Tracing the Odyssey from Detachment to Involvement in Arun Joshi's The Foreigner, The Strange Case of Billy Biswas, and The Apprentice
The psychoanalysis has been developed in the modern Indian Fiction in English and the idea of a sub-conscious mind finds expression through the novels. It delineates repressions, obsessions and complexes. In the sub-conscious, "a forest full of strange beasts" moves within the mind of every individual. It is here that the myth is created by the taboos, the individual possesses. It may exist in the consciousness because the individual cannot separate the past, present and future.
Action, in a stream-of-consciousness novel, takes place and the plot develops through the mind of the central character. It is reflected through the forces working in his mind. The conflicts and controversies get manifestation of the new awareness of the reality. Sometimes the fantastic, symbolical and obscure modes of expression are there for a more comprehensive explanation of the individual mind.
Sindi Oberoi, the protagonist of The Foreigner (1968), is a product of crossroads of the east and the west. His dilemma is socio-psychological. He is born of an English mother and an Indian father. He is brought up by his uncle in Kenya. He is educated in East Africa, London and America. He is deprived of his parental love and has indifference towards them. He tells Mr. Khemka: "For the hundredth time I related the story of those strangers whose one reality was a couple of wrinkled and cracked photographs" (11).
Sindi recalls those days of his parents when they were killed in an air crash while he needed them the most. He feels some kind of security with his uncle but his death makes him miserable and forces him to live as a foreigner. He has been denied parental love, family affection and cultural roots. He grows into a wayward man and finally becomes a wandering alien to his own culture. He finds no longer any security. His sense of being an outsider remains static. He has some mission, some purpose, and some desire in life but he is completely withdrawn. He wants to escape pains and, as such, he tries his best but fails. He tries his utmost to get out of attachment but is unable to do so. He is internally hurt.
Sindi remains an alien throughout his life. He undergoes various changes and a number of bitter experiences right from his life in Kenya, London and Boston. While in Kenya, he plans once for suicide and in London his dull life gets a little life in his love with Anna and Katty. Anna seeks her lost youth and love for Oberoi but in response Sindi gives her a sense of illusion and goes closer to Katty. Such experiences disturb him intensely. He also knows intimately the relationship with June and Babu in Boston. It takes a new turn when he opts for June. June wants to love, marry and create a home for her. Sindi’s knowledge of her intention makes his defenses of detachment fade away.
He overcomes this crisis and finishes his studies and decides to come back to India. In India also he finds a kind of love for life, vanities and morality. Here he comes to know that Mr. Khemka and his daughter Sheila dislike Babu's marriage with June not because of intercultural marriage but because of their wish to make Babu's marriage a social function in India. Sindi is still a foreigner as he does not know the language, the customs, the traditions and the religion of India. He laughs at his position as he is misfit in any culture and does not want to do like that: "Foreigners don't fit in our homes because we do not want them to fit in" (57). Sindi finds himself as good as a foreigner in India even as he was in America. He realizes his position of "an uprooted young-man living in the later half of the 20th century" (195). He analyses the situation with which he is face to face. His deep-rooted sense of a foreigner does not leave him even a minute.
It is not simply the question of culture but his twice removal from his country of birth. He is alien everywhere. He wishes to achieve equipoise through non-attachment in vain. It is his delusion that he can live uninvolved and unaffected. His advice to June, "Marriage would not help June. We are alone, both you and I, that is the problem. And our aloneness must be resolved from within. You cannot send two persons through a ceremony and expect that their aloneness will disappear" (126), breaks his emotional involvement and proves to be a self-delusion. He further tries to defend his delusion. He calls it inevitable, sad, and painful and a deliberate act of madness: "It is different with me. I have no delusions to bank upon. I can't marry you because I am incapable of doing so. It would be like going deliberately mad. It is inevitable that our delusions will break us sooner or later" (120).
Sindi seems to be a self-deceiver from the idea that he has developed about delusion and detachment. He does not forget his foreign background and at times he passes through psychoanalysis. He blames American cultures for disturbances in his life, the disorder he undergoes, the obsession he faces. He realizes his position as an outsider. He suffers a lot but never takes it otherwise. He maintains: "There is no end of suffering, no end to the struggle between good and evil" (41). Sindi is responsible for the death of June and Babu. Once again existence denudes him. He feels like an insecure man and harbours a deep-rooted feeling of unreality. He tries to establish a relation between self and the external world. He wants to justify his identity through his contacts with others but loses both individuality and identity. He suffers from the psychosis of engulfment. His relationship with Anna, Katty and June fails to make a complete union in any case. He is basically pre-occupied with the sense of possession of a girl like June. While he tries to preserve his identity he is terrified with the fear of being possessed. He also fears to be united in marriage because he sees his existence doomed. In between attachment and detachment, he finally understands that detachment does not mean an escape, but involvement, devotion and sacrifice. He surrenders to himself as an existential hero.
Billy Biswas in The Strange Case of Billy Biswas has stronger vision about the sense of harmony in his surroundings, family life and the life with his wife, Meena. He gets introduced, retires within himself and ultimately opts for the life of a pilgrim. He feels a gap of communication between his wife and himself. Simply sex cannot satisfy him to release his tension. So, he leaves Meena's company for many months. He needs someone who can share his thought and apply herself to inject a new lease of life. Now Rima Kaul attracts him. She loves him passionately. She is somewhat better than Meena as she shares his feelings.
Billy, further, is fascinated by the primitive atmosphere. He is fed up with the strangers, unresponsive people, statues like Meena and the corrupt society in which Rima Kaul is living. When he gets a glimpse of Bilasia, it gives him a powerful pull. Her sensual charm gives him thrill and also overpowers him. He finds the right woman who can quench his thirst, enlighten his senses and save him from corruption. He can now renounce Meena and Rima both. This transformation of Billy is not the transformation of sex or sympathy or sublimation but it is mixing of self. Bilasia fulfils his choice, the choice for the primeval force: "Her enormous eyes, only a little foggier with drink, poured out a sexuality that was nearly as primeval as the forest that surrounds them" (141).
Billy meets Bilasia and becomes one with her and with her culture. He finds his real-self with her and he is freed from his own corrupt culture. He proves himself the saviour God of the tribes: "He is like rain on parched lands, like balm on a wound, these hills have not seen the like of him since the last of our kings passed away" (159-60).
In The Apprentice, Arun Joshi investigates the social sickness and sufferings of Ratan, a village boy, who considers life to be a beautiful sacrifice but hardships in his life take him to the sense of insecurity. He is nervous for getting a job. He goes to Delhi in search of job, meets all his friends and relatives and when he fails in his attempt he suffers privation. He does not want too much but a job to earn his livelihood. He strives hard but he is rejected everywhere for lack of political favour. He wanders from pillar to post in search of job. He is completely disillusioned. He finds no glory in family life, no sense of sacrifice for father, no trust for friendship, no merit in help and education. For him, the climate has changed for adjustment. Ratan has a long series of compromises. His conscience pricks him at every compromise. He is restless, sleepless and unable to ignore the making of his career. He is terrified by the uncertainties of life. He is now a thick-skin. Ratan has developed a deviating tendency at every shift in his life. This deviation torments him. He has to suppress the voice of his soul. He suffers within and avers: "… all these years this terrible loneliness something that you may not suspect by looking at me, something that none has even suspected. How all these years, carrying them in secret, like a thief close to my heart until their blazes have turned upon me and turned me to ashes" (74-75).
Like others, Ratan also finds himself a misfit. All his education and intelligence did not help him. He had to abdicate his true self to fit in the corrupt society to eke out a living. He is alienated from his true self and ideals. In his feverish pursuit of careerism, he submits himself to all sorts of corruption that the modern world offers. In spite of all material comforts available to him, discontentment becomes a way of life. He leads a frustrated and exhausted family life. His corrupt deal at the end costs the life of his closest friend, Brigadier, and realizes the gravity of the sin. He describes his own sense of self-awareness:
Twenty years and nothing gained. An empty lifetime, what had I learned? Pushing files, maneuvering? At forty-five all that I knew was to maneuver. A trickster, that was what I had felt like make of me. Did I know the meaning of honour, friendship? Did I ever know it? Would I ever know it again? (139)
He seeks fulfilment and pleads that there is nothing wrong to make a second start: "One must try and not lose heart, not yield, at any cost to despair" (149).
In short, Arun Joshi's characters, in one way or the other, face Jamesean dilemma of double cultures impinging upon the self. They are more modern, much less complete and much less authentic. Though they are Indian in essence, they come closer to Kafka's heroes or Camus' outsiders. Sindi's rootlessness is a result of the cumulative forces—his interracial parentage, his intercultural orientation and, above all, his personal experiences. His is a problem of existence. His Billy Biswas is a transformed Sindi Oberoi, who casts off his urban civilization and goes to the forest. The life of Ratan Rathore is a journey from innocence to experience and also from self-love to self-remorse.
In Joshi's novels the heroes have progressed from alienation to existential affirmation. Sindi slowly knows that real detachment lies in involvement. Billy Biswas retires within himself and he opts for the life of a pilgrim. Ratan's sense of alienation teaches him humanism. Hence, out of an acute sense of alienation and a quest to understand the meaning of life, he takes up apprenticeship. Joshi's heroes are misfit in society and they find themselves lonely. Most of them are haunted by a sense of futility and are ready to encounter whatever comes in their way, though, for most of the period, they live on ad hoc basis adopting a dual code of behaviour. Finally, they realize their true selves.
Joshi, Arun.The Foreigner. New Delhi: Hind Pocket Books, 1968.
---. The Strange Case of Billy Biswas. New Delhi: Hind Pocket Books, 1971.
---. The Apprentice. New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks, 1981.