but I really hope this story will be widely read. As the story opens, the leading landlord in the area has died. His oldest son, who has been in Europe studying (in theory!) and falling into what the residents of the area see as decadent ways is now the major land owner. He proposes something very radical. That he will give most of the land to a collective owned by the people who work the land. The richer people in the area are all totally opposed to this idea and horrified by the suggestion of large scale social change. The people in the area really get upset when the son buys a tractor. Everyone is at first horrified by it and sees its plowing as a blasphemy toward the Corn God. Also they are concerned with the long term implications for the livelihood of the people in the area when they learn it can do the same amount of plowing in one day that it would take 100 men using the traditional methods. There is a lot in this story I have not relayed.
You can read both of these stories at Google Books. Just do a search for Mulk Raj Anand: A Reader and you can read both of these stories and a number more online.
I hope to read in the not too distant future his two most famous novels, The Untouchable and The Private Life of an Indian Prince.
Please share your experience with Anand. Or any South Asian short story author!