Arun Joshi (1939-1993), was born in Varanasi, completed his higher education in the US, and returned to India to become an industrial manager.
In today’s world of book-promos and PR, Arun Joshi would be a misfit as he kept himself out of the limelight, writing in the pre-Rushdie era when Indian writing in English was something only eccentric people indulged in.
His novels delving into existentialism along with the ethical choices a man has to make, won him huge critical apprecation in India, but remained largely unknown in the West.
Arun Joshi won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1982 for The Last Labyrinth.
- The Foreigner
- The Strange Case of Billy Biswas
- The Apprentice
- The Survivor, a Selection of Stories
- The Last Labyrinth
- The City and the River
The Foreigner is the story of a young man, Surinder Oberoi, who is detached, almost alienated—a man who sees himself as a stranger wherever he lives or goes—in Kenya, where he is born, in England and USA where he is a student and in India where he finally settles. His detachment transcends barriers of geography, nationality and culture. It propels him from one crisis to another, sucking in the wake several other people, including June, an attractive American with whom he has a short lived but passionate affair, and Babu, who forms the third vertex of their doomed love triangle.
The Strange Case of Billy Biswas is a novel in which the normal and the abnormal, the ordinary and the extraordinary, illusion and reality, resignation and desire, rub shoulders.
Billy Biswas returns to India after earning his Ph.D. in anthrolopology from USA. He has everything going for him—happiness, travel, education, status, wealth, job and a loving wife. Yet his inner world is rocked by a groundswell of discontent. He is consumed by a restlessness which grows steadily. The protagonist Billy Biswas is a misfit in the modern milieu of technological jungle and seeks an escape from it.
The narration is from the point of view of Romesh Sahai, Billy’s friend. He also serves as a foil to the character of Billy: while Romesh represents the conventional and the mundane; Billy symbolises the ideal the restless human spirit strives to realise, knowingly or unknowingly. The biggest irony lies in the title which marks out Billy Biswas as a “strange case” because of his quest for the truth.
In The Apprentice, the protagonist Ratan Rathor represents the quintessence Everyman—a contrast to other protagonists in so far as his intellectual leel is much lower. An unsophisticated youth, jobless, he comes to the city in search of a career; unscruplous and ready to prostitute himself for professional advancement. Seduced by materialistic values, he takes a bribe to clear a large lot of defective weapons. As a consequence, a brigadier, who is also his childhood friend, has to desert his post in the Indo-China war of 1962 and to escape ignominy, commit suicide.
A penitent Rathor, avoids confessing his guilt, but tries to achieve redemption by cleaning the shoes of devotees every morning at a temple.
The City and the River is a political fable. Using a mixture of fantasy, prophecy, and a startlingly real vision of everyday politics, this is a novel that is truly a parable of the times.
The City is all cities. The River is the mother of cities. The Grand Master rules the city by the river and is determined to become its unchallenged King. Things move smoothly in this earthly Eden till a strange prophecy is made by the palace astrologer. The learned man predicts the crowning of a new King in place of the Grand Master.
The book is not a philosophical tract mouthing the utterances of its characters. Its appeal lies in its skilful handling of the course plotted by intrigue and corruption in high places. The readability is enhanced by incisive character detail. As events unfold, each of the main actors becomes a portrait in a gallery.
The Last Labyrinth is the story of Som Bhaskar—the dichotomy in his character apparent through his name itself: meaning Moon-Sun—a 25-year-old who inherits his fathers vast industrial wealth. Som is married to Geeta, a pious woman, but is attracted by Anuradha, an alluring woman shrouded in mystery. She is probably married to Aftab, a businessman, but Som finds her so irresistible, that she becomes the prey of his relentless hunt throughout the novel.
Her conduct is beyond Som’s comprehension: she accepts, rejects, or flees from him without warning, and he even suspects that she is in collusion with Geeta. The situation drives Som to the brink of death from a heart attack, but he miraculously survives while Anuradha disappears without a trace. After his recovery, he is hell-bent upon finding Anuradha. His frenzied quest leads him through absurd situations: propping up Aftab’s failing business, and going up mountains in search of a clue.
He learns that Anuradha had vowed to sacrifice her love for him in order save him from death at the time of his heart attack. Agnostic and proud, Som rejects this explanation and continues his vehement quest, which eventually leads him to Anuradha’s haveli. In a desperate effort to again flee from him, she disappears in the last labyrinth, leaving him in doubt whether she has committed suicide or has been killed. Alone and exhausted, Som goes on addressing his thoughts to her in the form of a prayer.