#100PENMembers No. 21: Mulk Raj Anand

One of the foremost writers and modernists of India, who helped to shape and define the cultural, artistic and critical scene before and after independence, Mulk Raj Anand was also a champion of India’s freedom struggle, a staunch internationalist, a lifelong humanist, and a member of the Indian PEN. 

Mulk Raj Anand Photo: National Portrait Gallery, UK

Born in Peshawar (now Pakistan), he went to England in 1924 and received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of London in 1929. He began his literary career in England, and was associated with the Bloomsbury group. A prolific writer, he first gained recognition for his novels, many of which articulated his sympathy for the poorest and most marginalized segments of society, such as Untouchable (1935, with a foreword by another of the prominent #100PENMembers E.M. Forster) and Coolie (1936). These were concerns that would dominate his life and writing. 

Part of the anti-fascist movement, he fought on the side of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. His staunch anti-colonial and anti-fascist political beliefs were closely connected. Not only, he acknowledged, were Indians “accepted as equals for the first time in England” during the anti-fascist movement, but fascist repression paralleled colonial repression – and they also command the same resistance. 

‘We, the writers of India, know how the forces of repression and censorship have thwarted the development of a great modern tradition in the literatures of our country; we saw the ugly face of Fascism in our country earlier than the writers of the European countries …’ 

(“On the Progressive Writers’ Movement”, 1939) 

It was also the spirit of anti-colonial resistance that animated his speech at the first All-India Writers’ Conference organized by the PEN in Jaipur in 1945: “As intensely as other people – as intensely as the resistance movement in France – we do hunger for and suffer for freedom.”

He participated in the First International Congress of Writers for the Defence of Culture in Paris (1935), and in 1936 he co-founded the influential ‘Progressive Writers’ Association’ in London, whose manifesto (first written in English, then then translated into various Indian languages) asked writers to confront the realities of Indian life, to criticize the ‘spirit of reaction’ in India, and commit to ‘further the cause of Indian freedom and social regeneration’. A year afterwards he co-organized the first All-India Progressive Writers’ Association in Lucknow (1936) 

Straddling different worlds, he was also an important member of different national and international political/cultural/literary organisations that are often seen as being at different ends of the ideological spectrum. An important member of the World Peace Congress, and of its Indian branch the All-India Congress for Peace, he became one of the important leaders of the peace moment in India and abroad. He also worked extremely closely with Communist-backed progressive cultural organisations such as the All-India Progressive Writers’ Association (AI PWA) and the Indian People’s Theatre Organization (IPTA). One of the driving forces behind the first Afro-Asian Writers’ Conference in Delhi in 1956 (for which he obtained Nehru’s support) that laid the groundwork for the Afro-Asian Writers Association and its successive conferences – the first one, of which he was part, was held in Tashkent in 1958 – he was also a prominent member of the PEN and participated in most of its major conferences in India. 

In 1946 he founded and long edited one of the most important magazines in India, Marg, devoted to the arts, and which is still published today. He also launched and organized the first Triennale India in Delhi (1968). 

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