Magazine 2014
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
Renuka Devi Jena  
Arun Joshi winner of Sahitya Akademi Award is a novelist who concentrates on the existential dilemma  
of modern man. He exhibits great psychological insight and brilliant understanding of the psychological  
workings of his protagonists. Sindi Oberio the protagonist of ‘The Foreigner’ experiences identity crisis,  
sense of alienation, detachment and intense psychological trauma due to his self imposed philosophy  
of detachment. He experiences a strange sense of rootlessness, foreignness where ever he goes. He  
wishes to achieve equipoise through non-attachment in vain. It is his delusion that he can live uninvolved  
and unaffected, he has a misguided reverence for ‘detachment’ which he has developed over the years  
more or less as a defense mechanism to avert all possible encroachment on his closely guarded  
aloofness. Later he is compelled to redefine his earlier views on detachment as ‘right action’ instead of  
as ‘non action’. Arun Joshi’s skill lies in subtly merging this with the Bhagavat Gita’s version of detachment  
as motive free disinterested involvement in the duties of life by bringing out the psychological conflicts  
which are innate and natural processes of the mind, which occurs when individuals perceive their  
thoughts, views, attitudes, goals and interests contradicted by other individuals or social groups. Arun  
Joshi does not bother about giving elaborate details of social setting because he is preoccupied in  
studying Man more as a victim of his own inner environment rather than of the external material or moral  
climate, His characters are more concerned with their own highly sensitized world of sense and sensibility.  
Joshi concentrates on the more elusive world of inner thoughts, doubts, desires and dreams within the  
frame work of their novels.  
Keywords : Alienation, detachment, rootlessness, identity crisis, foreignness, psychological conflicts,  
Arun Joshi emerged as an impor-tant Indo-English novelist with the publication of his very first novel,  
The Foreigner. He has greatly enriched Indian English fiction with five remarkably distinguished novels,  
The Foreigner, The Strange Case of Billy Biswas, The Apprentice, The Last Labyrinth, The City and the  
River and a collection of short stories. His fictional world revolves around existential characters, constantly  
pursued by the inner voice of conflict, identity crisis and existential dilemma. He exhibits great  
psychological insight and brilliant understanding of the psychological workings of his protagonists.  
Arun Joshi’s prime concern in The Foreigner is with the gradual evolution of Sindi Oberoi, the protagonist  
of the novel from a negative philosophy of detachment to its posi-tive aspect. His skill lies in subtly  
merging this with the Bhagavat Gita’s version of detachment as motive free disinterested involvement  
in the duties of life by bringing out the psychological conflicts which are innate and natural processes  
of the mind, which occurs when individuals perceive their thoughts, views, attitudes, goals and interests  
contradicted by other individuals or social groups.  
Sindi Oberio is Kenya born Indian of mixed parentage, born to an English mother and a Kenyan Indian  
father and when they die he is brought up in Kenya by his uncle. Lack of familial ties leaves his childhood  
days under the veil of emotional aridity and this sense of rootlessness dogs his footsteps even when he  
goes first to England and later to America to pursue his studies. He experiences rootlessness and a  
feeling of foreignness wherever he goes, to Kenya, London, Boston or India. Sindi Oberio’s quest for  
being for lacking a sense of belonging makes him a detached individual. Though he receives the love  
of many women like Anny, Kathy and June he fights shy of getting involved with any of them for love  
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was equated by him with selfishness, attachment and possession. His objection to marriage is rooted  
not so much in his defiance of accepted social norms as in his fear of its destructive possessiveness.  
To him each human self is a solitary cell and nothing least of marriage can ever help individuals to step  
out of that cell of loneliness. This is the reason for his refusing to marry June though he is genuinely  
fond of her and is aware of her willingness to becoming his partner in life. He feels the need for love but  
holds back from extending love to others because of his peculiar fear psychosis. His orphaned condition,  
his lack of familial ties, his acute sense of rootlessness, his feeling like an alien in every country he  
visits are all responsible for this quirk in his personality. Added to all this he has a misguided reverence  
for ‘detachment’ which he has developed over the years more or less as a defense mechanism to avert  
all possible encroachment. The immense effect of his psychological conflict is implicit in his statement,  
Twenty –five years largely wasted in search of peace”.(Joshi,22) Sindi’s loves his American girl friend  
June Blyth but refuses to marry her as he wants to remain detached. Baffled by his emotional reticence  
June tells him, “There is something strange about you, you know. Something distant I’d guess that  
when people are with you they don’t feel like they are with a human being.”(Bala,22) Sindi’s conflict  
between attachment and detachment is confusing and difficult to comprehend. He remained detached  
from his earlier girlfriends Kathy and Anna but he was in love with June. He is really fond of June and  
she cares for him and is keen on getting married to him. However, Sindi’s existential conflict of being  
true to himself and his philosophy of detachment prevented him from getting married to her. He was  
obsessed with finding solutions to his inner conflict. He wants to be detached but at the same time  
involves himself in worldly pleasures, as pointed by Shanmuga, “All the while mouthing philosophies  
of detachment and non-involvement Sindi is a pleasure-seeker like the Epicureans as is evident from  
his reveling and developing illicit relations with Anna, Kathy, Judy, Christine and June.”(Joshi,207)  
Sindi’s refuses to marry because he is afraid of possessing or of being possessed. The conflict of the  
self’ verses society makes him alienated and lonely. Sigmund Freud in his analyses of the Id, Ego and  
Superego discusses, the psychological conflict of self with environment, it makes one alienated because  
of identity crisis. The psychological conflict of individuals has been a subject of intellectual discourses  
of psychologists, sociologists and literary writers. Camus, Kafka, Sartre and other existential writers  
have extensively dealt with the theme of self-identity and identity crisis. Arun Joshi has also focused on  
this crisis from psychological and sociological point of view. Sindi Oberoi is a perennial outsider, an  
uprooted young man, he has no roots. As he defines himself , “An uprooted young man living in the  
latter half of the twentieth century who had become detached from everything except myself. “(Joshi,35)  
What we find in Arun Joshi’s novels is therefore a subterranean undercurrent of existential thought that  
leaves a distinctive colouring on each one of his novels without submerging their essential differences  
from one another either in subject or in style. Writers like Camus have rightly suggested that ‘un  
involvement’ is neither possible nor normally right, for man as a social being, can find abiding happiness  
only in ‘solidarity’ or sincere involvement is cause undertaken in a selfless spirit for the promotion of  
the welfare of society in general. After the terrible consequences of his non-involvement in America, he  
moves to India and starts working for Kemka, Babu’s father. Gradually self-realization dawns on him  
especially after his interactions with Babu’s sister Shiela. Sindi finally understands that performance of  
one’s duties without any desire is in fact detachment. In India he works for Kemka and later after the  
collapse of Kemka’s business his decision to take up the responsibility of the firm to save the workers  
from being terminated reflects Sindi’s realization of the theory of detachment, which is actually  
involvement and right action. Abraham observes that, “Sindi’s theory of detachment howsoever removed  
from it may be from Indian version, is Indian all the same, the value is Upanisadic and a modified  
version of that of the Bhagavat Gita, as the effect is similar.”(Abraham,36)  
In the beginning Sindi depended on his own philosophy of non-involvement for hap-piness, which  
results in the death of his best friend Babu and and his girlfriend June. But he slowly learns that real  
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detachment from men and matters comes when one performs one’s duty sincerely without any desire  
for the result, as laid down in The Gita. Sindi Oberoi learns the hard way that ‘foreignness’ is more a  
state of mind than an alienness caused by the accident of birth in any particular country. We find in  
Sindi’s redefinition of his earlier views on detachment as ‘right action’ instead of as ‘non action’, an  
artistic verification of this creed. Sindi himself has a vague glimmering that the crux of his despondency  
lay in his own incapacity to reach out to people and establish satisfying emotional rapport with them  
and hence his statement, “my foreignness lay within me and I could not leave myself behind wherever  
I went”(Joshi,62). Arun Joshi’s philosophy is evident in the serious comments on life and its meaning  
made by the various characters in the novel. The following remark of Sindi offers not a time worn cliché  
on life but a justifiable jibe against the Kemkas of the world to whom successful financial management  
even if it involved the hoodwinking of law meant the be all and end all of existence, “Life is not a  
business account, losses of which can be written off against the gains. Once your soul goes bankrupt  
no amount of plundering can enrich it again.”(148)  
Sindi’s loneliness is accentuated by the fact that he is surrounded by people who are lonely too, who,  
in the words of Arun Joshi, “Have suddenly realized that life had left them by the wayside”.(65)The sad  
refrain of Sindi’s life, “Somebody had begotten me without purpose and so far I had lived without  
purpose” is played on a lower key in the lives of other important characters in the novel. Sheila is  
shown as content to watch the drama of life from the wings as she lacks the courage to be a participant  
in it. Her father is shown as too obsessed with material success to have any time for the finer values of  
life. Babu Kemka’s self pity and puerile emotional needs and Mrs. Blyth’s awareness of the emptiness  
of her life are similarly highlighted by Arun Joshi to underscore the fact of Sindi’s loneliness being a  
part of his human heritage. In the explanation he offers to June as to why he cannot marry her Sindi  
draws pointed attention to people’s pathetic attempt to find in marriage a panacea for their loneliness.  
We are both alone, both you and I. That is the problem. And our aloneness must be resolved from  
within. You can’t send two persons through a ceremony and expect their aloneness will disappear”.(143)  
The original stand of Sindi that love is a liability, a weakening of the emotional armor that leaves one  
vulnerable to hurts and exploitation undergoes an interesting transformation towards the end of the  
novel when he is made to realize that genuine concern for others and willingness to be involved in  
responsibilities so as to safeguard their interests are the only avenues that can lead one to the sanctuary  
of inner peace. Sindi’s visit to India is used by Arun Joshi to emphasize the importance of the existential  
principal of man’s obligation to create a meaning for himself. When existing meanings are not acceptable  
to him, the first step towards that is to have a clear cut view about one’s own priorities. Sindi, staggered  
by the realization that as a drifter who belongs to no specific country or culture, he had no guide lines  
whatsoever on which to formulate his world view, wishes he too can be like Mr.Kemka whose religion  
and upbringing have given him an easy to follow value system and hence his statement to him, “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”.(147)  
Sindi’s enlightenment of the new philosophy of detachment transform him into a very positive person  
as observed by Malshette, “The prime concern of the novelist is with the gradual evolution of Sindi  
Oberoi from a negative philosophy of detachment to its positive aspect.”(Malshette,2)Sindi was initially  
not at all interested in Kemka’s business. He was steadfastly following his own philosophy of detachment.  
He was afraid to be attached to anybody or anything but he changes his philosophy after his interaction  
with a worker of Kemka. Joshi cleverly builds up the evolution of Sindi’s character from detachment to  
attachment. Existentialism is not about only negative thoughts and frustrations, it has a positive side  
also. However, towards the end of the novel Sindi Oberio manages to get an opportunity to find the real  
meaning in life. His meeting with Muthu, an illiterate worker in India proves fruitful. He helps Sindi by  
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advocating the true meaning of detachment stating that ‘sometimes detachment lies in actually getting  
involved’(Joshi,184). Sindi understands the true meaning of detachment and accepts to take charge  
of Kemka industry and work hard to save it from ruin. Nevertheless, he thinks that, ‘the fruit of it was  
really not my concern’.(Joshi,184)  
Sindi’s defense wall of non – involvement was the result of his upbringing, his Americanized attitude.  
He had cultivated an indifferent attitude to escape from his psychological turmoil of rootlessness. He  
had moved from one country to another but had actually found no answers to his quest for meaning in  
life. In India, an extremely poor worker of Kemka, Muthu provides with the answer to his detachment,  
escapist mind of mind. Muthu instills in Sindi the philosophy of karma as stated in the Bhagvad Gita.  
Lord Krishna preaches that to achieve enlightenment one must perform one’s duties. One cannot  
escape from one’s responsibilities as Muthu replies to Sindi’s non involvement stance,  
But it is not involvement, sir,’ he said, ‘Sometimes detachment lies in actually getting involved.’ He  
spoke quietly but his voice was firm with conviction….. a line of reasoning that led to the inevitable  
conclusion that for me, detachment consisted in getting involved with the world.”(Joshi,193)  
Sindi cannot be detached he is compelled to get involved. In India Sindi Oberio actually understands  
the true meaning of his escapism, of his defense mechanism. He realizes that non attachment is in fact  
attachment, a development of positive attitude to end the sufferings of others. “Now I had begun to see  
the fallacy in it. Detachments consisted of right action and not escape from it. The gods had set a  
heavy price to teach me just that.” Sindi works tirelessly to revive Mr. Kemka’s business irrespective of  
the consequences. Sindi finds a different path to escape from his sense of rootlessness and a sense of  
foreignness. He works with dedication and commitment to revive Mr. Kemka business, to save it from  
ruin for the benefit of the workers. His perseverance leads him to find meaning in life. In The Foreigner  
Arun Joshi resorts to the Indian Vedanta philosophy, the teachings of Bhagwad Gita to illustrate Sindi’s  
quest for meaning in life, to solve Sindi’s crisis of rootlessness. Sindi is shown as a very strong character  
that gradually moves from the negativity of detachment to its positive aspects. Thus the philosophy of  
escapism is handled by Arun Joshi, as aptly observed by Gadhavi,  
“Arun Joshi’s treatment of escapism from various fields like: from the common human relationship,  
from one’s lovers, friend and more than anything else, the dissection of modern escapism in the light  
of Shri Madbhagvagita, gives us altogether a new vision of the society. With an example of one person,  
he satirizes the entire modern society, because the prevalence of escapism in modern world is firmer  
than any other way of life. With the help of these devices of novel writing, Arun Joshi establishes one  
thing very firmly and that is if one is not responsible enough to answer the inner voice of self; then he  
cannot refuge this escapist soul. On the contrary, he will remain The Foreigner wherever he goes.”  
Gadhavi, 54)  
Joshi, Arun. “The Foreigner.” New Delhi, Orient, 1993  
Gadhavi, Pranindan. Thematic Preocupations in Arun Joshi’s “The Foreigner” in “Research Expo  
International Multi disciplincy Research Journal 2.3 (2012) Print.  
Renuka Devi Jena : Associate Professor, Dept. of English, B. M. Ruia College, Mumbai