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Jemubhai Popatlal Patel

Character analysis is an essential part of literary study. It helps to conjecture social norms and an indivdual’s capacity to adjust in changing social environment .

Culture, civilization, rationalism are some words related only to mankind. A human society is a place where man shares his feelings, emotions and thoughts. It is a system that teaches him culture and civility. It reforms his behaviour, rebuilds his character and gives him an identity. Desai in her novel “The Inheritance of Loss” focuses on the complexities of Indian cultural life in the postcolonial era and the frustration of Indian immigrants in America. Jemubhai is one of such Indian immigrants.

Jemubhai is an old, retired judge living at Cho Oyu, an isolated house away from the populated area in Kalimpong. The other inhabitants of Cho Oyu are the judge’s granddaughter Sai, the cook who had been working for the judge for many years, and the judge’s pet dog Mutt. The judge is embittered, eccentric and arrogant. His past often reappears in his present.

 

The Judge’s life aloof from his neighbours and relatives was disturbed by the presence of his granddaughter Sai. When Sai arrived at Chu Oyu, with a trunk written ‘Miss S. Mistry, St. Augustine’s Convent’, the judge was reminded of his first journey to England with a black trunk on which was written ‘Mr. J.P. Patel, SS Strathnaver’. The judge was very upset by Sai’s arrival which stirred up his unpleasant memories which he tried hard to keep suppressed in his sub-conscious mind.

Jemubhai Papatlal Patel was born in 1919, to a peasant family, ‘at the outskirts of Piphit’ which has all the aspects of a typical Indian village. Piphit, the town was a place where people of different religions and multiprofessions came for business.

Jemubhai, however, lived under a palm roof full of rats upto the age of twenty. His father eked out a meager living, arranging for false witnesses in court cases. He was proud of his profession.

Jemubhai was brought up in a very conservative family where males were given all opportunities. Being the only son of the family, Jemu was offered the best of everything, whatever it was love or food, unlike the daughters of the family. Everybody his mother massaged his hair to stimulate his brains, and fed him with milk full of cream. Jemu’s parents were superstitious. A tiny bag of camphor which was prayed over and thumb-printed red and yellow with ‘tikka’ marks was hung about Jemu’s neck to safeguard him from illness.

Again when Jemu left for England in a ship for higher education, his father told him to throw a coconut into the water of the Indian Ocean, for it was believed to be good for his long journey. But Jemu refused to do that.

Jemu’s father sent him to Bishop Cotton School. When Jemu entered the school gate he saw a portrait of Queen Victoria and was impressed by her look

When Jemubhai went to Cambridge for higher study, he was not culturally prepared for the English society. He could not talk like the English people. His condition was so pathetic that he hardly opened his mouth as his English had the Gujrati accent.

He could not mix freely with the opposite sex. He carried about him a distinct Indian smell and he was afraid to voice his thoughts, though his mind was full of words unuttered. The young and the beautiful girls held their nose and said:-

“Phew, he stinks of curry!”

Even the ugly looking aged ladies did not seek his company. He forgot how to laugh, became a stranger to himself. Even on his journey back to India, he sat away from others in the ship.

Till the end of his life, he feared to reveal himself without socks and shoes and pretended to be someone he was not.

Jemubhai’s hatred for his Indian origin made him live like an alien in his own country. Again he envied the British as he could not be like them. However, after returning to India, he pretended to be English. That he believed in the superiority of the English language and culture is evident, when he tried to influence a soldier by speaking in British accent.

“Get out of my way!”

When the judge came out of his home to search for his lost dog, and the soldier told him to go back home because of the curfew imposed there, he reacted in that way.

Even his most emotional and desperate moments he expressed himself in English. And he called his dog Mutt in English, though it was pathetically funny as Mutt was not anywhere around him to response to his words.

Jemubhai never had any attachment to his native place Piphit, his ancestral home, his parents love and his typically Indian wife Nimi. Nor was he proud of his own language, culture and traditions. That he lacked sufficient knowledge of Hindi is evident from one example. The judge heard his cases in Hindi. But his stenographer recorded it in Urdu, and then the judge translated the cases into a second record in English. But the correctness of his translations was not beyond doubt, as his command of Hindi and Urdu was weak.

After becoming a judge Jemubhai lived like a European ‘Sahib’, not like an Indian. At 4:30, he was served specially prepared tea and drop scones. He saw them with wrinkled forehead as if he was brooding over something else more important. At 5:30, he used to go into the countryside where there were lots of partridges and quails, migrating birds which came in October. He always took with him a fishing rod and gun, and came back without hunting anything. The cook saved his prestige by cooking “roast bastard”, of a chicken ‘just as in the Englishman’s favorite joke book of natives using incorrect English”. While eating ‘roast bastard’ the judge sometimes, felt as if he was the subject of the joke.

Just after returning from England, his newly acquired habits shocked his relatives. When Jemu searched for the powder puff that he brought from England, his mother was worried thinking whether he had any skin disease. One of his sister commented that he had been sent abroad to become a gentlemen, instead he became a lady. For, according to them, only ladies used powder puffs.

Jemubhai tried to forget his own origin and aspired to be what he could not. He was embarrassed by his mother’s love.

He threw away the bundle of puris, onions, green chillies, pickles and salt, and a banana which his mother packed for him during his long journey overseas. She thought her son might lack the courage to go to the dinning saloon on the ship, as he did not have the habit of eating food with knife and fork, though after coming from England, he would eat only with knife and fork.

Jemubhai was irritated by the thought that in her attempts to remove her son’s humiliation, she only added another. So, Jemu threw away his mother’s love and never felt guilty for it.

Jemubhai felt shame and pity for his father who was ‘‘a barely educated man venturing where he should not be.’’Jemu did not experience any emotions when he left his father on the dock as he sailed for England.

Jemubhai went to Cambridge as Jemubhai Papatlal Patel (J.P. Patel) and returning as J.P.P. he bought a ‘gravy boat’ on which was written J.P.P.

As his father admitted it, Jemubhai became a stranger to his family, after his return from England as an ICS officer. He started behaving like an outsider, an unfamiliar person in his own home in Piphit. He distanced himself from all that he was.

Towards the end of the novel, we find the judge in a state of repentance. When Mutt was stolen, the judge knelt down before God. He, who did not hesitate to reject his family prayers and who did not believe in a superstition (who was an atheist) prayed to God for Mutt. In fact, that the judge, who lost belief in humanity, believed in the tender affection of an animal was very strange.

At the end we find the judge as a loser who lost his valuable guns, his dearest dog Mutt and his dignity. That he began to lose his dignity, his self esteem was evident in the very beginning of the novel, when the rebels of Gorkhaland Movement ordered him to prepare tea.

It was really pathetic to find the old, retired judge who desperately searched for his lost dog, he, who never searched for any human company. Finally, he was found to be totally exhausted, emotionally, mentally and physically and finally faced reality that his dignified past was nothing but deception.

With bitterness he realized that he must pay for the injustice, the arrogance and lots of other sins he committed in his past.

Findings and Conclusion:

To sum up Jemubhai, having a family background rooted in Indian culture and traditions, was educated in English. He was accustomed to Indian village life in his early years. But when he was twenty, he went to study at Cambridge. However, when he saw the portrait of Queen Victoria in his school life, he felt the power and the influence of the British. He began to ignore his Indian culture and traditions and tried to merge himself in Western culture. But his humiliation caused by his Indian upbringing never allowed him to identify himself with the English society when he was in England. But after coming back to India, he did everything to imitate the English, not because he loved them more, but because he regarded their code of conduct as essential for a dignified life – style. Jemubhai fell into the contradictions between Indian and Western cultures. He lived like a shadow of what he desired to be.

A look into the character or Jemubhai reveals him as he was. He became a man despised in his own country and elsewhere. As a result of hatred, he was robbed at his own home by the GNLF rebels. He was alienated by the English people also. He was, in fact, a man without an identity, a man who denied his inborn identity, hankering after another that he could not acquire.

REFERENCES

Gitima Deka

Assistant Professor

Department of English
Silapathar College

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