In this literary essay, Dr. Ramlal Agarwal shares his observations about Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s Heat and Dust (2011) noting how it is mainly concerned with the climate and culture of India.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala came to India in 1951 after her marriage to an Indian Parsi architect and settled in a posh locality of Delhi. She had done her M.A. from London University by thesis on a short story in England. Naturally, she as an alien in India became curious about the social life of the Indians and their guiding principles of social behaviour. Indian mannerisms are in sharp contrast with Western manners. Initially, a Western observer in India is excited by their novelty. As a keen student of literature, Jhabvala, like Amrita, the heroine of her first novel To Whom She Will, does not merely look at them but also looks through them. She looked for the undercurrents that regulated society. It did not take her long to realize that Indian society was consciously and unconsciously ruled by ancient wisdom and codes of conduct for people of different castes and temperaments. It is this understanding that guides her through her first five novels.
As the reader moves from one novel to another novel, he becomes aware of Jhabvala’s engagement with India and her observation of Indian manners getting more and more acute and sharp. In the next three novels, she deals with East-West encounters and highlights the pathological and pathetic condition of Westerners in India and the fake spirituality that Indians flaunt and to which they become prey.