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A Mellowing Mulk

Even as a young man, Anand took himself seriously and sought to cultivate the lions of English literature in the 1930s before he got down to writing his first novel.

A Mellowing Mulk
A Mellowing Mulk
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FRIENDS and admirers of Mulk Raj Anand have noticed how Chacha Mulk has mellowed with age (he is 90) and how the once acerbic-tongued critic now has only the kindest things to say about everyone. A great one for dropping great names in the past, he did not spare anyone. But now in his saintlier anecdotage, his compassion has made him into a crashing bore.

In some ways the republication of his Conversations in Bloomsbury (OUP; Rs 150), first put out in 1981, sums up this loveable man's character. In addition, we learn that even as a young man he took himself seriously, sought to cultivate the lions of English literature in the 1930s before he got down to writing his first novel. He had that valuable passport to the world of intelligentsia, a ticket to the British Museum library. Since the museum was next door to Bloomsbury where many celebrated authors lived, he was soon able to acquire visas to their homes and be invited to sherry parties, have tea and crumpets in elegant homes. Among others with whom he discussed problems of writing fiction or philosophic theses were E.M. Forster, T.S. Eliot, Aldoux Huxley, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Clive Bell, Eric Gill, Laurence Binyon, Bonamy Dobree, Herbert Read and C.E.M. Joad. Evidently, he recorded his conversations in detail in his diary because it was almost half a century later that they were put in print.

Young Mulk when he arrived in London had positive views of his own on literature, sculpture and painting. He also had a chip on his shoulder about the British Raj in India. He had been jailed and whipped by a policeman for taking part in an anti-government agitation. At the same time, he was inspired by Allama Iqbal's poetry and the philosophy of Khudi (belief in the supremacy of the will). It was Iqbal he wanted to write on in London, but his professor turned down the project. He discussed it with Aldous Huxley. "Can one introduce a personal diary into a novel?" asked Mulk. "Why not?" asked Huxley in return. The follow-up question was somewhat esoteric. "You mean integrates, consantia, and claritas in the Portrait" (referring to James Joyce's Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man). Huxley's reply was more lucid: "The professor forgets that novels are not written on university campuses for students to write theses on. They are written from non-scholastic compulsions. A novel is glorified gossip. Not a lexicon. It is a free form, rather loose, miscellaneous and digs down and reveals things like Freud is talking about. And each character needs a particular kind of form. Hardy's peasants are laborious and slow in speech, Hemingway's Americans talk in brief staccato as the new young talk like machines."

There are a few encounters with T.S. Eliot which give a vivid picture of the tight-lipped supporter of royalty, the Anglian Church and an admirer of Rudyard Kipling. Mulk had been invited for tea by Eliot in his office. This is how it went:

"A piece of cake Mr -- ?"
"Anand," I added.
"Oh, like the Scotch Anand."
"No, it's a derivaton from Ananda, one of the names of the Hindu Supreme God, meaning bliss. My full name is Mulk Raj Anand, which means king of the country of happiness - and I try to look it."

Bless you chacha Mulk! May you reign over the country of happiness for another 90 years.

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