The Only American from Our Village by Arun Joshi
In The Only American from Our Village by Arun Joshi we have the theme of pride, guilt, arrogance, materialism, appearance, connection, identity and self-importance. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Joshi may be exploring the theme of pride. Kundan Lal is proud of his son Dr Khanna’s achievements. So proud in fact that he continually talks about his son and what he has achieved to those who live in the village. It may also be important that Kundan Lal can see no wrong in his son’s actions or rather the lack of them. The plane ticket being an example. Kundan Lal is hoping to visit Dr Khanna in America but the ticket never arrives. Despite this Kundan Lal does not show any disappointment. Likewise when Kundan Lal is ill. He accepts that Dr Khanna is unable to visit him. Something which may leave many readers to suspect that Dr Khanna has a strong desire to put his past behind him and focus on what he considers to be a world of opportunity, America. A place where he is recognised for his achievements and gets the merit that he thinks is owed to him. Which may suggest that Dr Khanna is potentially an arrogant man.
It may also be a case at the beginning of the story that Joshi is exploring the theme of materialism. The gifts that Dr Khanna’s family bring with them and give to relatives are for the most part of no use to them. It is possible that Joshi is suggesting that materialism as a goal in a person’s life is also something which will be of no benefit to an individual. If anything an individual should strive for only what they need (razors) and forgo the unnecessary (records and ties). Something which Dr Khanna’s relatives do but which Dr Khanna and his family do not. It is as though materialism is part of the American dream and Dr Khanna and his family are participants or chasers of the American dream. Something which might help to explain as to why Dr Khanna never visited his father. He may have become accustomed to a lifestyle and did not wish to be reminded that he came from poverty. There is no sense that Dr Khanna is grateful to his father who academically could have achieved more than he did should his circumstances been different.
It is also possible that Dr Khanna does not wish to continue to speak to Radhey Mohanji because he is aware that Radhey has the potential to embarrass him as he knows so much about his past. A past that Dr Khanna is not willing to explore or accept. It is as though Dr Khanna’s believes the past will effect how he appears to others. He may also believe that he will not be held in the same regard which may suggest that not only is appearance important to Dr Khanna but he might also have an inflated opinion about himself. Believing himself to be better than others merely due to his education. The fact that Kundan Lal walks across the sand with the leaves on his feet might also be significant as Joshi may be suggesting that Kundan Lal is connecting with his youth again. To a time when he was happier and did not carry the burden of Dr Khanna not wanting to be part of his life. It is also possible that Kundan Lal is clarifying for himself his identity. Something that Dr Khanna himself also does throughout his time in America and when he returns to India. Unfortunately for Kundan being Dr Khanna’s father is not something that Dr Khanna identifies with. A matter that is made clear to the reader by the isolationist policy that Dr Khanna has when it comes to matters regarding his father.
The end of the story is also interesting as Joshi appears to be exploring the theme of guilt and the effects that guilt can have on an individual. After talking to Radhey Dr Khanna’s life changes dramatically. He begins to look at his feet as though it reminds him of his father and how he may have not served him well. It is also noticeable that Dr Khanna’s work output decreases dramatically. Something which would suggest that Dr Khanna is preoccupied with something other than with work. The encounter with Radhey in reality has changed Dr Khanna’s life. Changed it to such an extent that he is no longer the man he used to be. He may have his academic qualifications and his material goods but that is all he has. Through his own self-importance Dr Khanna has considered himself to be better than others. Including his own father.