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Coolie by Mulk Raj Anand Summary in English

 Mulk Raj Anand's 1936 novel Coolie helped establish him as a leading Anglophone Indian writer. This novel explores the effects of British rule in India and the rigid caste system that shaped Indian society. "Coolie" is slang for an unskilled worker. Anand's novel follows Munoo, a boy from Bilaspur's Kangra Hills. Munoo lives with his aunt Gujri and uncle Daya Ram, but they can no longer support him and insist he gets a job. Munoo's childhood ends with this journey to Bombay and beyond.

Munoo travels with his uncle to a nearby town and becomes a bank clerk's servant. Munoo's master's wife (Bibi Uttam Kaur) mistreats him, but he admires his master's doctor brother, Prem Chand. Babu Nathoo Ram is a caricature of a middle-class Anglophile who believes in white supremacy. Anand uses Mr English's visit to Babu Nathoo Ram's bank to undermine the English's superiority. Mr English is uneducated and doesn't know where Prem Chand should study medicine in Britain.

Munoo is beaten after accidentally injuring Babu Nathoo Ram's daughter Sheila. In Daultapur, pickle factory owner Prabha takes him in. Munoo is treated kindly by Seth Prabha Dayal and his wife, Parbati. Munoo is the ultimate example of how the upper classes exploit the lower classes. Seth Prabha Dayal must appease his neighbour, Public Prosecutor Sir Todar Mal, with free pickles and jam to keep the factory from being shut down because of the smoke. Ganpat, Prabha's business partner, cheats and bankrupts him, demonstrating a lack of class consciousness or solidarity.

Munoo must fend for himself when Prabha loses the factory. He joins an elephant driver travelling to Bombay with a circus. Munoo is excited to visit Bombay, but he soon learns that "coolies" sleep on the streets. Hari helps Munoo find work at Sir George White's cotton mill Chimta saheb Jimmy Thomas gave him a hut.

In the mill, he idolises Ratan. Ratan is a wrestler and union member who fights his masters and rejects exploitative conditions. Ratan's optimism is short-lived for Munoo, who gets lost in a strike riot.

He's hit by Mrs Mainwaring's car while wandering the streets. She takes him to Simla as a servant as compensation. Mrs Mainwaring gives an Indian perspective. She wants to be accepted by English society despite her English and Indian ancestry. She married a young English soldier after travelling to England. Her desire to be recognised as English can also be read as a desire to be recognised as white, which Munoo will never enjoy. Munoo, 15, dies of tuberculosis despite Mrs Mainwaring's kindness.

Coolie is a devastating account of Munoo and others' poverty and exploitation. Anand shows how British colonialism's racial and class hierarchies intersected with the existing caste system, making life difficult for "coolies." Munoo has no control over his work, home, or treatment. As he searches for a job or a house, he encounters tragedy after tragedy. In his travels and through the people he meets and works for, Anand's prose vividly depicts India's diversity. Munoo's death raises the question of whether a "coolie" has a future if nothing changes.

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