Years ago, I read Mulk Raj Anand’s Coolie as a part of the curriculum of my Post Grad. The story of a poor orphan, Munoo – a continual victim of insensitive society and ill-fate, kept me tethered to the novel for days.
Now, years later, I discovered another book by the same author, supinely lying on a dusty library shelf, inviting me to pick it up and devour with gusto. The intriguing name of the novel, ‘Private Life of An Indian Prince’, lulled me into a suspicion of it being a rare memoir of a real prince.
But, as I went through the really long and somewhat boring intro by Saros Cawosjee, all my high hopes were brought down to the humble earth, as it became clear that this work is indeed just a fiction. The story of an amorous Prince, who loses his kingdom and dignity, for the love of a nymphomaniac.
The novel is set in the early years after India’s Independence, when the Home Minister Sardar Patel, was busy convincing the left over shreds of royalty, to annexe their states with India and accept the privy purse with dignity.
Mulk Raj Anand places a fictional Prince ‘Victor Ashoke Kumar’ of Shampur in those taxing times and creates a long winding tale of love and betrayal, gradually exposing the weak-willed faltering minds, buried beneath the sham of royal arrogance and high headedness.
The story begins with immense chaos, in the beautiful Simla, as Prince Victor had eloped with an English girl. Everyone is apprehensive about the scandal adversely affecting the talks between the Prince and Sardar Patel.
It becomes clear that Victor is a weak, immoral Prince. He is so overwrought with keeping his domestic problems at bay, that he ignores the growing frustration of his own public, forcing them to sympathize with rebellious Praja Mandal and Communist forces. He is the epitome of ignorance and inefficiency prevalent among the kings of his times. His women are at loggerheads with each other, pressurizing Victor into accepting their son as legal heir, while the Kingdom is actually going down the drains, with the Prince becoming a mere puppet in the hands of his shallow, conniving advisers.
Quite true to his intentions, Mulk Raj Anand introduces his Hero, as a fallen young Royal fledgling, for whom fulfillment of his petty desires of lust is much more valuable than his duties as a King, the honour of his royal family and the continual suffering of his Janta. And, he is not alone in his madness, being ably egged on by his uncouth advisers, who want to fill their own coffers, by keeping the Prince happily away from all gloominess.
The only sane voice in this entire mockery is that of Dr. Hari Shankar, Doctor, Guide, Philosopher of Victor, who at least tries to see beyond hazy mesh of day dreams, that kept the Prince occupied for most of the time and makes desperate attempts to wake up the Prince from his demeaning stupor at a violent time.
Though Anand chose a perfect setting for his novel, with high tension reverberating in the entire nation, placing a vulnerable royal in the midst of adversity, I feel, he somehow missed the opportunity to impress the reader. I think the main reason is that the narration is too detached.
The approach to the problems of newly independent India was lackadaisical. The author concentrated too much on the problems of bedchambers of Prince Victor, making the novel even more unreal. Despite the fact that Anand makes use of first person and tries to give the novel a look of memoirs, this fictional biography loses the punch.
In fact, as the novel progressed, I felt that even Dr. Hari Shankar is deviated, going with the whims and fancies of his High Command, involuntarily accepting defeat. Since, he is the narrator and the book is entirely written in first person, emphasizing only his views, I gradually found the story, biased, far removed from the reality.
The sensitive issues like the dismal condition of rebels in jail and the plight of common man, trampled under the boots of brutal Police force, were just given a momentary glance and then forgotten for more glamorous episodes such as Hunting expedition with the Americans in the jungle and the escape of Prince to scenic foreign shores.
I was seriously disappointed with the heavily biased approach of the author. Even, Ganga Dasi, who is shown as the prime reason for Victor’s downfall, is not truly represented. The tag of nymphomaniac to her alone seemed to me an injustice, as the Prince also suffered from the same vices.
In short, the novel disappointed me. It was incredibly long and boring, and I felt like abandoning it in the middle. Despite all the praises doled out by Cawosjee in his Intro, the novel failed to meet my expectations. I would any day prefer the novels of R.K. Narayan, a contemporary of Anand than this one-sided tale of foolish lust, leading to the downfall of a worthless Prince.