Ananta, a coppersmith, returns to his home town of Amritsar after having worked in the more industrialised cities of Bombay and Ahmedabad. Like most people of his craft, he has difficulty making a living as the introduction of machines is throwing the craftsmen out of work. The coppersmiths face both destitution and a break up of their whole society based on age-old traditions and customs.
Yet, Ananta can see both the utility and the inevitability of the machines and the need for the coppersmiths to band together so that power of the machine could offer a new life for those whom it threatens. But unsettled, tense and suspicious as the coppersmiths are, a spark of demagogy culminates in violence and wanton destruction which ends in sudden, unexpected tragedy.
The Big Heart is a memorable work. It is passionate, earthy and urgent. It’s also timeless in that it is an evocative story of the churn and roil that change and modernity always create in their wake. In Ananta, Mulk Raj Anand gives us an unforgettable character. He is virile and passionate, brave, strong and tender, of large appetites yet caring and generous of spirit. Though unlettered, Ananta intuitively grasps that the conflict created by the coming of the machines can only be resolved by a spirit of understanding and accommodation on all sides. Thus a big heart alone can help society meet the existential challenge that change throws up, especially for those less pre- pared for it. Equally, Anand draws a vivid portrait of the Punjab and its people — his language infused with the clamour, sights and smells of the land.
Mulk Raj Anand (1905-2004) was born in Peshawar and educated at the universities of Punjab and London. After earning his Ph.D. in Philosophy in 1929, Anand began writing notes for T. S. Eliot’s magazine Criterion as well as books on diverse subjects such as cooking and the arts.
Recognition came with the publication of his first two novels, Untouchable (1935) and Coolie (1936). These were followed, among others, by his well-known trilogy The Village (1939), Across the Black Waters (1940) and The Sword and the Sickle (1942). By the time he returned to India in 1946, he was the best-known Indian writer abroad.
Making Bombay (now Mumbai) his home and centre of activity, Anand plunged with gusto into India’s cultural and social life. Writing remained, however, his main pre-occupation, and in 1953 he published Private Life of an Indian Prince — his finest literary achievement. In 1980 appeared his best non-fictional work, Conversations in Bloomsbury (revised ed. 2011) — a wide-ranging dialogue with T. S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, Virginia Woolf and others. He also founded and edited the renowned Indian art magazine Marg, and worked ceaselessly on his monumental autobiographical fiction, The Seven Ages of Man.
A recipient of the Padma Bhushan and several honorary doctorates, Anand's complete papers are now housed in the National Archives of India (New Delhi).
Living in London from 1925 to 1945, Anand came to know the prominent writers and intellectuals of the metropolis, many of whom belonged to what came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. In twenty engrossing chapters, he recalls his wide-ranging conversations with E.M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Clive Bell, C.E.M. Joad, T.S. Eliot and several others.The four chapters on the enigmatic T.S. Eliot are the highlight of the book. They offer a penetrating and sympathetic understanding of Eliot's mind and reveal Anand's capacity not to allow his own personal view of the man to cloud his admiration for the poet's literary achievements.
In the imaginative rendering of his actual conversations, Anand has faithfully, often evocatively, captured the literary, cultural and political climate of England of the 1920s and 1930s. The book reveals both Anand's ambivalence towards the Bloomsbury Group as well as the ambivalent attitude of the British literati towards India's freedom. Together, the chapters metamorphose into a long autobiographical essay about the writer discovering his convictions and his nationalistic roots in a foreign land.
'One of the most eloquent and imaginative works to deal with this difficult and emotive subject' Martin Seymour-Smith
'It recalled to me very vividly the occasions I have walked 'the wrong way' in an Indian city, and it is a way down which no novelist has yet taken me' E. M. Forster