A Review of Wayward Brahmin by Harbhajan Singh Sandhu

Sandhu is a born storyteller with a well-appointed if not always well controlled vocabulary and a sharp tongue. His book tells the story of the Brahmin professor who leaves his native land for the United States and sexual liberation.

Reviewed by Bob Williams

Wayward Brahmin
by Harbhajan Singh Sandhu
1st Books Library, 2001,
$13.50 (paperbound) and $4.95 (e-book),
242 pages

Sandhu is a born storyteller with a well-appointed if not always well controlled vocabulary and a sharp tongue. His book tells the story of the Brahmin professor who leaves his native land for the United States and sexual liberation. Sandhu, himself a professor, tells us this about the academic world:

He soon realized that many of these stalwarts of the ivory tower, he so idolized as esteemed learned scholars, were actually no more than mere diminutive beings in spirit. Imbued with an overbearing and delusional sense of self-importance, these egotistical, bombastic, self-indulgent power hungry midgets masqueraded as gurus of higher learning and guardians of the secrets of knowledge.

If Professor Sandhu still taught astronomy and physics, one would hope that he had tenure. He is, however, retired after a career in the United States of over thirty years.

Mo, the wayward Brahmin of the title, is the subject of the story that his compatriot and fellow exile, Punjabi, tells to a man named Listener. Mo admits unabashedly that the great inducement for him to come to America were the panty raids featured in indignant Indian papers as examples of Yankee decadence.

In school Punjabi and Mo suffer the difficulties of aliens in a strange land. Punjabi shaves, gets a haircut and forsakes his turban with the object, success undisclosed, of attracting women. Mo Rajan does better. He allows the young Christian women to imagine his conversion and has the benefit of their overheated “but acceptable because physical” persuasions. His first steadfast involvement although not designed for permanence ends with near tragedy as first she and then he attempt suicide. He takes a teaching post at another school and after some attempt at restraint renews his amorous adventures. Although not seriously concerned at his affair with a student, the faculty is happy to see him depart to take up a post at a midwestern university. The Second World War has just ended.

The style glitters appropriately but this glitter is uneven and much of it is made up of phrases that droop from overuse. Often the style shines with the sparkle of paste rather than of diamonds. Mo Rajan’s erotic adventures especially put Sandhu to the test and often leave him teetering on the edge of mixed metaphors.

The midwestern university is suspiciously like Iowa with its ferocious winters and its breath stopping springs, its farmers drunk on the fecund soil. Sandhu excels at creating these images and in this new university Mo matures, stays out of trouble erotically but is unyielding and creates enemies on the faculty. He comes back from a tour of Europe with a newfound skill as a teacher and resolved to seize any erotic opportunity. Better, he thinks, to die fulfilled than proper. With this attitude he cannot fail to attract a woman. She is older than most of the students and she is married

Mo begins intellectual conversations with a fellow teacher, an artist. These in their formality resemble the dialogues of Plato and form a pleasant contrast to Mo’s steamier pursuits. But these pursuits are the cornerstone of Mo’s frankly tomcat life and even while he and Artist learnedly discuss the Big Subjects, Mo is ogling another shapely woman. They reach an agreement and tumble delightedly into bed. Less delighted is the young woman’s husband. He beats his wife, threatens Mo and tries to have him fired. Adriana, this newest of Mo’s lovers, divorces her husband. She and Mo continue as lovers. Mo’s reluctance to travel is a source of disagreement between them. She takes a short trip without him to Las Vegas where he finds her. Her next step is to leave him for Europe but he does not follow her there and when she returns, she infects him with a sexually transmitted disease, having in Europe pursued erotic adventures of her own. This occurrence and her sudden interest in marrying him cool Mo’s ardor. His affair with Adriana has scarcely come to its conclusion before Mo has taken up with a younger student. On the basis of his advice she decides against an engagement that she has largely accepted to please the families involved.

Mo’s new lover is named Laurel and the scene that describes their first coming together has so many awkward touches that they deserve mention. Laurel nervously fidgets with her “beverage glass.” It contains a “refreshing drink” and Laurel, now relaxed, sips from the “beverage tumbler.” Mo, ready for action, puts down his “cup.” In the manner of an unsure writer, in other words, there is information we do not need and which does not knit itself into a unified whole.

Adriana is not out of his life entirely and her last appearance overlaps grotesquely with his enjoyment of Laurel. Mo has more discussions with Artist and, although they bear the aroma of the lecture hall, they are diverting. Punjabi and Listener surface somewhat more than usual and their interplay is interesting.

Mo and Laurel are splendidly matched erotically since neither expects their relationship to last. Mo delights in sensual exploits as a master and Laurel as an inventive novice. Sandhu describes the highlight of the their encounters and, almost primly, offers that he will impart few additional details “in consideration of reader’s valuable time.” But Mo is sincere in his position that their affair is temporary and allows her to leave him without a struggle. He suffers more than he expected but begins a new flirtation as he again comes to life from the pain of his separation. Punjabi and Listener explore the subject of Mo’s convictions at some length. Punjabi insists that his eroticism is somewhat like a religion and Listener adds that adherence to his faith, if it brought the same rewards as it had to Mo, would attract many followers.

Mo’s new love is a young married oriental named Joan. While he regales himself with this very accomplished young woman, he finds time in his lunchtime conversations to discourse eloquently of black holes with Artist. A plot powered with eroticism presents special difficulties. Sandhu solves these with some skill. In this liaison Joan unexpectedly tells her husband of her affair with Mo and tells Mo that she will leave her husband and move in with him, a course that he cannot allow since it would lead inexorably to his ruin as a teacher. He makes a counteroffer. He will go with her to the city of her choice where they can live together openly for a brief but intense enjoyment. She selects San Francisco. In a hurried interlude Mo has a brief affair with a black woman who decides that she needs to find a black man to be her lover. Mo finds such racism shocking.

But more shocks await Mo. Joan and he visit San Francisco but it disappoints her and she makes Mo suffer for it. The better part of their relationship seems at an end. Mo and Artist discuss the universe at greater length than Sandhu gives the time that Mo spends with Joan and this redounds to the reader’s benefit. We hear more of Mo’s life as a teacher and of the occurrences that are a part – and sometimes a nasty one – of academic life. The inglorious continuance of his affair with Joan requires resolution and Mo takes a sabbatical to return to Europe, this time to Sweden where he expects to find blond, blue eyed and sexually available women. Instead he begins a love affair with another visitor – Victoria, not her real name, and it ends with sinister implications. She warns him to leave the city.

The concluding chapter is a meditation by Punjabi and Listener over the history and fate of Mo Rajan. Punjabi’s vision widens into levels of carefully cadenced mysticism, a spiritual view of human destiny. This is a fitting end to this story. A contrived conclusion would be a cheat.

Sandhu’s work describes a modern Don Juan. He sees his hero with an interesting mixture of admiration, amusement and understanding. His breadth of mind adds immeasurably to the value of his book. It is a pity, therefore, that his work comes to us without the assistance that traditional publishing methods should provide. Stylistic faults are many. It is to be hoped that Sandhu will find a sympathetic and experienced reader to advise him on future works. He is too good a writer to be relegated to obscurity because of faults that are easily corrected.

For more information on Wayward Brahmin visit: Wayward Brahmin: Tale of Sexual Lust,…

About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His writings, two books and a number of short articles on Joyce, can be accessed at: http://fracman.home.mchsi.com/