Friday, November 26, 2010

Read Arundhati Roy But with a Pinch of Salt

I have been following Arundhati Roy’s writing for sometime. Among her latest offerings are Listening to Grasshoppers, Field notes on Democracy and the occasional columns she writes for Outlook. She also writes articles for foreign magazines but I haven’t got my hands on them as yet. Since her first and only novel, God of Small Things, she never authored another work of fiction, but she has continued to write on the causes she espouses as an activist. Now, she is more of an activist who also writes rather than a writer who is involved in activism.


There is little doubt that she writes really well, but I find her views to be gross exaggerations. She randomly lifts statements and half facts and uses them to support a larger point she is making. Based on remote statements, she reaches extreme conclusions. For example, in a ToI advertisement on TV, Amitabh Bachan says,” There are two Indias: One the assertive India which is on the rise, the “other” (poor India) India is straining at the leashes (trying to break free). The “other” India should come and join the assertive India.” In her essay, Roy interprets the coming and joining of the “other” India as meaning: if they can’t come and join, wipe them out by genocide.

Her criticism has bite, but it’s mostly repetitive. She sometimes borders on insane bitterness with no care for the other person’s point of view. Sometimes facts also become causalities of her rhetorical flourish.

Her views are mostly on these lines:

India is home to an indifferent middle class which doesn’t care a damn about the poor and suffering and are pursuing their conspicuous consumerism even as a section of the society continues to be pushed further and further to the margins. The rich are constantly growing richer at the expense of poor. The Indian government has become a promoter of corporate interests.

The excesses of the erstwhile Soviet Union and other Communist countries are acceptable if compared with what the big Indian political parties have done. India has become a militarized country with military occupations in various parts of the country, including Kashmir and North East.

The scourge of terrorism affecting Afghanistan and surrounding places and the Maoist problem troubling certain parts of India are one and the same: they are a tribal uprising. Maoists are fighting an oppressive corporate state and their only savoir is guns, and so they are justified in aiming to go all their way gunning to toppling the state and replacing it with a Maoist state. (Give me a break, Arundhati!)

Her views have merit but only partially. Here are the other halves.

a) It’s true that the middle class is largely indifferent and have a ‘for me it’s only me that matters’ mentality but there are exceptions. And then if a middle class guy enjoys his success which he has had to work hard for, what's wrong with it?

b) In it’s zeal for development, governments have sometimes overlooked the interest of the marginalized (Maoist) but the answer is not killing people to avenge marginalization becasue (a) violence won't allow the government to have talks with Maoists as a government can’t turn a blind eye to citizens being killed; it’s responsible for them; (b) there is no alternative to development. In fact, development can be used for the good of the marginalized through diversion of a part of the revenue generated by development for welfare of the people affected by it. You need transparency and proper laws.

c) Some Indian political parties are guilty of human rights excesses (through riots and anti-insurgency activities), but their excesses fade in comparison to what happened (s) in the Soviet Russia and current Communist states.

I guess many would share my views; they are purely commonsensical, if a little naive.

But, in all fairness, probably activism and balance don’t go together. It’s easy to give rounded views when you see problems through TV screens and newspapers, but difficult to be neutral when you are personally involved with people and their plight, as Roy is, being an activist. If you truly feel for an issue, you become lop-sided. I think that’s Roy’s problem. Or is she a publicity hound?

All I know is I will continue to read Roy but take her with a pinch of salt.

2 comments:

Abdus said...

i just got your page while browsing for arundhati roy. i don't agree with you all. i want to be abusive but not doing so...

i strogly fee that she understood the problems of the poor very well. not like few others guys who sell our story for making more money... you should do some more research before accusing such a great personality and why has she chosen among the most inspiring ladies list by Forbes.

She and her kind of people are the only reason and the real resistance to maintain the equilibrium in the world.

indrablog said...

Hi Abdus,
I am an Arundhati fan too but I find her views to be in the extreme sometimes. Recently in India she is in trouble because of an anti-India speech she has made. Some political parties wanted her arrested, but I am of the view that writers should be allowed to voice their views.

I didn't know she was on Forbes list. Thanks for sharing that and thanks for visiting.

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