Thu, Jan 04, 2018 - Page 13 News List

The literary canary in India’s coal mine

Arundhati Roy talks politics and how it relates to her latest novel released last June

AFP, New Delhi

It is a criticism Roy partially accepts, but brushes off.

“I know a lot of people describe it as chaos, but that chaos is constructed,” she explains.

She expects her readers to spend time exploring the new book.

“It’s looking at the story as though it’s a big city like Delhi,” she says. “You can’t really just read The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, you have to get to know it, like you get to know a city: walk through big roads, small roads, courtyards, barren places.”

Politics comes fairly easily to Roy, but fiction less so.

“It took me a lot of time to recover from The God of Small Things,” she admits. “Not just because of the worldly success, but to write something that I dredged up from some place that was quite deep.”

It is unlikely she will shelve her polemical pen anytime soon. Roy says under the stewardship of Hindu nationalist prime minister Narendra Modi, India is at its most polarized place in years. She reels off a list of ills, from protesters recently blinded by police shotgun pellets in Kashmir, to the ongoing prejudice against India’s “untouchable” castes and rising fundamentalism.

“There are mobs running around wanting to burn down cinema halls, there are mobs of huge mustachioed men celebrating sati,” she fumes, referencing the historical but extinct tradition where a widow would throw herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre.

Critics of Roy’s essays say they can be hysterical and narcissistic. But Roy is unrepentant, seeing herself as a much needed canary in the coal mine.

“It can’t go on like this,” she warns. “Something will arise either out of complete destruction or some kind of revolution. But it can’t go on like this.”

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