– Dr. Arvind M. Nawale, Head, Dept. of English
Shivaji Mahavidyalaya, Udgir, Dist: Latur (M.S.)
Over the past two decades, the term ‘marginality’ and ‘identity’ have received much critical attention from the scholars in various disciplines. Marginality refers to something that pertains to the edge, border or boundary. Something that is on margin or close to the limit, below or beyond which something ceases to be possible or desirable. Something below level, insignificant, secondary and subsided. Now a day, ‘marginality’ emerges as a literary concept and behavioral model, shaped by societal norms and traditional canons.
Few people have been living on the ‘margins’ of the society that hosted them after their massive exclusion from their native soil at the hands of civilization. They live there as an outsider, a foreigner, a Diaspora. They still adhere to their identity using different survival strategies. Arun Joshi’s first novel The Foreigner (1968) is a study of its protagonist- Sindi’s search for ‘identity’ in materialistic modern society of America and India. In it, Joshi has shown that how his protagonist, being depressed by cross-cultural background and marginalized existence, has lost the feeling of his identity and awareness of his individuality.
Throughout the novel, Sindi, the protagonist, considers himself “quite a misfit (15)” and finds himself lonesome, annoyed, depressed, isolated and almost estranged due to his detachment and non-involvement with his fellow beings. Born of an English mother and an Indian father who died when he was only four, he was brought up by his uncle in Kenya. He was educated in East-Africa, London and America. Deprived of love, care, safety and civilizing roots, Sindi grows with a crack in his persona and becomes a rootless, wandering alien. When Mr. Khemka wants to know how the death of his parents took place, his reply has a sting: “for the hundredth time I related the story of those strangers whose only reality was a couple of wrinkled and cracked photographs” (12). Sindi is estranged from the whole apparatus of society. This dilemma is clearly revealed in his dialogue with Mr. Khemka:
But you at least knew 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 the soil you lived upon. Look at me. I have no roots. I have no system of morality. How does it mean to me if you call me an immoral man? I have no reason to be one thing rather than another. You ask me why I am not ambitious; well I have no reason to be. Come to think of it I don’t ever have a reason to live (118).
The novel relates the story of Sindi, who reflects vulnerably on his hollow past and is apprehensive of his equally pointless future. He feels uprooted and lost like a “foreigner anywhere” (29) and endeavor all through his life not to get involved with anybody or anything. His non-involvement, indifference, isolation and incongruity make him distant and stranger wherever he went. In the words of S. Rengachari “this kind of loneliness plunges him into apathy, cynical indifference, spiritual bankruptcy (he is aware that his soul has gone bankrupt)
and a concomitant sense of the purposelessness and inanity of human existence- the traits of an inhabitant of the Wasteland” (1984:04).
June remarks on his foreignness: “There is something strange about you, you know. Something distant. But I have a feeling you’d be foreigner anywhere” (29). Even Sheila during Sindi’s visit to India, comes to the same conclusion, she says to Sindi: “You are still a foreigner. You don’t belong here” (122). He himself muses over his foreignness in the society he belongs:
…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, unless you could call the search for peace 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 couldn’t leave myself behind wherever I went . . . (55)
Dr. Ghanshyam and Mr. Iyenger aptly say: “without love, familial nourishment and cultural roots in the civilized society of the West, Sindi grows with a built-in-fissure in his personality and becomes a wandering alien rootless like Naipaul’s and Camus’s protagonists” (2003:105). Sindi though labeled as an Indian, is an outsider, a stranger, a foreigner in India too.
In spite of Sindi’s most intimate and intense moments of passion with various girls in England, he cannot get knotted with anyone of them in matrimony as he comes to the conclusion that “Marriage was more often a lust for possession than anything else. People get married just as they bought new cares” (67). Sindi is threatened with the fear of the loss of his identity, by his contact with other. But the false disinterest of Sindi drives both June and Babu to death.
Witnessing the terrible consequence of aloofness, Sindi decides to leave America and come to India in search of his identity. Sindi notices the pretense, dishonesty and futility of the modern society in America. Experiencing vainness and bitter futility of American civilized society, Sindi by just a flip of coin leaves America and comes to India in search of a new identity. But his hopes of ‘a new life’ are traumatized. He finds India no better than America.
Sindi discovers both the civilizations to be vicious and oppressive. The material affluence and individualism unbridled in both the civilizations make Sindi unhappy and fail to provide him a state of tranquility within and calm around. In India, Sindi comes to understand: “In truth it had only been a change of theatre from America. The Show had remained unchanged” (174).
The rapid growth of well heeled society, the poverty and starvation of the masses, the corrosion of moral values, and the tension between ensuing generations resulting from changing ethos make mounting and often distressing demands on the individuals and lead to their dilemma. Sindi is a quester who “wanted to know the meaning of life” (142). He goes on hopping from one country to another because he finds his life pointless, void, worthless and empty. He realizes the uselessness of human achievements and futility of his life at the bare age of twenty-five when normally a young man is full of zest, vigor and passion for life. He gives expression to his feelings thus:
And yet all shores are alien when you don’t belong any where. Twenty fifth Christmas on this planet, twenty five years largely wasted in search of wrong things in wrong places. Twenty five years gone in search of peace, and what did I have to show for achievements; a ten stone body that had to be fed from the times of a day, twenty eight times a week. This was the sum of a lifetime of striving (80).
Ursulla in D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love ponders similarly: “A life of barren routine without inner meaning, without any real significance . . . One could not bear any more of this shame of sordid routine and mechanical nullity . . . And all life was a rotary motion mechanized, cut off from reality” (Lawrence 1950: 219). Like Ursulla, Sindi too, suffers from the horror of civilized society in which his identity was marginalized. Since he considers his life to be full of illusions, he is unable to find his roots anywhere in the world. He ruminates: “. . . I was a foreigner in America- But then, what difference it would have made if I have lived in Kenya or India or any other place for that matter?” (55). Thus, Arun Joshi, in this novel delineates Sindi’s search for his identity, his predicament, particularly the feeling of futility and meaninglessness of his life and his marginalized existence.
ENDNOTES AND REFERENCES
Ghanshyam, G. A. and Iyenger, Usha. 2003. “The Concept and Conflict of Indian Tradition and Transition in Arun Joshi’s The Foreigner”.In Rukhaiyar and Prasad: 103-107.
Joshi, Arun. 1993. The Foreigner. New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks. (All the page references in parentheses are to this edition only)
Lawrence, D. H. 1948b. Women in Love. New Delhi. Penguin Books.
Rangachari, S. 1984. “T. S. Eliot’s Shadow on The Foreigner” Scholar Critic 4, 6 (Jan): 1-8.
Rukhair, U. S. and Prasad, Amar Nath. 2003. Editors. Studies in Indian English Fiction and Poertry. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons.