Arun Joshi’s The City and The River
There are a lot of discussions these days about how human beings have exploited nature and caused the degeneration of the universe to such an extent that nature is now taking its revenge by wiping out this harmful species. Even as we fight with the pandemic, we are forced to fight with a greater evil — human greed and cruelty. The greed for wealth and power continues to manifest itself in the endless battles between the haves and the have-nots, between those who exploit the weak and downtrodden. The future belongs to those who have the wisdom to avoid corruption and adhere to the path of truth and freedom. The future belongs to the young who must put an end to the era of injustice and herald a new dawn. An excellent example of this eternal principle is Arun Joshi’s classic novel The City and The River (1990).
Arun Joshi has been acclaimed as a psychological and philosophical novelist who has made a unique contribution to Indian English fiction. He uses literature as a medium to explore and resolve the human existential crisis. He wrote five novels — The Foreigner (1968), The Strange Case of Billy Biswas (1971), The Apprentice (1974), The Last Labyrinth (1981) which won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award, The City and The River (1990) and a collection of short stories, The Survivor (1975).
The City and The River is a fable of the Indian nation-state. A mixture of fantasy and prophecy, it has been hailed as a parable of the times. The novel has to be read carefully and its richness needs to be absorbed gradually. The City is all cities. The River is the mother of cities. The novel focuses on the battle between the victimized citizens and the corrupt, power-hungry rulers.
The great City on the banks of the great River is ruled by a rich Grand Master. Hailing from a family of rulers, he has a charismatic and hypnotic persona. He lives in a white-domed palace atop the picturesque Seven Hills. Next in rank come the docile brick-people living in brick colonies. Lowest of all stand the despised mud-people living on the banks of the great River. The most rebellious of them are the boatmen who bow to the River alone and refuse to salute the Grand Master. These are the ‘nameless’ fiery and proud people who can die for their beliefs.
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Dr Rositta Joseph is a Senior Editor with Orient BlackSwan India. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (UK) and Former Research Fellow, University of Edinburgh.