The Themes of Collective Consciousness and Racial Memory in Arun Joshi’s Novel ‘the Last Labyrinth’

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The conscious mind of a man is limited to the sequential flow of words and their corresponding ideas which arise from our subconscious. His subconscious mind is being formed from knowledge and experiences gathered over our lifetime. It is capturing the traditional way of civilization and following the ethics from his ancestors. Thus if we are to have concord between our conscious and sub-conscious minds and the peripheral world we experience, we must amalgamate these apparently detached things. To do to this at an essential level requires universal understanding about our existence. Human beings perceptibly exist because they patent themselves to other human beings: Among other attributes, human beings have mass and appearance that can be measured and observed, both by subjective, physiological means and by objective, scientific standards.

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Arun Joshi’s novel ‘The Last Labyrinth’ is exclusive in the sense that it demonstrates very obviously intrinsic patterns of “collective consciousness” and “racial memory” as discussed by Carl Jung and Frazer among psychologists and Northorp Frye, Leslie Fiedler, Miss Bodkin among modern myth critics. Man’s mind is his apparatus of survival. The mind is used to gain, use, store, and evoke knowledge. It is his mind that enables a teacher to know what to collect and teach, when to teach it, how to cherish it, when to harvest it, how to prepare food of success from his teaching. It is also the mind that enables a person to know what to do in order to survive. In this regard Albert Einstein rightly points out “Humanity is going to need a substantially new way of thinking if it is to survive!”

India with all her mysticism, ancient spiritual perception, concepts of perpetual cycle, sacrifice, caste structure, Krishna and Brahma is scattered all over the novel The Last labyrinth. This novel is a dance of ancestral hold over modern mind of man. Even though the protagonist of the novel Bhaskar claims to be an atheist, his thinking, mind and voice are full of ethnic memories. The way Bhaskar consultation, and ideas and the way his mind mechanism shows the murky layers of ages of experience over which he has diminutive control. Carl Jung writes about a great literary work of art as “we are reminded in nothing of everyday, human life but rather of dreams, high time fears and the dark recesses of mind that we sometimes sense with misgiving.” This realizes obviously believable for ‘The Last Labyrinth’. It depicts the existential dilemma in the novel about portrayal of its characters. A great work of art does not vigilant you, or distress you; it rather lulls you into dark alleys of the unconscious mind. It reminds you of things you have only an inkling of. It also makes you aware of the acts or roles you have played in the past and present.

“The hunger of the body and hunger of the spirit” seem to be the central themes of this novel. It is the voracious physical and mental desire of Bhaskar that takes him to mystifying but charming female protagonist of the novel, Anuradha, to seek the shares of Aftab’s company, to Benaras, to Gargi and finally, to Krishna. This hunger is nothing but the present remorse of a race that feels that it initially believed in contentment and pleased rather than hunger for more and more. The song “I want I want I want” is not a personal psychosis of the protagonist or the writer but psychological guilt of a whole battle. “The artist is to be freed from the charge that his vision is merely a sign of some personal psychic maladjustment and from the charge that his cryptograms are merely subjective distortions.” This thirst of Bhaskar “I want, I want, I want” throughout the novel, is explained also at times. He is running after notoriety, women, wealth and supremacy, He is hideously hungry for all these things and yet he says “I knew that money was dirt, a whore. So were houses, cars, carpets. I knew of Krishna, of the lines he had spoken; of Buddha at Sarnath, under the full moon of July setting in motion the wheel of Righteousness.” It is the combined racial memory which is speaking these words through Bhaskar, a man who is running after the very things he is condemning – money, cars, carpets! Is it so because of his disbeliefs about the god and the purity of his civilization? His experience of life must not be as dirty as he felt capturing everything in life by hook or crook. The seat of faith…is not consciousness but spontaneous religious experience, which brings the individual’s faith into immediate relation with God.

The city of Benaras is once more one big riddle of the novel. Bhaskar cannot stand the city, its narrow lanes, its scruffy people and its bizarre customs. Why, then, is he drawn, to Benaras like a magnet to iron? He goes to Benaras again and again. A multi-millionaire of Bombay that he is, he eats pan, walks naked feet, goes to temples and gets in stampedes, draws motivation from the blazing pyres at Manikarnika ghat and so on. He may like it or not, he has a definite realization of belonging to this most prehistoric city of the world. This city is the bridge that unites him to his fellow beings. “This city at least, we had in common.” He feels that he too “was familiar” with Benaras. Benaras had stirred “in me of some long quiescent essence of a different kind.” He cannot resist his unconscious mind rushing to him with all its force when he sees the city of Benaras. He does not feel that he has entered a new city. All his past memory starts dancing in front of him. “So, this was the city that had been famous before Rome was known or Cyrus had built the Persian Empire.” Pages after pages Joshi’s pen flows on the mystery that is Benaras. Manikarnika Ghat reminds Bhaskar of his father and his little book of the Upanishads. When Aftab shows Benaras and Ganga – “He put it as though indicating a personal ownership. Bhaskar’s mind starts revolving and swooping while sailing through Ganga as though he is crossing Vaitarini itself – “I felt as though this was not Ganga but some unknown stream, in some unknown segment of the universe leading to a reality I had not yet known.” The way Benaras annihilates Bhaskar shows the amalgamation of his individual memory in the big ocean of collective memory. The strange lanes at night awake and arouse the unity of minds. The moments of pain, crises, ecstasy, and wonder remind the sensitive soul of the oneness of souls. The fact is that the world nocturnal is in some wisdom the world of all of us.

Myth critics say that primitive man still lurks within each of us. The modern man, a man of automobiles, television, computer and internet still “recreates nightly in his dreams the primordial symbols of ancient Myth.” Archetypal patterns discussed at length by critics include such images as guilt ridden wanderer, the mysterious cave, fountains, buried grains etc. ‘The Last Labyrinth’ comes very close to these symbols when Bhaskar talks about closed caves of Ajanta where for the first time he consciously linked himself to his racial and wider past. Bhaskar himself comes very close to the image of a guilt ridden wanderer. Bhaskar again and again visualizes himself lost in a dark cave. The dark cave haunts him. He feels “voids of caves and voids of the sky; the terrible vacancies of lokalok”. It is a cave of his private and at the same time collective racial fantasies, recurring dreams and obsessive ideas.

Jung places these experience above “actual conscious insight” These recurring nightmares, compulsive behavior, involuntary crying is Bhaskar’s, what Jung calls, “psychic energy” because in these experiences lies the key to understand his, apparent behavior. Psychic energy is “the play of opposites” and isn’t Bhaskar’s mind a play of opposite forces of individual will and ancient latent consciousness? Bhaskar is torn apart between Bombay (modern) versus Benaras (ancient), plastics (business) versus Krishna (God), Anuradha (mystery) versus Geeta (reality). He is a man swinging between the two poles of faith and atheism. Ages and ages of immovable faith does not let Bhasker rest when he denies the existence of God. Anuradha insists that Bhaskar does not need her. She says this to him even when he is crying helplessly in her arms. Finally she sends him in search of Krishna and presents him with an icon of Krishna. He needs faith, which is Anuradha’s answer to his song – “I want, I want I want …..” Even the psychiatrist says that Bhaskar needs religion and faith when he discusses with him his mental complications. The psychiatrist talks about a spiritual solution’. Joshi quotes a line from Kierkegaard, which I feel can calm the turbulent waters of Bhaskar’s mind – “Prayer does not change God but it changes him who prays”.

Arun Joshi gives religion an important place at every critical juncture of Bhaskar’s life. Religion strikes him when he is most vulnerable. So it is true for all men. Religion commands when someone dies, or marries or is born. Rituals like funeral haunt Bhaskar. Religion, the only rock like reality of life strikes him at every crucial turn of his life. He may ignore religion but within him, he knows that it will strike again someday. Northorp Frye talks about archetypal symbols to which writers compulsively turn. Here, god, rituals, ancient feel are definitely such archetypal symbols. The myth is the innermost enlightening supremacy that gives conventional implication to the ritual and archetypal narrative to flashes of inner enlightenment. Jung’s point of view in this regard is “Separation from his instinctual nature inevitably plunges civilized man into the conflict between conscious and unconscious, spirit and nature, knowledge and faith … In contrast to the subjectivism of the conscious mind, the unconscious is objective, manifesting itself mainly in the form of contrary feelings, fantasies, emotions, impulses and dreams, none of which one makes oneself, but which come upon one objectively … The religious person, so far as one can judge, stands directly under the influence of the reaction from the unconscious.

It is a matter of speculation that this novel gives the reader a familiar feeling. The responses can be easily foreseen by the reader himself. It seems simply palpable that the last labyrinth can be nothing except death. It needs no philosophy to tell as to what is the last mystery, the last solution, the final salvation. It is clearly known to the external world. When Bhaskar asks Aftab about the last labyrinth, he replies naturally “‘why, death, of course.” And again one may ask, why this of course. But’ we know it, don’t we?

Arun Joshi also takes into account the impression of the immediate epitome, i.e. the parents. He has shown the way parents can contaminate a child’s mind with questions. Bhaskar’s father is dead but has left with his son, his theory of the First cause. The talk of eternal cycle never actually leaves Bhaskar. His father had said – “Every things happens in cycles; Birth, Growth, Destiny and Death.” Howsoever he may abhor his mother’s undying faith in Krishna he cannot get rid of the feeling himself. When finally he goes to the mountain temple in search of Krishna, he meets a young boy. The story is touching when we know the young boy’s mind has been despoiled by his grandmother. He had been set by the lady in search of a crystal pebble with a star. “The thought depressed me that a child so young should have been contaminated in such a manner. This, too, was corruption, even though of a different sort. For all one knew, he would spend the rest of the days searching for a crystal pebble with a star. And become a nut in the process.” One cannot rebuff that agitation has been implanted in Bhaskar by his instantaneous past i.e. his parents.

As the novel progresses, the voice of the ancient legendary world gets more and more established. Very little doubt remains. “I had heard of people who, staring into flames had enjoyed the Eternal Pleasure; others had discovered their oneness with the Brahma. A man I once travelled with – one of the most sophisticated I have ever met – claimed he had seen in such a flame his previous incarnations.” This is the voice of inborn wisdom which has a stronger imprint than the voices of the surrounding, actual world. The way Bhaskar prays to God to grant him serenity through dead Anuradha sets the superiority of the racial memory in the novel.

Arun Joshi is quite conscious of these inherent undercurrents in the novel. In all probability, he has been in the internal and external world. The psychiatrist refers to Carl Jung – “He took out a book from a shelf and read out something. It had touched me, moved me briefly to another plane. The book was by Carl Jung. I bought it later. A scatter of Jung’s words passed through my head.” ‘The Last Labyrinth’ with other novels by Joshi, seems to be a conscious effort at depicting unconscious processes of modern man. Off and on, Bhaskar seems fully aware of the unknown world that lies within him. He is drawn towards these inner forces magnetically. “I hear the voices of dead people”, he says. The death of elders and the awareness of their dead existence lumber the protagonist’s already deeply loaded mind. “You walk into your parents’ house after they are dead and the house starts talking” – it is this approach of the impossibility of escaping the past that gives Joshi’s writing the philosophical tone that it has.

The novelist is completely aware of the heavy burden of not only the instantaneous past but also of the centuries that have gone in determining an individual. None can pull away from the past nor can deny it. About Aftab, Bhaskar thinks “could Aftab get away from the bequest and fill this barrenness with plastic power?” After all, “somewhere behind him, his troubled and fiery past still loomed.” Jung Carl says, “The unconscious mind is capable at times of assuming an intelligence and purposiveness which are superior to actual conscious insight.”

The whole of this novel seems to be an illustration of the above statement. A man is an event in a chain of events. The past breeds the present and from the womb of present, future is born. Roots are important. Collective memory of mankind and that of a particular race or region reign supreme in the unconscious mind of an individual. Bhaskar is what he is without wanting to be what he is. To conclude it is clear to mention that this novel deals with philosophical dilemmas that modern man(kind)must grapple with. To live in this world is to want want want. I couldn’t wait to get through this and by the end I felt like it had been a pointless exercise.

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