Mulk Raj Anand and the importance of flush toilets

The late Mulk Raj Anand (see previous post for obituaries) is often referred to in the standard shorthand of greatness: pioneering Indian writer, celebrated author of note, one of the fathers of Indian writing in English etc. In addition to all of this, he had two unusual firsts to his credit: to the best of my knowledge, he was the first Indian writer to close a novel with a passionate argument for the use of flush toilets (in the Untouchable, where after the eponymous sweeper goes through travails and hears Gandhi’s speech condemning untouchability, a more cynical character suggests that sweepeers will never really be free until the country adopts the flush toilet system, ending the need for human scavengers). And, according to Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s Illustrated History of Indian Literature in English, Mulk Raj Anand’s 1941 novel, Across the Black Waters, is “possibly the only world war novel in Indian English literature”. The novel was recently adapted; here’s a brief extract from the play.

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