The Homecoming By Arun Joshi
“The Homecoming,” one of Joshi’s most memorable stories, addresses the theme of an unsuccessful arrival of a young military officer who had just returned from the Bangladesh war to his hometown, most likely Delhi. It describes the failure of an individual, a war survivor, to establish meaningful contacts with others, a failure that results in a painful loneliness experience.
The young military officer intends to make meaningful contact with others, but he has failed painfully in his purpose and leads a lonely life. After arriving in his city, the military officer notices the opposite position of the front area and the civilian area. He’s unable to fit into the old surroundings as he finds change everywhere.
He’s lonely and alienated. It’s a man’s tragedy that he’s a man from nowhere. The modern world is very busy with their affairs, and nobody has time to listen to them.
The influence of the modern world on man is more because he is easily attracted to the fascinating world and old values are discarded. No one bothers about them. He’s running in the race, but he doesn’t know the correct destination. It’s a mad race. A man possessing traditional values cannot easily fit himself into the present modern situations, as was the situation faced by the military officer.
Summary of Homecoming
The storey is about a young soldier who comes home from the front of the war, only to find the whole place strange and unnatural. The storey is a dark and stark portrayal of the hypocrisy and ignorance that plagues our society, especially in the self-proclaimed intellectual circles.
After hectic and bloody battles on the Eastern front the protagonist returns home and is warmly welcomed by his family and his fiancee. He’s trying to go back to his civilian life-a life led by his fiancee and his family. However, he can’t find it within himself to mingle with the crowd that his family hangs out with. His sister takes him to a party, and he discovers that the whole lot is just shallow phonies, the kind of people who are big on words and tiny on action. He realises that these people keep talking about things that they have no experience of, but they do it anyway because it makes them look and feel intellectual. The storey documents in alarming detail the thought process of a war-torn man who finds the people around him hollow. The storey is a brilliant portrayal of how popular culture and society often paint pictures they want even though they often don’t know anything about it.
The author, Arun Joshi,was a remarkable writer, noted for his works such as Billy Biswas’s The Strange Case and The Apprentice. He won the Sahitya Academy Award for his 1982 novel The Last Labyrinth. Arun Joshi was an Indian writer in English before Salman Rushdie set fire to the stage, a time when it was rather dangerous for someone to try to do what Joshi did. At that time, Indian writing did not enjoy the reputation or glamour of today, and the field was generally shunned and ignored by the literary world.
In addition, Arun Joshi never indulged in to promotion campaigns to publicise his work. As an indrawn individual, he did not enter the literary circles and kept himself out of the limelight and glare of the media. Born in Varanasi, he finished his studies in the U.S. and returned to India to become an industrial manager. He began writing on the side as another phase of his corporate life.
The Homecoming is an unsentimental storey that states that the emotional turmoil the young army lieutenant is going through in his attempts to melt into civilian social life is a matter of fact. In addition, the storey is noted for tearing away the fake facades under which modern society tends to lie low, hypocritical modern fads. The fiancee of the protagonist tells him in the storey that she has put on weight and is therefore going to diet. The young man is taken back to the time when he was in charge of a relief centre just after the end of the war, where he had to give food to the refugees. He says,
“Everyone was hungry, once in a way, but to be always hungry, he had seen, was different. It made a bit of animal of you, he thought, turned you stupid….
When they got their ration they swallowed it in about two minutes. After that, they could see that they were as hungry as before, that in fact, they were waiting for the next meal. The old people had not bothered to look for food. If it came their way they ate it. If not they lay down and died. That was the way it had been where he had come from.”
The story is replete with stunning images from the battlefield, images that are meant to chill the reader to the very bones. The story further goes on to relate the doings of a self-proclaimed poet, the most intelligent and well-read person in the party our protagonist goes to. We see him indulging in banal discussions that reminds one very much of the pointless discussions that occur in our mainstream media with alarming frequency. His rush to define ‘genocide’ and to paint a picture of a terrible war from the comfort of his metaphorical armchair is despicable and Arun Joshi is bent on tearing away that facade.
The storey is about all those pseudo-intellectual campaigners who pretend to have nothing in their hearts but the interests of our jawans, about those poets who write poems about the widow of a soldier when even a soldier is yet to be seen, about those critics and analysts who dish out trivia about wars and conflicts but were unable to save their lives by working a slingshot. The storey stands against the hypocrisy and deceit that has penetrated deep into our society, the falseness perpetrated by the elite and the intellectuals who have no idea what is really going on.
Analysis of Homecoming
A few writers only could capture life in its complexity and totality like Arun Joshi. His sudden demise, in 1993, would cause an irreparable loss to the field of Indian writing in English. Though much has been said on his novels and novelistic techniques, most of his short stories have remained undiscussed. In this section, an attempt is made to appreciate the artistry of Arun Joshi as a short story writer as revealed in his short story, The Homecoming.
Like his major fiction, Arun Joshi’s short fiction too reverberates with existential connotations. But Joshi was mature enough not to be a mere votary of a particular school of thought or philosophy. He chose to present life in all its facets which include the seamy side. Though his forte is psychological realism, his works are not mere objective and dry psychological analyses. Arun Joshi himself explained what he was after in his fictional endeavour: “I seek a belief and a faith beyond psychology”.
Arun Joshi excels in short story writing as well as in his major fiction writing. His short stories are not a mere account of anecdotage. Likewise, they are not purely to glory in sharp or surprise ending. Arun Joshi’s short stories conform to what Manjeri Isvaran expected in a good short story: it (the story) must catch the eternal in the casual, invest a moment with the immensity of times”.
Arun Joshi’s The Homecoming, included in his anthology, Survivor, is his typical short story. As has been said by M. K. Naik, it is “a totally unsentimental” and “the best story4” in the collection. The protagonist, a war survivor, cannot erase the impact of war ravages (on his psyche) which he has encountered as a young lieutenant in the Indian Army. Joshi realistically portrays how the protagonist’s psyche has splintered off as a result of his excruciating experiences in a war. The war debilitates him psychologically. Consequently, he remains alienated from his family members, the society around him and from his own past life. On his return from the war, he finds himself “a changed man, in the changed world”.
The cool narration at times in understating manner rightly captures the alienated and depressed mood of the protagonist. He recalls the first dreadful experience he has met within the war; “he did not quite know what was rough and what was not. It was true, though, that half his men had been killed during the first two weeks. Nine had died on the very first night.”
The nameless protagonist is not himself since his return from the war that has ended on Eastern Front in Dinajpur. By not naming the protagonist, the writer, poignantly proves that no sensitive youth; placed in the given situation, can feel differently from the protagonist. M. K. Naik aptly highlights the significance of this aspect: “…….the fact that the protagonist has no name tends to make him a representative figure”.
The protagonist’s homecoming is not a homecoming as he is not at peace with himself. The war memories are still green in his mind, and they keep raw his wounded psyche. His family members and his fiancees welcoming him home at the railway station fails to cheer him up. Somehow, this ‘reunion’ cannot ‘reunite’ him with his family members.
It is no wonder if his fiancee’s worrying about her “staying cooped indoors”, and thereby her “eating too much” and as a remedial measure her contemplating “doing dieting” force him to recall the chronically famished situation on the war front: “Now, where he had come from for days on, and, he had not met a man, woman, or child, who had not been hungry; constantly hungry. ….after the ceasefire he had supervised a relief station. People used to line up two hours in advance although there was nothing to do except sit and watch the cooks and sniff the air”. The protagonist cannot help juxtaposing the ugly reality of the war and a sophisticated woman’s health concerns.
He is benumbed with his war experiences. The ever-haunting dreadful pictures of the war make him ponder over the relevance and meaning of his getting married and lead a normal life as if nothing has ever happened. In brief, irrationality and futility of life turn him into a recluse in his native environs.
Basically, Joshi’s protagonists seem to grope for meaning and purpose of life. Loaded with this heavy burden, they often look strange. They may not totally succeed in realising their ambition in their lifetime but they make their existence worthwhile by making a ceaseless effort to reach the goal. In a way, it is “hunger of the spirit” that drives these loners, strangers and recluses.
If only there is an empathetic soul around him, the protagonist might have got some respite from his unending agony. His dear and near are too engrossed in ‘their little worlds’ to come near his heart. As they have turned ‘strangers’, the protagonist can no longer feel ‘oneness’ with them. The protagonist helplessly admits his getting distanced from his sister: “Now she had changed…..she wore strange clothes and shiny chains and goggles. She wore goggles even at night.”
It is not merely his sister going arty–arty. But it is a situation of young people getting desensitized, and turning into a sort of dandies and robots that wear fashionable dresses and mouth high sounding platitudes in the name of ‘modernization’.
Joshi subtly suggests that the sorrow of the nation is its morally bankrupt, and unconscientious youth.
To his utter dismay, the protagonist could see through the hollowness and hypocrisy of his ‘one-time’ friends. Their nonchalant and half-knowledgeable talk on warfare thoroughly puzzles-him. During a get-together, one of his friends, ‘obviously’ a poet, comes up with a ‘spontaneous’ poem to pay ‘homage’ to the dead soldiers. The poet vows to avenge the untimely deaths: “…..the poet concluded, no matter, comrades you shall not be forgotten nor your death go unavenged.” (p.101) The enthusiastic poet fighting a war on paper looks sad and ridiculous to the protagonist. In the face of ‘parody’ of heroism and patriotism, the soldier, in the protagonist gets further silenced despite the brimming agony in his heart, the protagonist struggles hard to put on a face of stoicism.
He remembers, for example:
“Pushing a boat off a bank, under the light of stars, into a pitch-black stream whose names he did not know. They had been detailed to demolish a bridge. When he pushed them off the bank, he knew they would not come back. So did they. Then there was the school full of girls that had been the brothel for a battalion.
The harsh reality of war and its attendant inhumanity trouble him endlessly, and he gets bogged down in them. Being entrapped in the depths of agony, the protagonist learns that he has been awarded the Vir Chakra for his proven valour.
The news does not make him happy. Instead, the occasion forces him to recall a nightmarish incident of the war when a Subedar has laid down his life to save his life.
The protagonist’s subsequent visit to the bereaved family of the Subedar to console them leaves him sad. He wonders at the fate of the Subedar’s window; “He wondered what a girl did when she got widowed at twenty and could not marry again.”
Quite unmindful of ‘the ceaseless war’ that goes on inside the mind of the protagonist, the world around him is as ever bent upon carrying on with its engrossing existence, being ‘static’ in their respective worlds, both, the protagonist and ‘the outside world’ do not know how to get reconciled with each other.
There was his sister with her new car, the chains around her waist jangling every time she moved. There were the poets who had not seen a gun and arty-arty girls and charity fetes and speeches on the radio. He did not know how to fit it all together…
Joshi has revealed his consummate artistic skill by not facilely resolving the psychological crisis of the protagonist. The ‘indeterminate ending’ of the story highlights the seriousness of the problem which may have no satisfactory solution. Moreover, the open ending of the story motivates the readers to ponder over many an existential problem. The crisis of the protagonist has universal ramifications also, as, at any time, one may find oneself stuck with a situation akin to the protagonist’s, and thereby languish forever.
Note: Questions will be added soon