(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal
Devoted to English Language and Literature)
Abnish Singh Chauhan
A writer writes in response to the socio-cultural milieu of his times and advertently or inadvertently presents various colours of values in his work of art. This paper reveals different colours of values in the novels of Arun Joshi (1939-1993), whose output in the domain of Indian English Fiction is limited to five novels, namely: The Foreigner (1968), The Strange Case of Billy Biswas (1971), The Apprentice (1974), The Last Labyrinth (1981) and The City and The River (1990) along with a collection of short stories, The Survivor and Other Stories (1975).
Derived from Greek ‘paradeigma’, the term paradigm was first introduced in English in the 15th century, meaning ‘an example, perception or assumption’ or “a set of all the different forms” (Hornby 1101) and it still bears the same meaning. In literature, the term is used to describe a set of experiences, beliefs and values that affect the way an individual perceives reality and responds to that perception. The word ‘values’ denotes “principles or standards of behaviour” (oxforddictionaries.com). In another words, values are the evaluative standards of judgement of “what is right and wrong and what is important in life” (Hornby 1708). They are of different colours— moral, social, cultural, spiritual, material and human values, and are reflected through the way in which one behaves in response to a particular situation or stimulus. Another term colourful is an adjective, meaning ‘varied colours’ or ‘full of interest, lively and exciting.’
Arun Joshi presented the same through the unique themes— “the subject or main idea in a piece of writing” (Hornby 1603), of his five novels. His first novel The Foreigner has the vast intercontinental territory for its geographical expansion. The formative part of the novel develops in the West and the later part takes place in India. The theme of the novel revolves around Sindi— the narrator hero, born of a Kenyan-Indian father and English mother. Sindi is orphaned at the age of four when his parents meet the tragic end in an air-crash, and therefore, is brought up by his uncle. He grows and develops in a highly materialistic, industrialized, self-centered and luxurious environment of England and America, which, in the words of Sindi, has “no system of morality” (The Foreigner 18). “It is this lack of a definite frame of reference and a system of values that is responsible for Sindi’s problems” (Pathak 50). Hence, his life at Nairobi, London, a village in Scotland, Boston or New York could not teach him “how to live” (The Foreigner 132), how “to escape pain” (The Foreigner 120) and what is the meaning and purpose of life. The experiences of his past life create in him the sense of guilt and alienation. He keeps himself alienated, thinking himself to be a stranger wherever he goes— “a foreigner anywhere” (The Foreigner 29), and redresses in the long run of his life when his guilty conscience chides him.
The Foreigner opens with the uncovering of a dead body in the city of Boston. The officials ask Sindi Oberoi to recognize it. Sindi tells that it is the dead body of Babu Rao Khemka who died in car wreck on mass turnpike. Being a very sensitive fellow and knowing the importance of human values, Sindi takes “a sigh” (The Foreigner 7) of pain and feels nervousness due to the “tiredness crept up” (The Foreigner 7) his legs on seeing the tragic scene. Now Sindi recollects his past life. His recollection of his past life at London and his relations with Anna and Kathy shocks him now and then. He accepts it thus: “At a later stage all pleasure drained out and only pain remained” (The Foreigner 72). This experience and his own disease lead him to alienation and guilt. He decides not to involve in any such affairs in America. But, his meeting with June leads him to another involvement. He and June become lovers and enjoy their lives fully, living “like animals” (The Foreigner 74) and loosing moral values. However, the entry of Babu in their lives creates havoc. Consequently, June leaves Sindi and goes to Babu to fulfill her marriage dream. Sindi realizes with dismay that he has put the train of their lives “on the wrong track” (The Foreigner 102). He realizes this when he leaves Boston for New York, where he works on a project. His absence at Boston leads June to Babu, the sad-silly son of Mr Khemka. Later Babu decides to marry her but the feeling that she is carrying on with another man leads him to his tragic death, thinking about the chastity of June as the compulsory moral values of traditional Hindu society. Sindi finds logic in this sad happening and, in this way, comes out his understanding of practical values. As he states: “My falling in love with June because she was what I was not; her leaving me for Babu for a dream; because I had lost the capacity to dream; and now, finally, the end of her dream” (The Foreigner 39). When Sindhi was in love with June, he knew that June would leave him one day. It happens with the passage of time— June realized her becoming to be of use to him and his feeling to want her without possessing or his being possessed compels her to leave Sindi and find a better option in Babu. Her escape to Babu is a track that is signaled by Sindi’s indecision and irresponsible action that takes Babu and then June to their graves. Their tragic deaths create the sense of guilt in Sindi and it haunts him all the times in his labyrinths of life. He always hums about his loneliness and despair due to the ghost of his past memory and his disinterest in the present, which becomes the cause of his alienation. Sometimes he feels alienated from the society and other times from his own self that may be called a cynical approach of a sane man. He is a cynic because he always buzzes about his detachment and despair, whereas throughout the story there is not a single example of his detachment. He wants to be detached, but remains involved in one affair after the other. Then the question arises why he buzzes about these things? Is he half-mad and half-sane? Perhaps he is not. He is totally sane because he has the power to discriminate things, the wisdom to contemplate upon and the philosophy to think rationally and practically. Then it might be the outcome of the individualism and narcissism of the materialistic Western world, where anxiety, boredom, loneliness, illusion, dread, hypocrisy, betrayal, and lust prevail. This impact upon him has made his mind hallucinated by the past, diverged in the present and hopeless for the future. His coming to India and his touch with Indian society and its socio-cultural values— the society in which people like Muthu live with his joint family, make a healing impact upon him. And in the company of optimists and mystics like Muthu, whose teaching— “sometimes detachment lies in actually getting involved” (The Foreigner 188), leads him to perfect sanity and he realizes the random absurdity of all those notions with which he has been haunted and confused before. Through his repentance he gets his redemption and through shunning his theory of escapism, he relieves his alienation and starts believing in attachment. Satish Kumar aptly remarks: “Sindi, the protagonist, in the course of his journey from innocence to experience learns that it is better to be a committed individual than a detached person” (Satish Kumar 218). Therefore, Sindi takes over and saves the business of Mr Khemka— who is booked and penalized by the income tax department for tax fraud, which is in the brink of collapse, and also the employees from starvation at the persuasion of Muthu. Now the personal well being of Sindi is embedded in the collective well being of the society— a paradigm shift in values from self-fulfillment to social welfare. Good results come out of this. Sheila— the daughter of Mr Khemka, comes to the office and finds a change in the business. Their friendship grows and they go to have tea at Wrengers. Thus, the novelist “has, in The Foreigner, very dexterously handled some thought-provoking, grave issues… highlighting our glorious cultural heritage and imperishable moral values” (Shivani Vatsa and Rashmi Gaur 28).
The Strange Case of Billy Biswas (1971) is chronologically the second novel of Arun Joshi, which carries his study a step further of the gloomy aspect of faith and values in the materialistic, self-centered and phony modern world. The novel presents three different levels of life— the mediocre slum life in Harlem of New York, the highly advanced life in Delhi and the subsistence level of life in the Maikala Hills in Satpura region. The depiction of these three levels of life reveals three different worlds created by the novelist through the strange case of Billy Biswas. The novel unfolds a kind of biography of Billy Biswas by his collector-friend Romi alias Romesh Sahai, “the witness narrator” (Raizada 82) with whom he first meets as a student in New York. Romi performs the task of an involved friend and detached narrator. Both the friends become more and more involved as the story progresses and fantastically move it to the end.
The novel contains two parts. The first part describes Billy’s life at New York and Delhi and the second part consists of his escape to the Maikala Hills and his life in the company of the primitives till his death. Billy Biswas, “engineer, anthropologist, anarchist… and thoroughly crazy, even by Indian standards” (The Strange Case of Billy Biswas 8), from the “upper upper crust of Indian society” (The Strange Case of Billy Biswas 9) and the only son of a Supreme Court Judge, with a “soft cultivated voice” (10) and “British accent” (The Strange Case of Billy Biswas 10) learnt from a public school of England, is sent to New York, America to study Engineering. But, he opts for Anthropology going against the will of his father. Being a man of extraordinary obsessions, Billy lives in Harlem, one of “the worst slums of New York” (The Strange Case of Billy Biswas 9) because he thinks white America is too civilized for him. It is his love for socio-cultural and human values that he decides to dwell in the cheapest locality of America. Though he could easily afford to dwell in any furnished flat in Manhattan, his faith in the primitive life and its values carries him to a black ghetto in Harlem, which seems the most human place to him. That’s why his Swedish friend Tuula Lindgren, who has come to New York for advanced training in psychiatric social work, also considers him “an exceptional person”, and “a great force, urkraft” (The Strange Case of Billy Biswas 18) is working inside in him. Here he meets Romi. They become fast friends. Meantime, Romi gets the sad news of his father’s death. Hence, his sojourn in America comes to end. He becomes conscious of family values, as being the only son he has now to look after his family. He decides to leave America for India. Billy also tells him about his coming there very soon. His restlessness in America reflects when he tells Romi: “I am itching to be back” (21) in India. Hence, Romi comes back to India and sits for the competitive examination of the Indian Civil Service. He is selected as an I.A.S. and later on is married with Situ. On the other hand, Billy comes back to India after completing his doctoral degree and starts teaching Anthropology in Delhi University. He gets married to Meena Chatterjee. But, his life at Delhi is not easy. He feels disgusted with “the bloody old phony” (The Strange Case of Billy Biswas 35) society of Delhi. For this reason, he leaves Delhi for the Satpura Hills. In the Maikala Hills, he is fascinated by Bilasia who is “pretty in a crude sort of a way” (The Strange Case of Billy Biswas 85) and by the simple living of the primitives. Bilasia symbolizes the primitive force— “Bilasia…was the essence of that primitive force that had called me night after night, year after year” (The Strange Case of Billy Biswas 103). She enlivens Billy’s soul, which has been deadened by Meena and his girl friend Reema, and this is made possible only by a perfect union of the two. Bilasia is his ‘Shakti’ and from her he gets some spiritual power to look after the primitives. Billy finds similar human values in Bilasia, as he has studied in the books of Anthropology and hoped for the same. Now he is happy in spite of meager resources. As S. K. Sharma observes: “Reaching there, Billy feels quite at peace with himself” (Sharma 164). He lives a simple life, have calm desires and small wishes in the midst of Nature. Billy’s sojourn in the Maikala Hills is not only the call of Nature— the Black Rock, but also the call of the self, and which are answered properly. Moreover, Billy is a rebel against the modern materialistic, corrupt, shallow and pretentious society. He left it because he could not make compromise with this social-system, which was morally, ethically and spiritually barren and debased. He has self-esteem, self-control, self-confidence and vision to choose his own ways of life making shift from one level of life to another, leaving one society for another and adopting one paradigm of values for another in search of meaning and purpose of life. He improves his bonds with the self, society and God, Creation or Nature. It creates a new sense of meaning in him, resulting in reawakening of hope and peace of mind till his death. As Thakur Guruprasad thinks: “The Strange Case of Billy Biswas is yet another variation on the paradigmatic pattern of the doomed existential quest for values in a mad, bad, absurd world” (Guruprasad 99).
Arun Joshi’s third novel The Apprentice explores the perturbed and atoning predicament of its protagonist, Ratan Rathore who is debased by corrupt, hypocrite and materialistic modern society. The novel displays the three phases of the story denoting three different paradigms of values— the pre-Independence period is the first phase indicating human dignity and idealism, the post-Independence period is the second phase reflecting dehumanizing factors, and the third phase reveals the reawakening of human soul and ethos through the metamorphosis of the protagonist. The novel is presented in the form of dramatic monologue, in which the protagonist, Ratan Rathore narrates everything of his life-career before a silent listener, an N.C.C. Cadet from the Panjab. His story covers the time period from the Quit India Movement to the Chinese Invasion in the NEFA in the year 1962. His confession comes out at the time when he has become the victim of the corrupt and money-oriented society. This is due to the shift in Indian panorama after Independence in regard to norms, values and ethos. He remembers the days of his childhood when his father donated his all wealth and left his career of a successful lawyer for the freedom of mother India. And for this noble cause he has to lose his life, setting a great example of patriotism, sacrifice and selfless-service to humanity. His father is no more, but his advice always echoes in his heart: “To be of good! Respected! To be of use!” (The Apprentice 18). But, this moral could not change his mind, which was polished by his materialistic but practical mother, who used to say— “Man without money was a man without worth. Many thing were great in life, but the greatest of them all was money” (The Apprentice 19). Therefore, the influence of his father’s paradigms of values weakens in due course of time and the impact of his mother’s paradigms of values grows stronger in him in the company of materialistic and corrupt people like the Superintendent, Himmat Singh, the Minister and the Secretary. Consequently, Ratan stoops to the point where he succeeds to get a good job and gets married the niece of his boss, the Superintendent. His apprentice with the world makes him a postmaster in his work. Further, before the beginning of the war between India and China, he takes an enormous bribe for clearing a big pile of useless military material lying in the city of Bombay. The whole machinery is involved in this misdeed. This chain corruption has a perfect system to send the war material to the army stores, and for their personal gains people like Ratan, the Minister, the Secretary, Himmat Singh, etc. betray their motherland. It leads to the death of Ratan’s Brigadier friend and several others in the war with China. Their sacrifice has no value and regards in the eyes of these corrupt people as they have no such patriotic feelings as the freedom fighters used to have in their hearts. This is the emerging paradigms of values in Post-independence India.
Ratan Rathore finds worthlessness of the materialistic madness at the later phase of his life and, therefore, confesses his guilt before an N.C.C Cadet. He realizes his blunder and tries to redress himself through his apprentice of shoe-shining and honest confession. In this regard, Dr. R. A. Singh remarks: “He tries to expiate his sin and he undergoes the strongest apprenticeship in the world” (Singh 58). His atonement becomes the way to his redemption. He realizes the worth and importance of values and ethos, and rejects the dehumanizing influence of the corrupt society of the modern times. The novel ends at the dawn that is symbolic of Ratan’s metamorphosis and the novelist’s hopeful attitude towards life and the world.
Arun Joshi again presents colourful paradigms of values in his fourth novel The Last Labyrinth, for which he was honoured with the Sahitya Akademi Award, the highest literary honour of India, in 1982. In this novel, the protagonist Som Bhaskar tells his story to Dr Kashyap, who is playing the roles of the listener and narrator at the same time. Since most of the part of the novel is narrated by Som himself, Dr Kashyap gets a few chances to tell about Som’s surviving heart-attack and spiritual performances of Gargi for saving his life among others. The novel begins with the statement of Som: “Above all, I have a score to settle. I forget nothing, forgive no one” (The Last Labyrinth 9). This intention of the protagonist for taking revenge upon someone hints towards some significant events of his life— separation from his beloved Anuradha due to her disappearance and his threatening experiences of the labyrinths of life and death. And this is the major cause of his existential struggle and despair, which sprung from his paradigm shift from morality to immorality, from virtue to vice, from belief to disbelief and from spirituality to skepticism during his journey in the cities of Bombay and Benaras. As the novel communicates, Som Bhaskar is a business man having a huge plastic manufacturing industry. He is a millionaire industrialist. He is highly educated in one of the world’s finest universities where from he learnt Western thought and ideologies, mammon-worship and a faith in reason. He is married to Geeta— a well bred, beautiful, loyal and extraordinary woman, who has begotten two children for him and is “all that a wife could be” (The Last Labyrinth 40). Yet, he suffers from insatiable hunger— “hunger of the body” and “hunger of the spirit” (The Last Labyrinth 11). He tries to fulfill his objects of wants— “I want. I want. I want. I want” (The Last Labyrinth 11) through material and carnal resources. For carnal pleasures, he runs after several women like Leela Sabnis, a philosopher from Bombay and Anuradha, a concubine of Aftab Rai of Benaras and develops sexual bonds with them. But, his hunger remains insatiable as ever. For material pursuits, his initial step is to grab the shares of the failing industries. And it is seen in his pursuit to grab the shares of Aftab’s business. He meets Aftab, who is not organized enough to survive in business at an Intercontinental Hotel in Delhi. His meeting with Aftab for the material pursuit helps him in developing friendship with Anuradha. It is in his attempts to win her wildly and insanely that she becomes the pivot of his life in both carnal and spiritual terms. Gargi’s epistle to Som telling him that “she (Anuradha) is your Shakti” (The Last Labyrinth 121) unravels that it is she who is his real Shakti who seems to have the capacity to transform his hunger of the body into the hunger of the spirit. And in this way, his moral debasement leads him to the spiritual realization through sacrifice and love. Finally, the last labyrinth— his life long search that he believes he will complete through carnal pleasures, turns out to be the realization of the existence of the Almighty or the death of the flesh and blood and consequent freedom of the soul.
Though Som is the replica of modern man, he has lost his soul in pursuit of wealth and carnal pleasures. His life-struggle leads him to an existential dilemma, one of the most threatening problems of today. His existential struggle displays paradigm shift in moral, ethical and spiritual values of modern society as he shows a dual code of behaviour, and harbours vices like opportunism, treachery, corruption, cowardice, hypocrisy, lust and greed. But, ultimately it seems that he is restored to the world due to his inner power, his curiosity to know Truth, sacrifices of Anuradha and Gargi and perhaps the love, care and worship of his loyal wife Geeta, who stops him from committing suicide and shakes him “gently as though rousing a man from sleep” (The Last Labyrinth 224). It also seems that his good wife will help him in restoring peace and harmony in his future life.
Arun Joshi’s The City and the River, the fifth and last novel, opens with Prologue and ends with Epilogue and in between the two, there are nine chapters reciting the reign of the Grand Master, his dream of becoming a king and the prophecy, his becoming the king, the continuation of the rule of tyranny and terror, inhuman practices of the Council and the Councilors, the festival of the river and the proclamation of the era of Ultimate Greatness— that reminds the Emergency period in free India, the rebellion of the public, the restraining tactics and killings adopted by the king through the Supreme Council, the sacrifice of the Hermit, and finally, the overthrow of the city with the great deluge.
The Epilogue unravels the story of the city in which the Grand Master— “the father and the mother of the city” (The City and the River 17), is reigning. The Grand Master has a big ambition to become the king of the city and to pave the way to his son as his successor. But, he is doubtful about the simple and value-loving boatmen as they always hold their allegiance to the divine mother— the River, and therefore, “the conflict that shall come will also be the same: a matter of allegiance, to God or to man” (The City and the River 262) Accordingly, the Grand Master makes his crooked plans with the help of the Astrologer to win the favour of the boatmen and the misled brick people. The Astrologer is appointed to transmit the message of “the Triple Way or the Way of the Three Beatitudes” (The City and the River 17) to the people. Moreover, “the Era of Ultimate Greatness” (The City and the River 23) is also declared by the ruler of the city. In spite of that the boatmen are unwilling to pledge their allegiance to any human being as they believe in their socio-cultural and spiritual values and, therefore, are staunch followers of the river— “Time’s consort and Time itself” (The City and the River 61). Consequently, many boatmen are transported to the Gold Mine, the dark prison and are tortured so that they could forget their individuality, identity and age-old values. When in the Gold Mine, the Headman, who is a woman from the boatmen’s community, is tortured and blinded by the prison authorities for her refusal of the offer of the Grand Master, the Professor undertakes fast-unto-death and sacrifices himself for the cause of Truth. While all this is going on the Grand Master do not show any kindness and sympathy to the sufferers. Instead, he holds a secret meeting and declares himself the King and the Minister for Trade as the new Grand Master of the city. Meanwhile, a combined operation of infantry, navy and air force mercilessly kill Master Bhoma, Grandfather, Shani, Dharma, Shailaja, Mother, Vasu, and many boatmen and brick people. At this, the Hermit, the disciple of Great Yogeshwara, performs the last Yajna of the immortal Time and his consort, the river to abolish the sins committed by the Astrologer and the King. The river turns into sea and the deluge sweeps away the entire city with its Seven Hills. In this regard, K. M. Pandey aptly remarks: “The novel offers a kind of moral judgement that the city cannot exist apart from, or in opposition to, the river for it is the city that has emerged out of the river and not vice versa” (Pandey 129). Only an illegal child, the Nameless One, of the boatmen escapes and is taught by the Great Yogeshwara. Although the city is destroyed, the cyclic march of humanity continues.
The Prologue relates the final day of the Nameless-One, who has spent long thirty years under his master’s feet, with the great Yogeshwara, his teacher. On the day of his initiation, the Great Yogeshwara narrates a tale with the express aim to teach his pupil, who he (the Nameless-One) is, the events of the city and the river and finally the city’s flood. And this story runs between the Prologue and the Epilogue. In the Epilogue, the ageless teacher commands his pupil, who is celebrating his thirty-first birthday, to depart and “prevent this endless repetition, this periodic disintegration” (The City and the River 262) of the city and its citizens. For the fulfillment of this great task, the teacher tells him the mantra of purity which comes only through sacrifice. Learning all this, the disciple decides to leave the Gurukul for the city at midnight of the same day. In this way, the Prologue and the Epilogue unite the beginning and the end of the novel and reflect continuity and life on earth through destruction and regeneration— the Divine law and justice. Thus, the novel rationally presents lifelike characters, veracious situations and illustrative social-milieu in order to relate a particular account of social disparity and conflicting paradigms of values in its fictional world.
On the whole, Joshi presents transition in the value-systems of the present times. He knows it well that traditional values and modern values are face to face in the modern Indian culture and this culture is also face to face with the post-modern culture of highly advanced people of Indian, American and European societies. This change from tradition to modernity and from modernity to post-modernity makes a great impact on the value-system of the present day world. Consequently, there is a fusion of colourful paradigms of values in his works, which reveals his synergistic approach towards the changes in the value-system of the modern world, but simultaneously his novels also reveals his pang for the loss of faith and true values in this transition. Thus, the novelist inculcates colourful paradigms of values in an impartial, rational and discreet way and expects that the readers would explore and absorb universal lessons from them according to their real life situations.
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About the Author:
Dr Abnish Singh Chauhan (1979) is a bilingual poet, critic, translator and editor (Hindi and English). His significant books include Swami Vivekananda: Select Speeches, Speeches of Swami Vivekananda and Subhash Chandra Bose: A Comparative Study, King Lear : A Ctritical Study, Functional English, The Fictional World of Arun Joshi: Paradigm Shift in Values, Burns Within (Poems of B.S. Gautam 'Anurag' translated from Hindi into English) and Tukada Kagaz Ka(Hindi Lyrics). He can be contacted through his email: firstname.lastname@example.org.