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Capitalism and Its Consequences: A Marxist Study of Mulk Raj Anand’s Two Leaves and a Bud and Its Adapted Film “Rahi”


Capitalism and Its Consequences: A Marxist Study of Mulk Raj Anand’s Two Leaves and a Bud and Its Adapted Film “Rahi”

Rajesh Barat

M.A. in English

Bankura University

Bankura, West Bengal, India


Abstract: In this study, Mulk Raj Anand’s novel Two Leaves and a Bud has been analyzed in the light of the Marxist views. In this novel, the author focuses on issues related to Marxist ideas, i.e., labour exploitation, class struggle and capitalism. Thus, Anand portrays characters who are forced to act like machines in the hands of the capitalist employers and describes it in such a way that the readers begin to feel there must be a proletarian rebellion in order to escape the oppression of Capitalism. Thus, Marxist elements become an important issue in the novel Two Leaves and a Bud. The novel portrays a socio-economic condition of the tea-workers in Assam. Set in the colonial era, the novel focuses on the domination of the ruling class. It is a pathetic story of a coolie, named Gangu, but on a deeper level he describes the miserable condition of the coolies in the tea plantation under British capitalist employers. Gangu is at first oppressed by the moneylenders of his village and loses his land. These moneylenders act as a mini capitalist of the society. Then, he falls on the hands of the so-called bourgeoisies in the Macpherson Tea Estate. Through him Anand not only presents the exploitation of the proletariats, but also highlights the need of a classless, equal society. In this novel, Anand uses Dr. John de la Havre to express his own anger and indignation at the brutal exploitation of the coolies and also express his own Marxist ideas and paves the way for the establishment of a classless society through a revolution. The present paper also describes Dr. Havre as a mouthpiece of Marxism. In this study, the adapted film of this novel “Rahi” is also analyzed in terms of Marxism with all its similarities and dissimilarities with the novel.

Keywords: Bourgeoisie, Capitalism, Class difference; Exploitation, Marxism, Proletariats, Revolution 

Introduction:  In the 20th century the industrial world dominated the life of the working class people at its peak all over the world. In the brutal hands of the bourgeoisies, the ‘have-nots’ or the workers were oppressed considerably. The workers continued to survive like machines in the factories and did not have rights to live independently. At this juncture, under the influence of Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandhi the Indian writers started to point out the exploitations of the British capitalist class, social inequality, and economic suppression in their writings. Mulk Raj Anand is one of them.

Mulk Raj Anand is a prolific writer in the history of Indian English literature. His novels portray a vivid picture of the social problems of India during the colonial period. Anand was born on December 12, 1905 in Peshawar, India (now in Pakistan). Anand won the International Peace Prize in 1953. He was also awarded with Padma Bhusan (1968) and with Sahitya Akademi Award (1971). In his writing, he depicts the lives of the ordinary people crushed under poverty, capitalism and colonialism. He was worried for “the creatures in the lower depth of Indian society who once were men and women: the rejected, who had no way to articulate their anguish against oppressors” (Anand 2001 i). As a Marxist, socialist, he was always against casteism, class division and exploitations of capitalism and colonialism; and he believed in liberty and equality of all men. As his father was a coppersmith, he was familiar with the problems of the poor. Later when his father became a soldier, he had the opportunities to mix with the various people of the society as his father’s job led the family from one place to another. The novel Two Leaves and a Bud, which shows the miserable life of the coolies in the tea garden of Assam, is also a direct outcome of Anand’s own experience. He himself states: “And yet I feel that book had to be written, because what I had to say in it was deep in me from the day I lived for a while near a plantation in Assam and visited Ceylon and saw the inhumanity and barbarism prevalent there…”(Anand 2016 34). Witnessing the inequalities in the society, Anand tries to illustrate the way out of these man-made problems by using the Marxist ideas of revolution.

“Marxism is a body of ideas which sees all human history as a history of class struggle” (Birchall 92). Marxism is the economic, political, and social doctrines of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels which focus on social inequality, class struggle and labour exploitation. The goal of Marxism “is to bring about a classless society, based on the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange” (Barry 159). The proletariats do not own the means of production, but sell their labour power in the capitalist mode of production. “Exploitation is matter of surplus labour”(Marxism Wikipedia) – the bourgeoisies exploit the labour because their labour generates a surplus value (i.e., the additional labour, the uncompensated labour) which is greater than their wages. According to Marx, the workers receive the minimum wage to survive with their families. Again, to Marxism, capitalists are divided as bourgeoises and petit bourgeoises (small bourgeoises like those who employ workers in a factory, shopkeeper, moneylenders etc.). In the novel Two Leaves and a Bud, Gangu and other coolies belong to the proletariat class, while the British managers of the tea estate are the bourgeoisies. And on the other hand, Sardar Buta Ram, Sardar Neogi, Seth Badri Dass, Seth Kanoo Mal, Afzal, Babu Shashi Bhusan are the petit bourgeoisies.

Dr. Deepanjali Mishra in her article “Element of Pathos in Mulk Raj Anand’s novel: An Analysis with reference to Two Leaves and a Bud” describes the novel as a tragic tale of Gangu. She describes – “Every corner of the garden of Tea Estate- the leaves, the buds and the shade shrubs are the silent witnesses of the oppression and agony of poor Gangu, who stands as the insignia of the oppressed class”(Mishra 5256). In the review article “Discovering the Conforming Psyche towards the Occidents: A Reading of Mulk Raj Anand’s Two Leaves and a Bud”, Abhilasha Phukan presents “the ways in which the colonial powers conditioned the mind of the tea workers and their psychology of occidental dominance”(Phukan 203). Puspanjali Doley in her research article “A Glimpse of the Colonial Rule of India in Mulk Raj Anand’s Two Leaves and a Bud” presents the picture of ‘colonialism and its harsh realities’ (Doley 43). Rashmi in “Mulk Raj Anand’s Two Leaves and a Bud: A Study of Social Exploitation” describes it ‘a novel on social exploitation full of violence and bitterness’ (Rashmi752). Thus, there are many articles and criticisms on this novel. But in this paper, I present the novel Two Leaves and a Bud on Marxist point of view and also explore the adapted film “Rahi” on the same theme which is hidden under K. A. Abbas’ presentation of romanticism and British rule in India.

Are not the class division and exploitation of workers the strategies of the bourgeoisies to earn extra profit? Is not a revolution needed to establish classless society, to demolish the exploitations of the bourgeoisies? How does the novel Two Leaves and a Bud and the adapted film present the Marxist views? Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to investigate and explore the answers of these questions through a critical analysis of the novel and the movie.

Chapter I: Exploitation, a Weapon of Capitalism

In Mulk Raj Anand’s Two Leaves and a Bud (1937), the Marxist elements can be noticed. This includes the effects of industrialization. There are class differences and class struggles, exploitations and economic suppression. The working-class people led to live like machines and are physically, economically, psychologically and sexually exploited by their masters “The exploitation of one class by another seen especially in modern industrial capitalism…”(Barry 160).

The novel clearly depicts the misery of the marginal people who are ignored by mainstream people. They are used as a profit extracting mediums who work continuously without regarding their health conditions. The novel begins with a journey of a poor peasant Gangu and his family into an unknown land in search of their livelihood. Though Gangu is the protagonist of the novel, but through him the miseries of the whole working-class people are depicted. In his village Hoshiarpur, Gangu lives by farming his three acres of land but he lost it due to his brother mortgage to Seth Badri Dass – “Strange,’ Gangu thought, ‘how the interest on my younger brother’s mortgage piled up, so that all of my three acres and my hut as well went just as a free gift to Seth Badri Dass” (Anand 1946 03). That’s how the rich devour the poor by giving them money on a high interest so that they will never pay him back and eventually he will take away everything from them. Buta Ram, the planter’s agent- the coolie catcher, takes Gangu and his family to the Macpherson Tea Estate in Assam as workers by giving them false impression of a better life.

“The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking the ideas of those who lack means of mental production are subject it” – Karl Marx from The German Ideology (Sharma 707).

---The statement of Karl Marx clearly reflects the main factor of Marxist theory. It offers a historical analysis of socio-economic means of production and an understanding of the class relation and social conflict. The relationship of bourgeoisies and workers comprises on the material interest of both, in which the workers who produce goods are exploited by the bourgeoisies who own the means of production. In the novel Two Leaves and a Bud, we can see this type of relationship between coolies and the managers of the tea estate. “…what had the family got after almost a whole week’s work? It did not even work out at eight annas a day for the whole family: three annas for him, two annas for his wife and daughter, and three pice for his child” ( Anand 1946 59-60). It not only shows the inequal distribution of money among the capitalist, who “… earns millions of pounds every year on their labour…”( Anand 1946 28), and proletariats, but also reflects the unequal distribution of money in respect of gender and age. Through these discriminations the capitalists earn more profit for themselves. After working hard in the garden Gangu and his family get only half a rupee a day as wages. Females are given less than men and even the children have to work in a very meagre wage. In various ways, they economically suppress the workers. But coolies are not only ill-treated and exploited by the British managers but also by their Indian subordinates, the middle class or petit bourgeoisies. They, like Buta Ram, Neogi etc., earn their commission by bringing the coolies to the tea estate. The Seth buys the grains from the Tibetan producers in a very cheap rate but sell it to the coolies in a high price.

The novel also reveals the deplorable condition of the coolie women who are compelled to work even to leave their newborn babies in the basket on the ground. Narin complains that the coolies are forced to work hard on the plantation, but the Managers and Sardars neither pay their wages in time nor allot the plots of lands according to their contract unless the coolies offer their wives and daughters to the lustful assistant manager, Reggie Hunt. Marxist Feminism, which extends the Marxist theory, analyses “…the ways in which women are exploited through capitalism and the individual ownership of a private property” (Marxist Feminism Wikipedia). It analyses the Marxism theory by applying it to unpaid domestic labour and sex relations. In the novel the rape is described as a form of sexual domination over coolie women. Whenever Hunt feels an urge to have sex, he goes to some coolie women to fulfill his urge. Hunt brutally enjoys Neogi’s wife and wounds her – “Don’t wriggle and writhe like that,’ he whispered, tearing at the string of her trousers and throwing her down on the charpai where she had lain’ (Anand 1946 173). And those who refuse to sleep with him are exploited badly –“…Ranbir, the coolie from Ranchi was lashed, because he refused to give his wife to the Ashashtant planter. The Sahib had Ranbir imprisoned, and took his wife”(Anand 1946 160). Reggie Hunt even follows Leila, Gangu’s daughter, to her house with his lustful desire. When Gangu comes to save his daughter, Hunt shots him dead. Like Munoo in "The Coolie", Gangu is also a victim of industrial exploitation. Describing the condition of Munoo, M.K. Naik says, “The factory is a huge octopus with its numerous tentacles clutching the labourers in its deadly grasp, slowly paralyzing and poisoning him” (Anand 2003 205), which is also applicable for Gangu. It reflects the capitalist’s believe that the workers are born to be exploited. The majority of the jury finds Hunt not guilty for the murder of Gangu and releases him by giving it the name of an accident. This shows the discrimination the capitalist society where Hunt proves innocent and while harmless coolie like Ranbir is imprisoned.

According to Marxism, “the exploitation of the wage labourers and growing dissatisfaction among them lead to a social crisis which often shoot out a revolution” (Sharma 707). In the novel Two Leaves and a Bud, we also find the coolies try to revolt against the exploitations of Hunt with the help of  Dr. de la Havre when Hunt beats the innocent coolies to stop the quarrel between two coolie women, Chambeli and Neogi’ wife, and also tramples few coolies with his mare and kills one. It enrages the coolies. Dr. Havre feels “That these docile, gutless, spineless coolies who never raised their voices except on the day of holi…come shouting the tribute of their appreciation for him, was uncanny” (Anand 1946 185). For the first time it leads the coolies to the manager’s office to complain against Reggie Hunt. Though it fails, but it paves the way for future revolution. The revolt is beautifully presented in the adapted film ‘Rahi’.

Though the novel ends in pessimism with the murder of Gangu, but in that pessimism a hidden optimism lies. Though the voice that has been raised against the exploitation is repressed, but in that voice there a spark lies which will gradually spread. That coolie who was killed under the feet of Hunt’s mare and Gangu are like phoenix bird, from their death the revolution takes birth. It is only on the basis of sacrifice a revolution goes further. Like Marx, Anand also sees a revolution which will free the proletariats from the class struggle and class differences and establish an ideal ‘utopia’.

Chapter II: Dr. Havre as a Mouthpiece of Marxism

“But why didn’t it occur to anyone – the simple obvious thing that people don’t need to read Marx to realize here. The black coolies clear the forests, plant the fields, toil and garner the harvest, while all the money-grubbing, slave-driving, soulless managers and directors draw their salaries and dividends and build up monopolies. Therein lies the necessity of revolution in this country” (Anand 1946 115).

----This speech of Dr. John de la Havre clearly presents his Marxist views. In Two Leaves and a Bud, he is a young British doctor at the Macpherson Tea Estate in Assam. He awares of the brutal exploitation of the coolies at the hands of the selfish, money loving managers of the tea estate. He is shocked to see the millions of people in the grasp of disease, hunger and poverty. Through him, the novelist highlights the monopolies of the capitalist society and the miseries of the working-class people.

In the novel, we find that he is a deeper observer of class difference between capitalists and proletariats. He observes that the British managers of the tea estate, namely Mr. Croft Cooke and Reggie Hunt, live luxuriously in the well furnished bungalows on the highlands, while the Indian coolies live miserably in the dark and dirty huts in the basin of the valley in unhygienic surroundings. Under unhygienic surroundings the epidemics like Cholera and Malaria break out very frequently and kill hundreds of inhabitants. As a Marxist, Havre wants a classless, healthy society and he makes a plan for supplying clear drinking water and sanitary fitting to their huts. But the capitalist manager Croft Cooke, who only understand the language of profit, does not approve his plan. Havre argues that “… the company earns millions of pounds every year on their labour , it wouldn’t be such a terrible loss for it to spend a lakh to save the coolies from perishing through gnats and pests…” (Anand 1946 28). It not only shows the sympathy of the doctor for the workers, but also shows how the capitalists make themselves more rich by not providing essential elements to the workers and throw the workers to utter poverty. Thus, they create an economic difference in society. The managers of the tea estate consider the coolies barbarian in point of intellect and civilization in comparison to themselves – “These coolies are sub-human” (Anand 1946 27).

For Dr. Havre, the coolies are “prisoners of many chains, bearing the physical sign of grief, of lassitude, even of death”(Anand 1946 115). Havre sees the exploitation of the working class is a universal phenomenon. He describes the position of the Indian coolies is “similar to that of the cotton plantation slaves of the southern states of North America”(Anand 1946 116). But the economic condition of the coolies in India is worse than the slaves of America. He observes the British capitalists not only exploit  the Indian coolies, but also the workers of their own community. By open bribery, loot, corruption and drawing large dividends from company’s share, they built up large fortunes and invest it in the manufacturing industries of Bradford and Manchester where workers have “A sixty-five hour week for a shilling, and children under nine doing two shifts a day! The proletariat starved while the middle classes entrenched themselves in the country homes of England!”(Anand 1946 128).

He goes on to explain the miserable condition of the coolies in his diary. He describes their suffering in the hands of the managers of the tea estate ---

“75% of the coolies on the Assam plantations suffer from caratomalaisia (bad eyesight) for lack of proper nourishment, fats and greases.

50% of the population of India suffers from dental diseases for the lack of any milk in the diet.

Two million women die in childbirth in India as a result of malnutrition.

20% Anglo-Indians and members of the upper classes of India die in gluttony, overeating- another form of malnutrition”(Anand 1946 117).

It also reflects the cruel, heartless capitalist society. Again, the wages of the Indian coolies in the tea plantation stands unchanged for seventy years and on the other hand the price of the rice and clothes has doubled.  They spend their last monthly wages on rice. In Havre's view the condition of the workers is same all over the world. After observing the tragic existence of the workers in capitalist society, he realizes the necessity of revolution.

John de la Havre finds that the Indian coolies are too docile to resist the maltreatment of the British manager, Reggie Hunt, and so rushing towards him for help. So, he suggests them that they should protest and lodge a complaint to Croft Cooke against Hunt. He wants a revolution, so that the ‘have-nots’ get rid from ‘haves’. He wants to save the Indian coolies from the cruel managers of the tea estate through a Marxist revolution. He wants the Indian to rule themselves justly by destroying the differences of caste, creed and class among them – “Yes, why not let the natives run their own show? It is their country. And we have really no right in it” (Anand 1946 19).

Therefore, through Havre Anand portrays the harsh capitalist society. Through him, we can clearly see the exploitation of the working class people by bourgeoisies so that they can produce surplus value. Thus, he tries to counter the capitalist society sometimes by helping the coolies and sometimes by protesting openly against wrongs of the managers. He clearly shows the Marxist values in him. Thus, we can say that Dr. Havre acts as mouthpiece of Marxism in the novel.

Chapter III: A Marxist Study of the Adapted Film of the Novel

“Rahi”(1952) is a Hindi film produced, directed, and scripted by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas. The film was shot in Hindi and produced in both Hindi and English language, named “Rahi” and “The Wayfarer” respectively, under Naya Sansar banner. The story of the film is based on Mulk Raj Anand’s novel Two Leaves and a Bud. “Rahi” is India’s first film “which was India’s official entry to the first ever Venice and Moscow International film festival in 1954” (Gupta, The Hindu). It is considered to be a commercially successful movie.

“Rahi” begins with Ramesh (Dev Anand), an ex-military officer, who wanders everywhere in search of a job. When he reaches a tea garden in Assam, he gets a job of a supervisor in the tea estate. The British owners of the tea estate appoint him to supervise the workers and order him to handle the coolies hard-heartedly and give him a whip to control the workers. While supervising the tea garden, he comes close to a coolie woman, Ganga (Nalini Jaywant). They both gradually fall in love with each other.

Again, outside the romance and love affair of Ramesh and Ganga (hero and heroine), the film also gives a glimpse of the British rules in India. The film shows the cruelty and inhumanity of the British rulers. The British managers and their employees torture the workers limitlessly. At the end of the film, the tortures lead the workers to revolt against the tea planters. Ganga is shot dead on that munity by the assistant manager of the tea estate. The story ends with the inner change of Ramesh and he leaves his job and also the place.

The story of the film is romantic and entertaining, but parallelly shows the dominance of the ruling class over the poor. In this way it presents the Marxist ideas. Though the film is an adapted version of the novel, it is different in some respect. Such as-

Firstly, the novel was written in 1937 when India was a colony of Britain. On the other hand, the film was produced after India’s Independence in 1952. Thus, the novel portrays a more vivid and realistic picture of the cruel capitalist British society than the film. The film has a commercial purpose, so it presents the story in an entertaining way with its love affair.

Secondly, the protagonist of the novel is Gangu, a poor worker of the tea estate. But the film presents Ramesh as a hero, the supervisor of the tea estate, who actually belongs to the category of petit bourgeoisie.

Thirdly, the novel presents Dr. de la Havre as a mouthpiece of Marxism. Through him, Anand speaks his own ideas and opinions. Havre not only sympathizes with the poor coolies, but also tries his best to help the coolies and even fights for their rights. On the contrary, K. A. Abbas does not give so much importance to the character of doctor.

Lastly, Mulk Raj Anand portrays the extreme exploitations of the labour class and paves a way for the revolution. But, K. A. Abbas beautifully picturizes the revolt of the  labour class.

In spite of all these dissimilarities between these two mediums, the film also presents the brutality of the bourgeoisies. We can also find two types of bourgeoisies in the film. Mr. Macdonald and Mr. Walker are the owners or the managers of a tea estate in Assam. They only understand the language of profit. On the other hand, the head clerk Sashi Bhushan, supervisor Ramesh, Kallu and others are the petit bourgeoisies. They are employed to look after the coolies and work as a profit gainer for their masters. The oppression of these semi-bourgeoisies is also clearly seen in this film.

Ramesh proves himself a loyal employee of the planter from the very first day of his joining. He whips a coolie who smokes for a while in the midst of his work. He not even spares the women and whips Ganga, the heroine of the film, when she removes a thorn from her leg. The women are forced to work in the garden to leaves babies on the ground. A scene appears when a snake bites a baby of a coolie woman while she is plucking the tea leaves. The scene is full of emotion and reflects the conditions of the tea workers. But Ganga is picturized as a rebellious character throughout the film. When Ramesh scolds them for not working, Ganga rebukes him by pointing out the dying child – “Uthao apna hunter aur maro isse, issne tumhara kam rukhbaya hai, company ko kitna ghata hua hai iski bajse. Maro! Maro na isko, iss nagin ke katnese nehi mara to tumhari hat mai bhi to saap hai isse katbao”(Abbas Film) [Pick up the whip and hit him, he stops your work, company is under loss because of him. Hit! Hit him, if he not dies in snake bite, kill him with another snake which you hold in your hand]. Thus, it depicts the cruel capitalist society which only values the profit, but not values the life of an innocent child.

Again, the speech of Ramu, a coolie, presents the pathetic pictures of the peasants in the hands of the moneylenders. When Hari Ram, father of Ganga, recalls his early days in his village as a peasant, Ramu says, “…bhook ki kheti hoti hai, hamare tumhare jaise kishan bhooke marte hai, apni jamin girbi rakhte hai, apni beti o ko bazar mai bechte hai”( Abbas Film) […hunger is cultivated there, farmers like you and me die from hunger, mortgage our land, sell our daughters in the market].  Again, in the tiger-hunt, which is arranged to please Mr. Walker, Hari Ram loses left leg when the hunter mistakenly shots Hari’s leg instead of the tiger. But Mr. Walker has no sympathy for him rather rebukes him for letting tiger flee away and gives him only fifty rupees as a compensate. Further, when Ganga and her friends throw colours on Salvia Walker, sister of Mr. Walker, on the day of Holi (Indian festival of colours), they are worstly beaten by Kallu on the order of Mr. Walker. These incidents clearly depict the monopoly and exploitation of the ruling class.

According to Marxism theory, when the exploitation of the capitalist exceeds its limit “the overthrow of capitalism by a socialist revolution in contemporary society is inevitable” (Marxism Wikipedia). At end of the film, we also find the excessive exploitations lead the tea workers to revolt against the cruel planters and they stop working until their demands are fulfilled. So, the planters stop the supply of their food and drink. A song that is used in the film beautifully portrays their misery – “Bhook ka mara pet hamara, mange roti roti” (Abbas Film) [Our stomach is hungry, it wants bread]. Then they peacefully march towards the manager’s bungalow to fulfill their demands, i.e., increase their wage, equal distribution money among men and women, school for their children and pukka house for them. But on that protest, Ganga, the leader of the protest, is shot dead by Mr. Walker.  While dying Ganga says, “Aj hamari jit huyi hai, ab hamari aoyaj kobhi bondh nehi hogi” (Abbas Film) [Today we have won, from now our voice will never stop]. The speech of Ganga shows revolution begins and in future it will demolish the class, creed and capitalism, and establish a classless, equal society. Thus, it is clear that the film also represents the Marxist ideas like the novel in some respect.

Conclusion: The analysis of the novel Two Leaves and a Bud and its adapted film “Rahi'' in this paper presents that the Marxist elements exist in both these mediums. The exploitation of the workers in the hands of their master is one of the main problems in society even in the 21st century. It is not only the problems of the Indian coolies, but a universal one. The capitalist does not allow the workers to feel and think of a healthy and happy life beyond the class struggle. They use the workers not as human beings but as robots or machines. And their salary is not enough in comparison with their labour. In search of surplus or extra unpaid labour, the capitalist class exploits the workers and creates a class difference. They use it as a weapon to earn profit. Two Leaves and a Bud and “Rahi” reflect the class consciousness, social injustice and inequality, exploitation of the bourgeoisie and the inevitable sacrifice and revolution.

Like Marx, Anand also feels that the capitalist system instinctively carries the seeds of its own destruction. The exploitation and alienation of the ‘have-nots’, that are fundamental to capitalist relations, will ultimately lead them to revolt against capitalism and seize the control of the means of production. K.A. Abbas presents this revolution very skillfully at the end of his film “Rahi”. Both these two mediums oppose of the oppression of the poor by the rich. Therefore, the Marxist elements, the object of this paper, are evident in both the novel and the film.

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