Arundhati Roy is so misunderstood, often by fake news peddlers and also by “intellectuals” who negate her whole body of work and essentially downgrade her as the godmother of the basic radical wannabes. But guess what, both these sides are wrong. Here are the top 16 reasons why we all should stan the 57-year-old writer.
1. Her writing explains how personal is political.
Often times we think serious things like environmentalism are different topics that have no place in casual conversations but when you read a text that seamlessly talks about one’s beloved river and how WTO sponsored pesticides are killing it you’ll know that there is no escape. If you read Roy’s work, be it fiction or nonfiction, you’ll begin to see everything differently (Suddenly, you’ll notice the faint smell of dead vultures wafting from the strawberry ice cream). She teaches us that we should take every political-social issue very personally. And by politics, it doesn’t mean Congress or BJP, it means the equation between powerful and the powerless.
“My language, my style, is not something superficial, like a coat I wear when I go out. My style is me- even when I am home.” – Scimitars in the Sun.
2. Doesn’t value “success”.
People’s movements often time, if we calculate empirically, fail. Despite the Narmada Bachao Andolan the dams were made and are being made and despite hundreds of documentaries the adivasis are being displaced with brutality. With this despondent history of struggles, the activist inside you is bound to be hopeless, but Roy’s writing, that comes from being in close proximity with on ground movement, tells us that every effort counts and there is pride in failure. The least and most we can do is retain our inherent anarchy, refuse to believe the PR ads of the government, and change the way we view success.
“When George Bush says ‘You are either with us or with the terrorist,’ we can say ‘No thank you’. – Confronting the Empire.
“The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you are alive, and die only when you are dead. To love, to be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of the life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.” – The End of Imagination
3. Gives the best analogies.
She is the ultimate queen of analogies. In the essay do Do Turkeys Enjoy Thanksgiving she explains token representation and asserts just because the White House pardons a turkey doesn’t mean the American culture has any sympathy for turkeys, similarly just as there are a few people from marginalised backgrounds in positions of power doesn’t mean the world is equal.
In her article Come September, she wrote that America terminated Saddam Hussein like a “pet who had outlived his master’s affection.” Further, she explained the bid of India and Pakistan to lure USA’s favour like two begums fighting for their husband’s (America’s) affection. There are several more gems.
4. Calls out the hypocrisy.
As someone who earns her living by royalties from publishing houses, she called out her own publisher Penguin for dropping Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History after some right-wing groups opposed it for hurting Hindu sentiments.
She doesn’t participate in fests that are sponsored by problematic sources.
“For example, Vedanta, which sponsored the Jaipur literary festival in 2016. I’ve been writing about them for the last 10 years. Recently, there were 13 people killed [by police] on the streets of Tamil Nadu protesting against one of their projects. It’s a big conflict for me because so much of my writing is about what these people are up to and then they have these free-speech tents. So I just avoid them.” – in an interview with Tim Lewis.
5. Is the Award Wapsi Gang OG.
In January 2006, she was awarded the Sahitya Academy Award which she declined to accept in opposition to the policies of the Congress-led government. In 2015 she joined several other artists and writers who returned their awards in the wake of the killing of writer Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare and gave back the National Film Award she got for writing the screenplay of In Which Annie Give It Those Ones (a delightful short film that has SRK!).
“ During the BJP regime, I was convicted for contempt of court and sent to jail. During the Congress regime, I am being given an award. Though these seem different ways of dealing with the writer, to my mind they are both ways to neutralise a troublesome writer.” – Shape of the Beast.
6. She is the anti-nation who loves this country. Yes, you can be both.
“If protesting against nuclear bomb implanted in my brain is anti-Hindu and anti-national then I secede. I hereby declare myself an independent, mobile republic.”- End of Imagination.
“By most standards, I probably qualify for being an anti-national. I don’t have a nationalistic bone in my body. It’s just not my instinct. Yet it’s inconceivable for me to not be here, because it contains everything that I love.”- Ten Years On…
“Nationalism of one kind or another was the cause of most of the genocide of the twentieth century. Flags are bits of coloured cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s minds and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.” – Come September
7. Writes the best dedications.
(God of Small Things)
For Mary Roy,
who grew me up.
Who taught me to say “Excuse me”
before interrupting her in Public.
Who loved me enough to let me go.
For LKC, who, like me, survived.
(The Algebra of Infinite Justice)
To those who believe in resistance, who live between hope and impatience and have learned the perils of being reasonable. To those who understand enough to be afraid and yet retain their fury.
8. She “repeats” truth to power and is not afraid of taking sides. (“Repeats” because the powerful already know the truth.)
After she won the Booker, Arundhati Roy became the national sweetheart, but even before the buzz around her could die she wrote a scathing critique of the nuclear bomb testing Pokhran and immediately became ungrateful anti-national number one. She has contempt of court cases and charges for “corrupting the morality” lined against her. This is not just because she has money and can afford to be a “Cheeky Bitch Taken to Court” but because she values truth over convenience.
“I wasn’t hedging my bets like most sophisticated intellectuals, and saying, ‘On the one hand, this, but on the other hand, that.’ I was saying, I’m on your side.”- On supporting Narmada Bachao Andolan.
In 1994, way before she became famous she wrote a scathing piece titled The Great Indian Rape Trick criticising Shekhar Kapur for restaging a rape scene in Bandit Queen without the consent of Phoolan Devi, on whom the movie was based.
9. Isn’t possessive about fame.
She isn’t on social media and despite the media’s obsession over her, doesn’t make appearances in noisy news debates.
“The more I thought about it, the clearer it became to me that if fame was going to be my permanent condition, it would kill me. Club me to death with its good manners and hygiene. I’ll admit I’ve enjoyed my own five minutes of it immensely, but primarily because it was just five minutes.” – End of Imagination.
“At the end of the day, fame is also a gruesome kind of capitalism, you can accommodate it, bank it, live off it. But it can suffocate you, isolate you, make you lose touch.”- The Question of Violence.
10. Rescues dogs.
I have two of them, and one has a considerable tummy, but the other is slightly more delicate. Both of them used to stray. I found them. One of them, her mother was killed by a car on the road outside my house. Her eyes were closed and she was so small and I had to feed her with a dropper and now she’s huge. The other one I stole. I’d see her tied to a lamppost night and day on this road, and I just took her. Later, I told the people that I’d taken her, and they said: “OK, we didn’t want her.”
11. She has a complicated but wholesome relationship with her badass mother (who challenged and changed the Syrian Christian inheritance law).
12. Speaks about caste-based discrimination.
Kashmir and Bastar are all “glamorous” topics but she took on caste right from her very first book to writing Doctor and the Saint. (Yes, there can be a debate on whether or not she was the right pick to write the introduction for Navayana’s Annihilation of Caste).
13. She is confident in her skin.
“I’m a black woman. Most of us are. Ninety per cent of us are. This obsession that Indians have with white skin and straight hair makes me sick. We need a new aesthetic.” – in an interview with Ashwariya Subramanium for Elle
14. Has Zero Sanskar
She ran away from home at 16, lived in a slum with her boyfriend, has a “failed” marriage, has no kids, has been jailed, is dark, and supports JNU students-Maoists-separatist, and her mom is a divorcee. No nice Indian boy would marry her because she will probably earn more than him and instead of letting him inherit her money she’ll donate it to indigenous movements.
15. Has excellent style.
From unruly curls to a pixie cut, Roy has ruled every style with grace.
16. Can sign in both Hindi and English.
So basically Arundhati Roy is A1 human being (possibly a witch), and we should all be like her by not taking pride in big statues, treating slum dwellers with respect, and attending the farmers march that’s scheduled for 29th and 30th November 2018.
Feature Image Credits: Ian Berry