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Who is Afraid of Arundhati Roy? Who IS Ms. Roy, Anyway?

  • Ch. Mhammad Ashraf
  • Jan, 2018
  • 111
  • Analysis

She singles out from among them, the 'Lalla from Gujarat', (Narendra Modi) whose hands are dripping with blood of the hapless minority community

He folded his fear into a perfect rose. He held it out and put it in the palm of his hand. She took it from his hand and put it in her hair.” So goes a charming quotation from Arundhati Roy’s, The God of Small Things (1997). And also, this is how the acclaimed writer treated/treats fear—not as something awesome, terrifying, or dreadful. Rather a trifling something, even beguiling: it could even be romantic, enchanting but enigmatic. Frightened? That she never would be! Not in a thousand years. That Arundhati Roy will never be frightened by anybody or anything is a given. This supposition then immediately raises the question: Then who is afraid of Arundhati Roy herself? The answer is not simple. It is both straight and somewhat perplexing. Of course, we are talking about the celebrated author’s latest book curiously entitled The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. The title of the book has little to do with happiness, though. The contents of the book are anything but…

The Unconsoled

Between the two books,——and countless mission undertaken by her in between as a campaigner and a social activist for various causes——the gap is of almost 20 years, but the leap of faith encompasses a time span of light years. Romance, pangs of separation and man’s inhumanity to man are like common threads which link the two books. Yet, however, that tenuous link gets blurred as the narratives of the two progresses almost right from the start as they assume a new range of poetic and tragic realities. The Ministry…..is dedicated To The Unconsoled A small phrase, a thousand possible interpretations. So who are the unconsoled and why is the book dedicated to them? The mystery unravels in slow but soul-shaking short order.

When she won the coveted Man Booker Prize, with her maiden novel, The God of ……, the 28-year old wisp of a girl with dark eyes and a bewitching smile took the English-speaking world by storm. It was a tour de force in all respects. Two decades intervene between publications of her first novel, to the second. Both books are anecdotal on personal account, if not altogether semi-autobiographical. The first one is about growing up in Kerala, and the travails of a Syrian Christian childhood. In a sense, it marked the end of innocence. As for the second book, its protagonist, by now much matured and worldly wise, takes in a much wider world view. It takes in its sweep, besides, the lives of the wretched of the earth, the de-excluded but unaccepted; the people living at the margins and fringes of existence. She has conjured up a panorama of the paranoid. Its cast includes cut throat politicians for whom she has saved the choicest invectives. She singles out from among them, the ‘Lalla from Gujarat’, (Narendra Modi) whose hands are dripping with blood of the hapless minority community. This demagogue rises to the top of the heap on a chauvinistic agenda, singing praises of the glory that was India and the aim of his party, agenda or manifesto if you like, is to cleanse the Bharat Mata of all the foreigners who have spring from its soil over the past millennia.

Fast forward to 2017

A much matured and worldly wise Arundhati brings the house down, so to say, with this block buster entitled The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Its genre is totally different to her first book. This time she constructs a counter narrative on Kashmir, among other topical issues, which is dramatically opposite to the official as well as the overall Indian national mindset on that unhappy valley. It is a Kafkaesque tale of torture, unspeakable atrocities and the brutally honed state tactics to crush the spirit of a nation. There are chilling details of systematic methods of mental and physical torture perpetrated by the shadowy security agencies, as well as nearly all the state- and non-state actors, posited to stifle the life breath out of a whole generation of the defiant youth. In the dock of history, let alone the comity of nations, the Indian State stands all but naked for its flagrant crimes against humanity. The Indian polity must also answer for its conspiratorial silence; compounded by a ‘consensual delusion’ that Kashmir was its ‘atootang’, inseparable part.  It is the unending tale of woes and sorrows of a people, bypassed by history. Bereft of any human feelings, the state’s agents practise their bloodthirsty trade in so many bizarre and perverted versions that reading about it would melt a heart of stone, and would keep it haunting. Granted, it is all fiction but there is no question that the book comprises nothing but hard facts, only thinly disguised for the sake of storytelling. And by God, what a def...

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