(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal
Devoted to English Language and Literature)
Abnish Singh Chauhan
Arun Joshi’s The Foreigner, as the title suggests, reveals the sense of guilt and alienation, not only of Sindi Oberoi but of many other characters who are foreigners to their own selves and the society as well. The characters search for wrong things which ultimately result in the sense of alienation. The moment they have knowledge and understanding that they have committed mistakes, the sense of guilt overpowers them. Sindi condemns his own behavior for his lust and greed. The inner patterns of Sindi’s mind reveal the fact that he hears the voice of his soul. His alienation from the society and, sometimes, his own self reflects the cynical approach of a sane man.
Key Words: Guilt, alienation, realization, traditional values and modern values.
Arun Joshi (1939-1993), whose contribution to Indian Fiction in English 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), dexterously inculcates the sense of guilt and alienation in his debut novel The Foreigner.
Guilt is a cognitive and emotional experience that takes place when an individual realizes or believes that he has violated a moral standard and is responsible for his acts. Or sometimes, he cannot help the suffering person or fails in his efforts to relieve that person; he experiences the sense of guilt. The term alienation refers to a person’s estrangement from his own self, his community and others in general. Therefore, the detailed study of The Foreigner reflects that the protagonist Sindi Oberoi is a foreigner wherever he goes. Not only Sindi, but many other characters of the novel are foreigners to their own selves, to the society in which they live and to the worth and relevance of value-system. They are unaware of their own needs, the worthlessness of their pursuits and purpose and meaning of their lives. They look for wrong things in wrong places. Their search for wrong things results in sense of alienation, and the realization of their mistake through knowledge and understanding produces the sense of guilt in them. Realization in the life of the protagonists Sindi comes very late. Anna and Kathy understand it when they leave Sindi; June does so when Babu dies; Babu comes to know when he feels that June is involved with another man; Sindi partly realizes when Babu and June die and partly when Muthu teaches him the philosophy of involvement and detachment; Mr. Khemka realizes when he goes behind the bars due to his swindling of income-tax; Karl does so when his self chides him but he forgets it at the next moment; and Prof. White never realizes it. It is not their weaknesses, but it is the impact of the environment upon them in which they lead their lives without values. Moreover, this alienation with the self, the society and healthy values quakes the entire world of the novel from the very beginning to the collapsing of Mr. Khemka’s empire.
The novel opens in the West and ends in the East i.e. India. The author has employed flashback technique of interior monologue through Sindi, the narrator hero. The scene of the West and the scene of India run concomitantly taking their respective places as the situation demands unraveling sense of guilt and alienation. Chapter one, three, four, seven, eight, nine, ten, twelve, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen take place in the West revealing post-modern value-system; whereas chapter two, five, six, eleven, sixteen, seventeen and eighteen happen in India exposing traditional and modern value-systems. The events in the West are taken first and then the happenings in India are inculcated for the study.
The novel 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” (The Foreigner 7). Being a very sensitive fellow and knowing the importance of human values, Sindi takes “a sigh” (7) of pain and feels nervousness due to the “tiredness crept up” (7) his legs on seeing the tragic scene. The scene is unbearable for him. Sadness and pathos creep in his heart and “eyes” (8). He loses his confidence due to the tragic death of Babu. He becomes hopeless and helpless and even does not know where he is going: “I didn’t know where I was going” (8).
This tragic event has left him “baffled” (The Foreigner 8). He looks strange. As repentance and self-condemnation is a way of redemption, Sindi condemns his own behaviour for his “lust, greed and selfishness” (8). He feels guilty of Babu’s death. His guilty conscience reveals itself through his self-condemnation and self-acceptance of his unworthy action of the past: “I had driven a man to his death” (8). But it is also a fact that he did not imagine or want it to be so. His friendship with Babu pushes his sympathetic nerves and he is impatient to deliver “the whole business” (8-9) to their friend June. As he thinks himself guilty for Babu’s death, he believes that June too has been “an accomplice” (9) in it. His feelings about the social justice come thus: “but ignorance of sin, like ignorance of the law, is no excuse” (9). Feeling disgust for himself and pity for her, he informs her about Babu’s death: “Babu is dead” (9). June bewilders and trembles at the sad news. Her human emotions and self-pity take her tears out. She cries in utter despair, “Oh, God” (9)— the only hope and huge shelter for a suffering soul. Her crying and wailing would have “torn” (9) him up. Now Sindi battles “to forget the past” (9). He has sympathy and pity for June but he has no courage to rescue her. His general goodness and feeling of care for others can be seen in his talk with her, who is still bemoaning Babu’s death and feeling confused, frustrated, hopeless and helpless in the vast materialistic world. She asks him: “What shall I do, Sindi? What shall I do?” (10); what can she or he do when “it is all over” (10), except wailing and beating the bush in vain. This deep expression of sorrow reveals that human sensitivity knows no territory, race or religion when it emerges in different people at different places in different situations.
The death episode takes him up into the past and Sindi recollects his first meeting with Babu Rao Khemka at Logan Airport in Boston. Sindi was hired by the foreign students’ office to receive and to look after Indian students. It was his routine work. He had sometimes felt bored and alienated in this formal affair because “the strain of too many friendships had proved too much” (The Foreigner 17). He was a self-centered fellow, yet he kept the office only because “it added a few dollars” (17) to his income. He was disinterested in it. Therefore, he hated himself as he “waited for Babu” (17). Here, his inner working and truthful expression show that he is a fellow who can hear the voice of his soul and, in this way, reflects his individualism.
Now Sindi recollects his past life. His recollection of his life at London and his relations with Anna and Kathy shocks him now and then. This experience and his own disease lead him to alienation. 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” and practicing no moral values. But the entry of Babu in their lives creates havoc; June leaves Sindi and goes to Babu to fulfill her marriage dream. Sindi realizes with dismay that he has put the train on the wrong track. He realizes this when he has left Boston for New York, where he works on a project. His absence at Boston leads June to Babu, a sad-silly boy who falls in love with her and shares his feelings and all types of companionship with her. 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. The reason behind her decay is the practice of post-modern values in the Westernized society in which she breathes in spite of her own sympathetic and helpful nature and dazzling beauty and charm. She is a girl who grows “pensive at the thought of somebody’s pain” (The Foreigner 72). It is her misery that she falls “in love with a shadow” (72) and invites her tragic end.
Before the love-story of Babu, June was in love with Sindi. Sindi also loved her, but he knew that June would leave him one day because he did not find any meaning in marriage. She 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’s heart and it haunts him all the times in his labyrinth of alienation and involvement. 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, while throughout the story there is not a single place, where he is not involved. 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 from his birth to his youth has made his mind to be hallucinated by the past and the present, without hoping well for the future. In this way he makes efforts to shirk himself from his duties and responsibilities of social life, making himself alienated from the society. His theory of detachment compels him to repent over the years. He “does not know that a person who escapes from his duties has nothing in store, but pain” (Sharma 127) and his “fatal flaw is that he forgets his duty but remembers detachment.” (Sharma 127) Lord Krishna also tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita:
Dukham ity eva yat karma
kaya-klesa-bhayat tyajet /
So krtva rajasam tyagam
n’aiva tyaga-phalam labhet // (Tapasyananda 400)
That is: “Those who give up work out of a dread of physical suffering, out of a feeling that it is painful, they, performing relinquishment of a Rajas nature, do not obtain the results of true relinquishment” (Tapasyananda 400-401).
Sindi comes to India and joins Mr Khemka’s business. He is honest to his work and frank in his expressions. He is a man of discriminatory power. Describing the phenomena, he reflects the universal guilt: “the moon was still new. Except for the twinkling of a few lights, darkness lay upon the city like a burden of cosmic guilt” (The Foreigner 174). Sindi believes in the Karmic values when he decides not to take the responsibility for “the whole thing” (173) happened to Mr Khemka as “Mr Khemka had to suffer for his own actions” (175). Sheila leaves in desperation. Hence, Sindi decides to meet her at her house and to inform her about his decision.
Sindi visits Mr Khemka’s house. Here, the servants are missing. He finds none in the living room. Due to exhaustion, he falls asleep. When he wakes, he hears the tinkling. He goes to the dining table. Mr. Khemka and Miss Khemka are there. Sindi wishes to know about the happenings. Mr Khemka is angry with him and considers him responsible for creating “the mess” (The Foreigner 177) in his life. He does not realize his guilt — “to evade income tax” (178). Instead, he makes Sindi responsible for it, as he had not bribed Ghose’s company. Sindi knows the values of universal truth as he says: “A dirty thing is dirty” (178). Mr Khemka asks him to be ashamed of. Sindi’s faith in social and ethical values displays when he criticizes the exploitation of the poor workers by the businessmen like Mr Khemka. He tells him: “It is you who had swindled those miserable wretches in rags who push carts on your streets and die at twenty-five” (180).
Mr Khemka has no faith in moral, ethical and economic values. He only believes in the making of money, whichever the means may be. In his opinion, it is a part of the business game and “only clever people can make money” (The Foreigner 180). He does not feel any loss of moral values in cunnings and swindling. Sindi has redressed his guilt and now it is the turn of Mr. Khemka. Sindi tells him: “I have sinned, and God knows, I have paid heavily for them. This time it is your name that is being called. It is you who must answer. That is the only hope of salvation you have left” (181).
Mr. Khemka becomes furious. He cannot tolerate sharp remarks of his employee like Sindi. Sindi’s feeling of guilt and redemption comes out again: “We have both made a mess of our lives— and other people’s lives. But I have learnt a thing or two while you are too vain— or too ignorant— to learn. You must stay out in the wilderness and howl into the night” (The Foreigner 181). This remark is extremely unbearable to Mr. Khemka. He orders him to get lost. Before leaving his house, Sindi teaches him the values of Karmic theory— what you sow, so shall you reap:
I’ll go Mr. Khemka. But you can’t get rid of your sins by just turning me out. They will stalk you from every street corner just as they have stalked me. We think we leave our actions behind, but the past is never dead. Time has a way of exacting its toll and the more you try to hold out, the heavier the toll is (181).
Sheila is distressed partly due to her father’s problems and partly due to Sindi’s remarks. Sindi returns home and makes a wish to get a new job as he does not want “to get involved” (The Foreigner 183). But this theory of escape does not work out after his meeting with Muthu, who makes a healing impact upon him. And, therefore, in the company of optimists and mystics like Muthu, whose teaching sometimes detachment lies in actually getting involved leads him to perfect sanity and he realizes the random absurdity of all those notions with which he has been haunted before. Through his repentance, he gets his redemption and through shunning his theory of escapism, he relieves his alienation and starts believing in attachment. Therefore, Sindi takes over and saves the business of Mr Khemka, which is on the brink of collapse, and also the employees from starvation at the persuasion of Muthu.
Sindi starts going to the office and takes care of the whole business. He teaches some practical values about business to his fellow workers: “To get organized and start working systematically” (The Foreigner 190). Good results come. Sheila visits the office and finds a change there, yet she entrusts the whole affair to Sindi. Their friendship grows and they go to have tea at Wrengers: “The growing affection between Sheila and Sindi is the ray of hope for the resolvement of Sindi’s alienation”(Bhatt and Alexander 92). Thus, the happiness and well being of Sindi is embedded in the collective well being of his friends, colleagues and other members of the society in which he lives and, therefore, his sense of guilt and alienation automatically subdues in the fictional world of the novel.
Bhatt, Indra, and Suja Alexander. Arun Joshi’s Fiction: A Critique. New Delhi: Creative Books, 2001. Print.
Joshi, Arun. The Foreigner (1968). New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks, 1993. Print.
Sharma, Susheel Kumar. “Philosophical Reverberation in The Foreigner.” The Novels of Arun Joshi. Ed. R.K. Dhawan. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1992. Print.
Tapasyananda, Swami. Srimad Bhagavad Gita (The Scripture of Mankind). Maylapur Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1999. 18:8. Print.
Chauhan, Abnish Singh. The Fictional World of Arun Joshi: Paradigm Shift in Value. New Delhi: Authorspress, 2016. Print.
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.