Mulk Raj Anand was a torchbearer of the 20th-century Progressive Writers’ Movement. He was born in Punjab and was involved in the 1921 Civil Disobedience Movement. At nineteen, he left to England on a scholarship to mark the silver wedding of George V and Queen Mary. On his arrival he registered at University College London to study for a doctorate in philosophy which he was awarded in 1929.
There, he became involved in the left wing politics as well as the Indian independence movement. He was vocal in his support of the coal miners’ strike in 1926 and of the General Strike that followed. Anand immersed himself in London’s literary scene with his essays in the inter-war years, associating and in some cases forming friendships with eminent British writers including George Orwell, T. S. Eliot, Stephen Spender and Bonamy Dobree. He was a regular reviewer for a range of national newspapers and magazines, including the New Statesman and Life and Letters Today. He also worked as an editor for Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, and for T. S. Eliot at Criterion. It was at Criterion where Anand met E. M. Forster whose endorsement of his first novel helped to secure the publishing deal with Wishart – and so his establishment as a novelist. Prior to this, he had already seen success as an art and literary critic, publishing his first book, on Persian painting, in 1930. Untouchable was followed by a string of novels which were, on the whole, reviewed favourably, as well as several essay collections on subjects ranging from art to cookery to India’s struggle for freedom. During the Second World War, Anand researched, scripted and broadcast numerous radio programmes for the BBC Eastern Service, working alongside George Orwell and the Caribbean poet Una Marson, in particular. In 1938, he married the Communist and would-be actor Kathleen Van Gelder, with whom he had a daughter, Rajani. The marriage did not last.
Soon after his return to India in 1945, Anand founded the art magazine Marg. He taught at various universities, including the University of the Punjab where he was appointed Tagore Professor of Literature and Fine Art. From 1965 to 1970, he was fine art chairman at Lalit Kala Akademi (National Academy of Arts). He continued to write fiction and criticism, and to support a range of national and international cultural associations such as the World Peace Council, the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association, the National Book Trust, and the UNESCO Dialogues of East and West. He died in Pune on 28 September 2004.