Durrell and Anand: An Old Friendship
C. Ravindran Nambiar
Mulk Raj Anand was one of the greatest twentieth-century writers in India, writing in English. R. K. Narayan and Raja Rao were the other two equally great Indian novelists, and the trio are known today as Indian legendary writers. Anand, who had his education in Cambridge and London, where he received his PhD in philosophy, left Europe to reach Mahatma Gandhi’s Ashram in India. He made compromises with his intellectual life in Europe and accepted freedom, social uplift and decolonisation as the subjects of his future writing. During my stay in Corfu recently to attend the Durrell symposium, “Islands of the Mind”, I told Richard Pine that Mulk Raj Anand “was once here in Corfu with Durrell for a fortnight in the thirties”. I also told him that he would not have been visiting Durrell merely for swimming, or drinking wine, or eating fish with him. Instead, they must have talked about wide ranging subjects, particularly about Indian philosophy. Durrell must have extracted from Anand much eastern thought, as he probably did from Raja Rao and his other Indian friends, to enable him to use them in his novels, particularly as what we see in his quintet. Richard Pine then asked me to pen a small article about the Durrell-Anand friendship. The result is this brief write-up, in which I have quoted extensively from the interview I had with Anand in 1993.
(Although Durrell and Raja Rao may have met only rarely, Durrell’s admitation for Rao was considerable. When Rao’s The Serpent and the Rope was published he wrote: “Hurrah for you! You not only do India great honour, but you have honoured English literature by writing in our language… truly magnificent… packed with great magic of poetry… a truly contemporary work — one by which an age can measure itself, its values.” Quoted in The Fiction of Raja Rao).
While he was engaged in writing the biography of Lawrence Durrell, Ian S. MacNiven came to India to meet Anand to get a first-hand idea about his friendship with Durrell. Unfortunately, he could not reach Bombay (now Mumbai). So, he requested me to interview Anand and send the recorded text to him. When I contacted Anand, his response was not only positive but also was very emotional: “I am enthused by your mention of the memories of Durrell”, he wrote in his letter to me. “Our friendship from the early thirties onwards, together with Henry Miller, forms the fact that we all shared a certain uprush of passion to create novels which reach on to more than human relations”, he added (Nambiar 167).Thus, I prepared a questionnaire in which most of the questions were aimed at discovering the depth of their literary friendship. Anand confessed that he had not read Durrell beyond The Alexandria Quartet, and that he would not be able to say anything about Durrell’s quintet. However, my indirect questions to Anand helped him to reveal much of Durrell’s metaphysical ideas, as was known to him, especially about his deep-rooted faith in Buddhism. Anand’s literary circles in Europe included writers like T. S. Eliot, Herbert Read, Henry Miller, George Orwell, Lawrence Durrell, and Anaïs Nin. Saros Cowasjee writes that “no other Indian had known such a galaxy of British writers” (Anand 10). But, his most important friendship was with E. M. Forster, who wrote the preface to his first novel, Untouchable. After praising Forster’s love for India, Anand says, “In the case of Lawrence Durrell also, as he was born in India, it seems possible the freedom of contact in our country, the lack of inhibition, may have affected him in the early years and may have made him warm to the idea of togetherness I felt in his person soon after we just met in a pub” in England (Nambiar 169). He then adds that “As few people in England were warm to him, he felt he might not be able to make friends in his own country. So he lived abroad and made friends, and later on in the Mediterranean countries” (160). These words reveal to what extent Anand had known Durrell.
Anand told me that “we three, myself, Henry Miller and Durrell” were meeting more than casually and inter-dining, mostly in Paris and in Corfu. In fact, his first visit to Paris was at the suggestion of T. S. Eliot, who told him that “To be in Paris is an education by itself” (Anand 178). Those meetings were very wonderful, Anand recollects. In Corfu, “we bathed in the sea, rolled about in the sun, we wrote for a few hours. In our spare time we talked. In the evening we drank in the cafés” (Nambiar 171). Durrell and Anand were both equally young, of the same ages. “We shared sentiments against his country and countrymen, I from my anti-imperialism and he from his revolt against the conventions of British life”, Anand remembers about his stay in Corfu (172). These two literary friends were against the war-mongering culture of the west. In his book, Conversations in Bloomsbury, Anand stated that he had gone to Europe looking for something he could not define, to end his remoteness, to become part of the intimate circle of creative men. But, “I was distressed that there were lurking prejudices in all of them about the East” (39). Therefore, he must have found great relief in his easterly friendship with Miller and Durrell. But, unlike Durrell, Anand did not have any anti-Christian sentiments. On the contrary, he says, “Jesus entered the lives of barbaric Europe and kept people’s humanity to the extent that the inherited barbarism was checked among people, though not among kings” (Nambiar 183). He believes that Jesus was a great liberator of mankind as much as Buddha.
It was evident from the interview with Anand that he was not fully aware of the extent to which Durrell had mastered Indian metaphysics for writing his easterly novels, Indian novels or Buddhist novels as he calls them. MacNiven in a letter to me had hinted that “I do not believe that there had been contact for a long time” between Durrell and Anand (167). Anand believes that Durrell’s interest in India “may have been from the affection he got as a child from the Indians near his family. Later on Henry Miller’s interest in Indian thought may have made him aware of India at deeper levels and he remained partial to India” (169). The essence of my book, Indian Metaphysics in Lawrence Durrell’s Novels, is about the depth of Durrell’s metaphysical ideas in his novels, and it shows how he used these concepts as a narrative device in his novels. India, for Durrell, stands as a concept, a metaphor, standing for certain rich spiritual qualities in life. MacNiven’s observation is quite relevant here: “The East for Larry was probably more a spiritual kingdom than a physical place” (MacNiven 170). Anand feels that Henry Miller was inclined to the occult, though very warm and in active relation with women, “because he was escaping from American material life. I would say Henry Miller is heir to Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, making voyages towards the east, not especially to India. I think he had Tibet in mind” (Nambiar 174). Anand claims that, unlike Miller, he had no such escapist ideas in his life. In his interview with me, he does not forget to compare Miller’s and Durrell’s works with his own novels written in India. He says the characters and situations in his novels follow the psychological curve of the freedom movement in India. They represent the rejected, the suppressed and the oppressed in society.
It is an accepted fact that Lawrence Durrell was a follower of D. H. Lawrence in his attitude to sex and in dealing with the theme of the man-woman relationship. His close literary relationship with Huxley and Miller sharpened his views, but, it can be easily established that Durrell’s deep belief in Tantrism came from Anand and Raja Rao. Lawrence initiated it in his famous novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Durrell not only carried the theme further in his quintet, but also made his character, Constance, an extension of Lawrence’s Connie. Durrell seems to have achieved what Lawrence thought of accomplishing through the sexual unions of his characters. While Lawrence was focussing on his pet idea of phallic consciousness, Durrell pushed it further to make sexual union as a form of yoga. Anand had high regards for these writers, particularly for their efforts in liberating women through their novels. He says, “Woman was, in the Victorian sense, the mother of children, an object of lust. She was, as in Thomas Hardy, the raped woman. But when D. H. Lawrence broke through the whole totalitarian attitude of the British, especially of the Victorian era, he was really emancipating woman qua rejected woman (177). Anand knew, more than anyone, how Lawrence tried to achieve this. Writing about this aspect of Lawrence, he states, “In the man-woman union, the Tantra seeks to lift the relationship above the egos of the couple. Of course, Lawrence is questing in his own way” (Anand 60). He also stated that Lawrence’s search for the man-woman connection in the ecstasy of sex was already practiced by certain secret cults (59). The “secret cults” he refers to, obviously, must be Tantra. Readers generally are reluctant to move beyond Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet to The Avignon Quintet, without realising that Durrell cannot be properly judged as a novelist without reading his quintet, particularly if one has to understand his attitude to woman and womanhood. It cannot be disputed that thinkers like Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao, and J. Krishnamurthi have greatly influenced Durrell in his metaphysical ideas, and unless scholars make an effort for an in-depth study of what he means in his novels by heraldic universe, metarealism, meta-narrative, etc., it is impossible to arrive at definitive scholarly judgements about him as a writer.
Anand admits that his idea of existentialism came from Buddha and Gandhi, whereas the existentialism of Miller and Durrell was from life itself. They had hunches and they remained eclectic, he says. But he is emphatic to say that “Schopenhauer became existentialist from Shankara” (Nambiar 185). The most useful and interesting comment from Anand about Shankara’s influence in Durrell, in my opinion, is his observation that “Durrell adopts this point of view, which makes him akin to Indian illusionism” (179). I have tried my best to demonstrate how the entire story of Durrell’s quartet could be reread in the light of Shankara’s illusionism and his concept of non-duality, or Advaita. In Durrell’s ardent belief that there is nothing like human personality and in the way he portrayed the inner quest of his protagonist, Darley, to discover his cosmic self, there is a clear metaphysical resonance of Shankara. “Durrell’s heresy of Shankara may have induced him towards philosophies of Salvationism. I am not sure whether he really believed in this deeply, but certainly in his attitude he is sympathetic to the Indian attitude of precariousness in life”, observes Anand (179). All these point to the necessity of serious researches to reinterpret Durrell’s novels, and it may be possible to discern a strange form of convergence of the East and the West in Durrell.
At the end of my interview with Anand, he recalls Durrell more vividly and admits that Durrell had genuine gift of words, and that this gift expresses itself more beautifully in his travel writings. “As a novelist he is certainly superb. All his writings have certain tender touches which endear him. I think he had a sense of wonder in his eyes, a tender heart, and he was open to ideas” (189).
Anand, Mulk Raj, Conversations in Bloomsbury, New Delhi: Vision Books, 2011.
MacNiven,Ian, Lawrence Durrell: a biography, London: Faber and Faber, 1998.
Nambiar, Ravindran, Indian Metaphysics in Lawrence Durrell’s Novels, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014.
Rajeswer, Mittapally (ed.), The Fiction of Raja Rao: Critical Studies, Atlantic Publishers, 2001.