Two recent articles on Arundhati Roy.
In Open, Manu Joseph says She is the creation of the very system she wants to dismantle, she is the anomaly that completes the system. Like Neo in The Matrix
Arundhati Roy speaking at Harvard University in April 2010. Image under CC
It would appear that a beautiful woman has more at stake than others, so her battles for social causes have a deep sacrificial quality to them. Add to this her extraordinary literary fame, and it is natural that Arundhati Roy’s grouses are of national importance. People react to her in different ways depending on their intellect, affluence, psychiatric condition and how their own books are doing. It is often said that she ‘polarises’ the nation through her opinions but that is a myth. Indians do not need Roy to be infuriated with each other.
Her latest trouble follows a speech she had delivered in Delhi which said nothing new—that India should free Kashmir. At the time of writing this column, the Government is contemplating (aloud) arresting her on charges of sedition. She has issued an uncharacteristically tame statement claiming that her actions are a consequence of her love for the nation. Obviously, she does not want to go to jail. Despite her new nervousness, what her admirers say about her is true—that she is the conscience of the nation. What is disputable is whether it is a compliment.
It is futile to denude metaphors to their bare meanings, but in this case it might be useful to try. We know very little about conscience but what we do know is that there is an unattainable moral superiority about it, and that it usually transmits unsolicited advice, which is the opposite of what the mind really wants to do. But at the same time, it is fundamentally a creation of the mind, a creation that is meant to come in conflict with its maker. That is Roy. She is the creation of the very system that she aspires to bring down. More:
The Shape of the Beast
In Tehelka, Shoma Chaudhury explains why shutting Arundhati Roy out would leave us a poorer society:
Arundhati Roy’s position on Kashmir is just the latest provocation. The truth is her very existence — her persona and her politics — has become a sort of affront to a certain strata of Indians. White-collared terrorist. Serial offender. Activist butterfly. Secessionist. Attention-monger. Rabble-rouser. Hate-merchant. Watching the enraged epithets being shot at her on national television a few days ago, it was difficult to remember that Arundhati Roy is a writer and public intellectual who has, at many crucial junctures, brought the nation’s attention to chasms that threatened to tear it apart.
Over the last decade, in fact, Roy has been there first at almost every trench line: illuminating, dissecting, warning, presaging. Taunting the cosy out of their towers. Magnifying the fights of the voiceless. Few other contemporary Indian writers have engaged so fiercely and urgently with the idea and reality of India. And none have taken it apart as unflinchingly.
It is impossible to understand the profound, yet scrappy and conflicted, impact of Roy’s political writings and utterances on India unless one recalls the dizzy euphoria of her arrival and the irony of the journey she picked for herself afterwards. Watching her now, few will remember that Roy was first announced to the world by a breathless article in a leading Indian magazine. The year was 1996. Liberalisation was just five years old. An ebullient middle-class was looking for a mascot. Roy came tailor-made from heaven: she had an elfin beauty, a diamond flash in her nose, a mane of gorgeous hair, a romantic backstory and a manuscript that triggered an international bidding war. India loved her. From the moment The God of Small Things was published, Roy was deemed the chosen one. As the successes of the book piled up — the huge advances, the translations in 40 languages, and finally the Booker (the first time any resident Indian had won it) — it was a done deal: Arundhati Roy was India’s triumphant entry on the global stage. She was the princess at the ball. More:
‘An independent Kashmiri nation may be a flawed entity, but is independent India perfect?’
Also in Tehelka, Shoma Chaudhury interviews Arundhati Roy:
How do you interpret azadi? Going back to the earlier question about your critique of nation states, why would you be advocating the birth of a new nation state? Why not intellectually urge the dilution of nation states instead — more porous borders, less masculine constructs based on power and identity.
It doesn’t matter how I interpret azadi. It matters how the people of Kashmir interpret azadi. About my critique of the nation state — as I said, if we are keen to dilute its masculinity, let’s begin the process at home. Let’s dismantle the nuclear arsenal, roll up the flags, stand down the army and stop the crazed nationalistic rhetoric… then we can preach to others. More: