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Abnish Singh Chauhan. The Fictional World of Arun Joshi: Paradigm Shift in Values. New Delhi: Authorspress, 2016. Price 1200. Pages 268+xi. ISBN 978-93-5207-112-8
Reviewed by Madhu Bala Saxena
Dr Abnish Singh Chauhan's The Fictional World of Arun Joshi: Paradigm Shift in Values is his outstanding critical study in which he has explored Arun Joshi’s novels— The Foreigner, The Strange Case of Billy Biswas, The Apprentice, The Last Labyrinth and The City and the River along with The Survivor (a collection of his short stories) depicting themes and characters with paradigm shift in values in the present world.
The book consists of eight chapters which have been entitled (1) Introduction: A Snapshot of Arun Joshi’s Fiction, (2) The Foreigner: Sense of Guilt and Alienation, (3) The Strange Case of Billy Biswas: Levels of Life, (4) The Apprentice: Industrial Impact, (5) The Last Labyrinth: Existential Struggle, (6) The City and the River: Social Disparity, (7) The Survivor: Moods and Manner, and (8) Conclusion: Paradigm Shift in Values. Dr. Abnish has indicated the name of the theme of each and every fictional work with its title so that every reader of the book may come to know it at a glance.
In the first chapter— ‘Introduction: A Snapshot of Arun Joshi’s Fiction’, Dr Abnish explains the term ‘Paradigm shift’, which means successive transition from one paradigm to another via changes in life and society. After that he highlights the significance of values in human life. This chapter is of utmost importance because it contains the definition of the term paradigm, values, kinds of values and the history of values with illustrations from Indian scriptures like the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagvad-Gita and the Ramayana as well as the philosophies of Swami Vivekananda, Kabir and other saints and intellectuals. All these spiritual books, saints and philosophers unanimously accept that without values— honesty, truthfulness, modesty, benevolence, purity and self-esteem, a person cannot get peace and calm in the life however affluent, powerful and resourceful he may be. Besides, the chapter also inculcates a brief life–sketch of Arun Joshi, his academic and literary career and his motives of writings in order to instill social, cultural, moral and spiritual values in the people of the contemporary age through the examples of the protagonists of his fictional world.
In the second chapter— ‘The Foreigner: Sense of Guilt and Alienation’, Dr. Abnish highlights the theme of the novel and clarifies that the sense of guilt is felt by a person when he realizes the futility of false values and the utility of true values. A person feels rootless and alienated in the foreign land, because there he finds values and culture quite different from those of his motherland. And, therefore, he loses his peace and calm in the long run of his life resulting in the sense of guilt and alienation. This sense of guilt and alienation has been illustrated by the characters like Sindi, June, Babu and Mr Khemka.
In the third chapter— ‘The Strange Case of Billy Biswas: Levels of Life’, the writer reveals three levels of life of Billy Biswas, the protagonist. First— the slum life, the second— affluent level of life, the third one— subsistence level of life i.e. value level of life. The hero of the novel achieves the true goal of life because he makes no compromise with the values of modern society in which morality is sacrificed for material pleasure which is transitory. The message is that for hale and hearty life, a man should move on the path of true values as practiced in the Maikala Hills of the novel.
In the fourth chapter— ‘The Apprentice: Industrial Impact’, the author has discussed paradigm shift in Gandhian values along with other values in the modern society. The father of Ratan, the protagonist struggled for Gandhian values, but the son practices corrupt ways of life. Therefore, truth is replaced by lie, honesty by dishonesty, virtue by vice, selflessness by selfishness in the fictional world. Money is considered everything, which rules the age of industrialization. In spite of it, if someone repents on his past misdeeds by doing some good work or social service, he may get peace of mind as in the novel, Ratan, the protagonist repents by polishing the shoes of others and wants to purify himself. He also knows that self condemnation is the best repentance and, thus, he overcomes his mistakes and rises above by confessing his misdeeds. The message is that if one reforms oneself, the world would reform itself.
In the fifth chapter— ‘The Last Labyrinth: Existential Struggle’, the author points out Arun Joshi’s message to the masses that life is a labyrinth and a man has to struggle throughout his life in search of mental peace and pleasure. In order to attain them he must follow healthy moral and spiritual values of life and society. Moreover, a man can attain the highest degree of manhood by his collaborating and cooperating nature.
In the sixth chapter— ‘The City and the River: Social Disparity’, Dr Abnish seems to agree with the novelist that traditional values play a vital role in human life as they provide mental harmony and happiness. The story of the novel is a struggle between the aristocrat and the proletarian, between the governor and the governed between the tradition and the modernity between the spiritualism and the materialism. In this fictional world, life has become restless and difficult. That is why the shift from unhealthy modern values to healthy traditional values becomes mandatory.
The seventh chapter— ‘The Survivor: Moods and Manners’ presents the author’s exploration of Arun Joshi’s stories— Survivor, Gherao, Harmik, The Home Coming, The Frontier Mail is Gone, The Servant, A Trip for Mr. Lele, The Only American From Our Village, etc from critic’s point of view. Arun Joshi’s social realism with paradigm shift of values due to industrialization, urbanization and globalization, (mostly seen in the high profile society), narrative techniques and art of characterization leave the footprints of his master craftsmanship. His stories exhibit a common message that all the patterns of values— social, cultural, moral, human and spiritual, provide mental peace and contentment and their ignorance may bring discontentment and decadence to all and sundry.
In the last chapter, the author concludes his criticism of the fictional world of Arun Joshi and briefly presents all the important aspects of his novels and short-stories with special reference to paradigm shift in values.
To sum up, the book is the proof of Dr. Abnish Singh Chauhan’s deep and accurate knowledge of the fictional works of Arun Joshi. His critical appraisal of Arun Joshi’s novels and short-stories from a thematic point of view is worth appreciating. His critical insight, acumen, objectivity, rationality and manner of presentation deserve full praise and appreciation. The book is, no doubt, a reference book for the research scholars and fascinatingly readable by the lovers of Indian Fiction in English.
Dr. Madhu Bala Saxena (1953) worked as Professor and Head of English Department of IFTM University, Moradabad and Associate Professor and Head of English Department of M.H.P.G. College, Moradabad, U.P. She is M.A. in Sanskrit and English and her doctoral degree in English is on ‘Treatment of Human Relations in the Novels of Somerset Maugham.’ She has been writing research papers and book reviews for various journals and magazines and guiding research scholars of English Literature for the last thirty five years. Her main interest lies in Indian Literature in English, particularly in Indian English Fiction. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.