Arun Joshi Journey from Detachment to Involvement

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ARUN JOSHI’S: THE FOREIGNER-A Journey from Detachment to Involvement

By – Shalini Mathur, Issue XIII, February 2016

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Introduction to the author: Shalini Mathur


Shalini Mathur
Shalini Mathur

The author of the present paper is a literary enthusiast. Her doctorate work is on the novels of Arun Joshi. She has been teaching English Language, Literature & Communication Skills to the graduate and post graduate students for last 15 years at various colleges.

She has also done post-graduation in Hindi Translation from Lucknow University. She has translated many works by various writers including the latest one- a book on life management. Presently she is working as Head/Associate Professor in the department of Humanities, IPS Academy, Indore Madhya Pradesh.



Arun Joshi’s first novel, The Foreigner is a very subtle study of protagonist’s(Sindi Oberoi) alienation and anxiety, his isolation and involvement and his despair at being unable to find a meaning in existence. The mutually contradictory tendencies, he depicts, are present in human beings in present time. The desire to have, to own, owes its strength to the biological factor of the desire for survival; the desire to be, to share, to give, to sacrifice, owes its strength to the specific conditions of human existence and to the psychic need to overcome one’s isolation. In order to feel utterly isolated which would condemn us to insanity, we need to find a new unity with our fellow beings and with nature. The pursuit of material possessions, individual identity and the creed of non-involvement results is dissonance and despair for people with refined sensibilities. The soul that is isolated from others grows penitent of its pride and unsocial behaviour and at last step downs from its lofty positions to join the common life and share its sorrows and joys. An ideal search of authentic existence ends when one achieves the state of cordial co-existence and peaceful harmony with his fellow beings.

Keywords: Alienation, detachment, involvement, existence





Arun Joshi’s first novel, The Foreigner is a consistent configuration of contemporary human crisis and an eternal quest for a meaningful stance of life from the matrix of vision. The novel moves through the mazes of the past and the present which penetratingly records a grim encounter with life. It takes us to the lower depths of human suffering and the inferno of existential agony. It enacts the crises of the present in the story of Sindi Oberoi, the protagonist who is an amalgamation of the east and the west. The formative part of the novel develops in the backdrop of the west and the second phase in India presents a homing pilgrimage. The novel is a literally representation of a rootlessness.  It is an artistic triumph that unifies feeling and ideas, characters and events; the prose and the passion of life into an articulate whole.

Born in Kenya of an Indian father and English mother, Sindi is a child of mixed parentage. His parents died in an air crash when he was four. So he had no recollection of them and it was as if they never existed for him .He was brought up by his uncle in Kenya who too was dead. He had early education in Kenya and later in England and finally in America. Thus, he was not an African because neither of his parents belonged to Africa. He was not an Englishman because his father was an Indian. And to American he was not in any way attached. “It is much too sterilized for me; Much too clean and optimistic and empty.” He had not seen India till he was twenty-six .Even then his coming to India was not by deliberate choice. It was decided by the flip of coin. Thus he was one who did not have roots anywhere in the world.

I wondered in what way, if any, did I belong to the world that roared beneath my apartment window. Somebody had begotten me without a purpose and so far I had lived without a purpose…..Perhaps I felt like that because I was a foreigner in America, but then, what difference would it have made if I had lived in Kenya or India or any other place for that matter! It seemed to me that I would still be a foreigner. My foreignness lay within me and I could not leave myself behind wherever I went. (Joshi,61)


Sindi’s case is not a study of an individual but the whole lot of mankind suffering from the modern malady of rootlessness, powerlessness, normlessness, culture estrangement, social isolation and self-estrangement. The restless soul of Sindi craves for calmness of mind. In order to find solace within, he moves from person to person, place to place and country to country because he feels that Individuals and places have their own limitations in a given set of circumstances. His hopping nature does not enable him to cultivate a culture or even become a part of it. He calls himself an uprooted young man. He tells Mr. Khemka:

But you at least knew what made an ass of a man; we don’t even know that you had a clear cut system of morality, a caste system that laid down all you had to do. You had a God; you had roots in a soil you lived upon. Look at me. I have no roots. I have no system of morality. What does it mean to me if you call me an immoral man? I have no reason to be one thing rather than another. (Joshi,135-136)

Morality and immorality did not have any distinction for him. One day he asked Sheila while they were discussing June’s virginity; “So you think one of these Marwari girls is really superior merely because of a silly membrane between her legs?”(57)He had no faith in traditional concept of love and marriage. He said to June:

 I didn’t believe in marriage because marriage was more often a lust for possession than anything else. People got married just as they bought new cars. And then they gobbled each other. (Joshi,66)

He believed that love that wanted to possess (in marriage) was worse than no love at all. “One should be able to love without wanting to possess Otherwise you end up by doing a lot more harm than good.”In most marriages love soon ended and hatred took its place. “The hand that so lovingly held mine would perhaps someday ache to hit me.” (Joshi,69) He did not “believe in marriage.” He said:           “I was afraid of possessing anybody and I was afraid of being possessed, and marriage meant both.” (Joshi,106)

In order to get relief from pain and get answer of some perennial questions, he sought refuse in occidental and oriental philosophies. After his parents death he went to Scotland and worked in a library in a small village for three months. There he made friendship with a Catholic priest and had long discussions with him on God, religion and mysticism. One morning the reality dawned upon him:

All love whether of things, or persons, or oneself –was illusion and all pain sprang from illusion. Love begot greed and attachment and it led to possession. (Joshi,66)

Sindi contemplated that “One should be able to detach oneself from the object of one’s love.” He did not want to get involved. Although everywhere he tuned he had seen involvement. He wanted to remain free and detached. In his cynical mood he tells June, “You can love without attachment, without desire Love is real only when you know that what you love must one day die.”(Joshi,70)

When he was in England he had numbers of affairs-with Anna, Kathy and others, but he remained “fancy-free”. They were not affairs from heart. For he thought he could ever continue to remain free and uninvolved.But soon he realized that his relationship with June was quite different affair and he became nervous. He postulated:

How long could I stay free…The commitment had already been made the moment I had seen June at the dance. Now it was only a matter of time. Our hands would soon give place to our bodies and then the worst will come; our souls get involved .it was only a matter of time. (Joshi,81)

Sindi was shrouded with apprehensions. Things developed as he had anticipated. After his first sexual union he says, “I stayed awake, counting the broken pieces of my detachment. I counted the gains and losses and losses mocked me like an abominable joker.”(84) They spent several evenings together. “We lived like animals when we went out on those holidays.” Gradually a strange tenderness grew within him; he set a separate drawer for her in his flat. He used that to keep her belongings very tenderly. He would buy small presents for her and the food she liked .He started missing her in her absence.

Thus the barriers of detachment and non-involvement that he had constructed gradually begin to yield. He then realised that it was difficult to maintain detachment and to be saint in a moment of intense passion. But when June proposed him, he was left again in dreadful despair. He expressed his feeling clearly to June.Left with no hope to get married to Sindi, June turned to Babu Rao Khemka. It was quite natural for her to meet Babu frequently and avoid Sindi .She declined his offer to dine together one day, “I’m sorry Sindi, I will not be able to see you anywhere, I mean not as I used to. Babu and I are getting married soon.” Sindi begged her to see once but she said she was sorry. He put down the receiver and pressed his face hard against the metal of the telephone and cried. By this time all his carefully cultivated detachment vanished and he was utterly miserable. The edge of pain was so intense that it left him completely numb. He lay in a state of coma for some time. Gradually he overcame it by his work at college. Still he behaved like a typical Romeo, not the man immune to all emotions as he thought he was. In his action he was an exact replica of modern man who professed one thing and practised entirely different thing. Every now and then he found himself in places where he had been with her:

Here is where we met, here I bought her a book, there she wanted me to kiss her and my heart would sink with the burden of my memories and I couldn’t help whispering to myself, “My darling! Oh, my darling.” (Joshi 187)

These were not the words of one who should be able to detach oneself from the object of one’s love. Unfortunately he did not know that Babu had been sleeping with June, as she lied to him about that. She told him that she didn’t love Babu.  When June made advances to Sindi one night in his apartment, Sindi yielded to her. Though within himself, he remained stifled, an anxious concern on his part for retaining his detachment and non- involvement. In a depressive mood he confessed:

Instead of Babu’s child she could have been carrying mine. I didn’t want to get involved. One didn’t choose one’s involvement, however, wasn’t Babu’s  child my own, in a way? Hadn’t I driven her into his arms?(Joshi157)

Babu’s sudden death followed by June’s tragic demise came as a great shock to him. He realised the meanings of the words June spoke to him after death of Babu; “Look, what your detachment has done.”Sindi admits:

Babu has kicked out all my beliefs and disproved all my theories. I felt like a desert or like a vast field of naked oaks in winter time. I felt more alone and naked in the world than I had ever felt before. (Joshi193)

June’s tragic demise disturbed him completely. He regretted his indecision and negative content of detachment.He was totally unnerves and terrified by the mystery of human existence.He sadly remembered how June was deprived of her vivaciousness simply as he took all precautions to blast her affiliation wants and showing no interest in her psychic needs. He failed to respond her call for help after Babu’s death and her awareness about her pregnancy.

Babu’s death taught him half the lesson; June’s death acted as a tragic peripeteia. He got flash of insight at the river where he went after June’s death.

Detachment at that time had meant inaction, now I had begun to see the fallacy in it. Detachment consisted of right action not escape from it. The Gods had set a heavy price to teach me just that. (Joshi 176)

Detachment didn’t mean inaction but right action for an uprooted man like him.He found it difficult to absolve himself of self-inflicted charge of having destroyed both Babu and June. The primordial symbols of hill, the river and the sun indicated that Sindi was on the right path. The dawn breaking the dark water was symbolical of the breaking of darkness within him. Though he came to India, “the land of his ancestors purely as a matter of chance,for he might have gone to any country what he does really try to seek an escape from a part of himself, from the night- marish quality of his experience and America.” Thus, we find that the armour of indifference and non-involvement which he was wearing was made of wax and slightest warmth of love had melted that away leaving him naked and helpless. He had chosen to take a degree in mechanical engineering; though he had no special aptitude for it. He didn’t mind whether he was going to Nigeria or India.However, when he got his papers ready to fly to India, he felt very much elated. He expressed his feelings: “I loved the world…Ihad a new lease of life .In a way I was born again.”

In India he encounters at Khemka’s house the bronze figure of the dancing ‘Shiva’. He is held, as it were, in a supreme ecstasy. The archetypal image of the dancing Shiva is a product of Arun Joshi’s collective unconscious, his racial inheritance, his Indian heritage. The dancing Shiva is the paradox of truth; he is both destructive of fury and creative force. Sindi has been passing through a process of death and a new man is now born as it were. Although in the beginning, his experiences in India are obviously not much different from those in the West. Only the theatre has changed, the show continues.

In New Delhi he was not keen on accepting a job in Khemka’s factory. When the income tax people raided Khemka’s office and his house and took away incriminating documents, Sindi told  Khemka to his face that he was a crook and deserved the punishment which he was sure to get. He then walked out, determined never more to have anything to do with him or his business which was sure to be ruined. Sindi got another job in Bombay. But before his departure, he went to the house of Muthu who was a low paid employee at khemka’s office. He lived in a one –room apartment with a dozen other people. Sindi was moved by the squalor of the place and Muthu’s wretched lot.

In fact the poverty, the deprivation and the helplessness of the workers made Sindi takes cudgels for them. He was shocked to find the employees in mortal dread of Sheila and Mr.Khemka.The workers cringe before them as if the two were malevolent spirits whose curse could be all consuming. Sindi was grieved at man’s exploitation of man, and denial of rights to people in spite of declared democratic and socialistic polity. But Muthu earnestly entreated to Sindi to take charge of Khemka’s business and save him and other like him from starvation. Sindi declined his request for he did not want to get involved. But Muthu again convinced him that “Sometimes detachment lies in actually getting involved.”(Joshi 242)Muthu drives him from detachment to involvement, from indifference to participation, from neutrality to commitment so much that Sindi thereupon took upon the task over the office and with the willing co-operation of the staff set all kinds of wheels in action, with the result that the business soon showed visible signs of looking up.

Thus the cynical man who was a propounder of non-involvement was converted into a warm –hearted and purposeful man of action. Sindi took upon himself the onerous duty of saving Mr.Khemka’s disintegrating business empire, Though Babu’s sister Sheila had certain misgivings about Sindi, yet they made a beginning to try to understand each other better. Sindi did feel amused by the random absurdity of his involvement, and yet he learnt plentifully from the experience that it was involvement and not detachment, that could and did redeem man.

Joshi is a positivist. He gives us ground to hope that it will not be long before Sindi will find a loving wife in Babu’s sister, Sheila. At times in novel we note clear indication of a growing mutual tenderness and promises a closer relationship. His secret love for Sheila is a ray of hope with which we put the novel down.

Sindi, the cynical alienated young man belongs to a prolific species both of life and literature. “What way I fly is Hell; myself am hell.”-this is the heart-rending shriek of the uprooted angry young man of modern age. The post-independence era witnessed the unfortunate Indian Intellectuals-anglicized greatly in their outlook and way of life without their roots fully cut off from the soil of their motherland. Such people had miserable alienated lot and Sindi is one such tormented soul burning in inferno.Sindi felt like an alien, a foreigner in whatever country he was-Africa, England, America or India. But he differs from them in that he appears at last to have discovered his home in India where he accepted a challenging job and probably found the perfect woman of his heart’s choice.








Arun Joshi: The Foreigner, Delhi: Hind Pocket Books, 1968



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