Old Bapu by Mulk Raj Anand
In Old Bapu by Mulk Raj Anand we have the theme of mortality, struggle, desperation, reliance, fear and hope. Taken from his The Power of Darkness and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Anand may be exploring the theme of mortality. Old Bapu is on his way to the Gurgaon bazaar when he begins to think about his life and his possible death. It is as though Old Bapu knows that something is wrong and that he is near his death. Something that Old Bapu is afraid of. He does not wish to die nor does he like to struggle. Which is exactly what Old Bapu is doing. He is struggling along the road as he sees visions of his past life as a child. This may be significant as Old Bapu was innocent as a child, though his mother did struggle to feed him. Which may be the point that Anand is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that Old Bapu for all his life has struggled. He is after all on his way to the bazar in order to find some work so that he can feed himself. If anything Old Bapu is desperate. Which mirrors how he may have felt as a child.
It is also noticeable that throughout Old Bapu’s life he has been reliant on others. First his mother, who had to look after him when his father died and then his Uncle. Who discarded Old Bapu because he felt Old Bapu was worthless. Though not worthless enough not to steal the land from Old Bapu. Any chance Old Bapu had to live his life without struggling is lost. Though Old Bapu is only fifty he looks as though he is seventy. Something which helps explain to the reader just how difficult Old Bapu’s life has been. Not even the cyclist on the road that passes him by has respect for Old Bapu.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. Just as Old Bapu is on a journey along the road. Likewise he is on a journey mentally when he thinks about his own mortality. Both journeys are full of struggle and strife for Old Bapu. Ram Singh could symbolise hope for Old Bapu. Old Bapu after all is hoping that Ram Singh has some work for him. Instead he gives Old Bapu a nickel coin and tells him to return when the rains have stopped. This may be significant as this is the first time in the story that Old Bapu is helped by others who are not related to him. If anything Ram Singh’s generosity lifts Old Bapu’s spirit.
The end of the story is interesting as Old Bapu for the first time in years looks at his face and sees just how old he looks. He knows that he has not had an easy life and looks the seventy years old that Ram Singh had suggested. However Old Bapu is not as dejected as it may seem. He remains hopeful that he will find some corn that will help sustain him. Even if he is very much under the illusion of youth. For such a difficult life Old Bapu remains hopeful for the future. He has money to buy food and he has some work promised to him by Ram Singh. Things might not be stable for Old Bapu but he remains content with his lot and appreciative of the position he finds himself in now that he is no longer worried about his own mortality.