Arun Joshi as a Novelist
The Indo-Anglican novelist by and large writes in the classical tradition and makes a search for an integrated view of man’s identity, his place in the society he belongs to and the social values within which he works out his destiny.
Most of the Indo-Anglican novels are concerned with an examination of the problems of an agrarian, tradition-oppressed society struggling to free itself, from poverty and follow the road to prosperity and modernity without losing its hold on its mores. As a result though man in his relation to society is either directly or obliquely dealt with in these novels yet man’s relationship with himself and with God has not become a common enough theme. The themes of hunger, social inequalities and iniquities, the movement for independence, the confrontation of East and West, race relations and interpersonal relationships which have been popular with the Indo-Anglican novelists, have been exhausted and become stale and have lost their significance today. This exhaustion of stock themes should be regarded as a healthy sign; for it will force the Indo-Anglican novelist to engage himself in at search for the essence of human living. Perhaps this is inevitable, for in course of time, as India becomes highly industrialized, the novels will have to reflect the struggles of man all over India to achieve order out of the new experiences and conceptions brought by the scientific theories and technological application and by the social and political changes that determine the direction of their lives and mould their hopes and fears. This means that the novelist’s main concern will not merely be an examination and revaluation of society but also a consideration of the nature of man and his place in the universe.
Arun Joshi occupies a significant place in the history of Indo- Anglican fiction. His first novel The Foreigner, is probably distantly inspired by Albert Camus’s The Outsider. He has chosen a typically apt story for the treatment of the theme. The narrator-hero Sindi Oberoi who narrates his own story does not belong to any particular country. He finds himself in the predicament of a foreigner wherever he might be, Kenya, Uganda, England, America, India for people say “You are still a stranger, you don’t belong here!” Born in Kenya of a Hindu father and a European mother, he studied in London and Boston and chose to come to India in his search for peace.
The Foreigner is a well-planned briskly written piece. The issue between detachment and involvement, in difference and commitment, going it alone and communion, is posed prominently enough, but not properly consumed in the action or the characterisation. There is a colourless cosmopolitan quality about the novel.
In his second novel The Strange Case of Billy Biswas, Billy’s crucial decision takes him away from his wife, family, friends and the old way of life itself. In short, Biswas retreats from civilization and loses himself among the Adivasis, lives with an Adivasi girl Bilasia, and is reverenced as a God by the tribals. The vital fact is that it is his training in U.S.A. as an anthropologist that has turned him to this path. Arun Joshi handles this difficult, but ambitious theme in a deft and sensible way and the strange case of Billy (Bimal) Biswas only proves that there is a little of Billy in all of us, a desire to get away from it all, do something ‘reckless’ or surrender to some extraordinary obsession.
In the next novel, The Apprentice, Ratan Rathor makes a brief daily escape from one world to another, both co-existing in modern Delhi. Ratan is a civil servant in his late forties with a wife and daughter, and a car too, but every morning on his way to office, he spends sometime on the steps of a temple wiping the shoes of the devotees within, but does not actually enter the temple.
Ratan comes to Delhi during the World War II, undergoes privations, gets into Government service. He makes deals (even in choosing his wife) and he gets on and on. Freedom comes to his advantage. But he is exposed to corrupting influences. Just before the Chinese war in 1962, Ratan takes a bribe and his action in passing a consignment of useless armament results in the death of hundreds of our soldiers on the front, and the suicide of his best friend, the brigadier, Ratan could have saved him, but he would not. Later Ratan learns that he had actually been made a victim of a conspiracy hatched by the minister concerned, his secretary and Himman Singh, the ruthless business operator.
Ratan realizes his mistakes and decides to work out his self- rehabilitation and this apprenticeship in shoe-shining is a beginning and may lead to the cleansing of the layers of dirt covering his soul. As a fictional study of the anatomy and dynamics of the almost omnipresent corruption in the country, The Apprentice is a powerful indictment.
Then after a long interval, Arun Joshi writes the novel The Last Labyrinth. The novel is about a plastic magnate and millionaire. His heroes Sindi, Oberoi, Billy, Ratan, Som Bhaskar are all outsiders, making desperate attempts to silence the insidious bug within, and reach a rapport with the world. One tries to flee himself, another his home and class, a third his shameful past and the fourth (Som) the furies within. The novels are a single work in progress because the protagonists suffer from the same disease, discontent and disconcert. They inhabit the gas-chambers of their own self-forged misery. These heroes, in spite of their wealth, power and sophistication, still suffer because they lack the deeper poise of the spirit.
Som Bhaskar is married to Geetha and is the father of two children. He meets the mysterious Anuradha who lives in Benares with the immoral Aftab. He wants to possess the woman and buy the man’s business. Som partly succeeds in both, but disastrously fails in the end. The Last Labyrinth is the story of Som’s mis- adventure with his dark and terrible love and the labyrinth (Entangled state of affairs) symbolism is spread out thick all over.
Aftab’s sepulchral sensual den named Lal Haveli, is located in the midst of the labyrinths of Benares. There are labyrinthine rooms and passages, but the last labyrinth is death. Som is caught in the crevices of the mysterious web. The flight of steps of Gargi Mata’s room is also a labyrinth. Further there is a labyrinth in the tobacco-stand house on the hills. Like Som, the reader also feels caught in the labyrinth.
In Arun Joshi’s writing, there is the combination of intellect, nervous energy and integrity. This stylistic competence is pressed into service to describe Som’s half-hysterical, half-fatalistic pursuit of Anuradha losing her, gaining her and losing her again. There are other characters like Tarakki, the God-Woman Gargi and Krishna, the unpredictable God. Finally Anuradha saves Som from certain death by vowing to Gargi to give up her lover altogether. It is indeed a grand renunciation. In spite of all warnings, Som returns to Haveli, she gives a hoarse warning. The next morning Som returns from his hotel. He is told that Anuradha had disappeared. Som makes a complaint to the police. The police wander through the mazes and find nothing.
The Last Labyrinth is thus almost an example of all contemporary diseased world, where discontents grow their own contagious vapour and self-doomed humanity-lacking faith, lacking grace. The world is resigned to being suffocated by them in the last labyrinth. The promised sequel, will take the readers, out of the tunnel and the labyrinth so as to enable us to glimpse the “New Light”.
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