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Arun Joshi Biography

Nationality: Indian. Born: 1939. Education: Attended schools in India and the United States. Career: Director, Shri Ram Centre for Industrial Relations.



The Foreigner. Bombay and London, Asia Publishing House, 1968.

The Strange Case of Billy Biswas. Bombay, London, and New York, Asia Publishing House, 1971.

The Apprentice. Bombay and New York, Asia Publishing House, 1974; London, Asia Publishing House, 1975.

The Last Labyrinth. New Delhi, Vision, 1981.

The City and the River. New Delhi, Vision, 1990.

Short Stories

The Survivor: A Selection of Stories. New Delhi, Sterling, 1975.


Shri Ram: A Biography, with Khushwant Singh. London and NewYork, Asia Publishing House, 1968.

Laia Shri Ram: A Study in Entrepreneurship and Industrial Management. New Delhi, Orient Longman, 1975.


Critical Studies:

Arun Joshi: A Study of His Fiction edited by N. Radhakrishnan, Gandhigram, Tamilnadu, Gandhigram Rural Institute, 1984; The Fictional World of Arun Joshi, New Delhi, Classical, 1986, and The Novels of Arun Joshi, New Delhi, Prestige, 1992, both edited by R.K. Dhawan; The Novels of Kamala Markandaya and Arun Joshi by A.A. Sinha. Jalandhar, India, ABS Publications, 1998; Arun Joshi: The Existentialist Element in His Novels by Mukteshwar Pandey. Delhi, B.R. Publishing, 1998.

* * *

Arun Joshi is a novelist who, more strongly than most, has brought to his work that detachment from the everyday, while still acknowledging its existence, which is perhaps India's particular gift to the literature of the world. The rising up into the transcendental is a trait that has increasingly marked out his novels from his first, The Foreigner—where the young hero, after experiencing life and love in America, is, back in Delhi, at last persuaded by a humble office worker that sometimes detachment lies in actually getting involved—on up to The City and the River, which takes place wholly in an imaginary land.

To venture as a writer into such territory it is necessary to be equipped with the means to make the everyday credible and sharply present. This Joshi was from the start well able to do, as his early short stories, subsequently collected in The Survivor, clearly show. "The Gherao" tells simply and effectively of how a young college teacher arrives at maturity when his aged Principal is subjected to that peculiar Indian form of protest action, the gherao, the preventing of a target figure from moving anywhere or receiving any succor.

The Strange Case of Billy Biswas is the story of a young, rich, American-educated Indian who ends up in the wilderness of central India living as a semi-naked "tribal" seeking a meaning to things above and beyond all that everyday civilization can provide. A key to Joshi's whole intent can be found in the words he puts into the mouth of his narrator; as he grows old he realizes that the most futile cry of man is his impossible wish to be understood.

The Apprentice, Joshi's third novel, takes his search for understanding man's predicament one step further toward the transcendental. Its central figure is a man essentially docile and uncourageous whose life more or less parallels the coming into being of postcolonial India. Eventually gaining a post in the civil service, he ends, as many real-life civil servants did, by taking a huge bribe. But in the final pages he comes to see that at least corrupt man can strive to do just a little good—he cleans shoes at a temple—and that while there are in the world young people still untainted, there is a spark of hope.

In The Last Labyrinth, the hero, if that always is not too strong a term for the men Joshi puts at the center, is a man crying always "I want! I want!" and not knowing what it is he desires, in some ways a parallel figure to Saul Bellow's Henderson, the rain king. His search takes him, however, to infinitely old Benares, a city seen as altogether intangible, at once holy and repellent, and to an end lost in a miasma of nonunderstanding. But the way there is gripping. Joshi writes with a persuasive ease and illuminates the outward scene with telling phrase after telling phrase.

Then there is The City and the River, where the city is not the Delhi or the Bombay Joshi has elsewhere described so concretely but a wholly intangible place, removed from time, where nonetheless a man can be seen wearing jeans. Joshi, in his search for a way to describe the meaning of things, has now come to a world akin to those of science fiction or perhaps to the mystical poetry of Blake writing of "Golgonooza the spiritual Fourfold London eternal." But all the while there are digs or sly hints at the current ills of Indian society and, by implication, of all societies everywhere. And in the final pages, where the wild river sweeps over the whole complex city, there is, again, sounded that faint note of hope. The question is not of success or failure, an old yogi tells his disciple; the question is of trying.

—H.R.F. Keating

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