Why Arundhati Roy writes what she writes
- The Booker winning author talks about staying cool during India’s dark and testing times for writers.
Apr 12, 2019-
Arundhati Roy keeps telling herself she is not going to write anymore. But then she keeps breaking her promise.
“And twenty years have gone by, one after the other,” Roy told a gathering of international activists and artists in Kathmandu on Friday.
In a conversation with Indian filmmaker Sohini Ghosh, the Booker Prize winning author from India, said that legal cases, which have followed almost every essay she’s penned in the last two decades, wear her down. “Every five or six years, a group of five male lawyers get together and file a criminal case against me,” Roy told a packed room.
The first time was in 1997, after her debut novel, The God of Small Things, was released. Back then, she had to answer charges of obscenity. In the years since, her political essays about social and environmental justice, military occupation, and resistance have stirred the Indian establishment and led to myriad charges, from contempt of court to sedition.
And Roy isn’t alone. In the last few years, a number of writers in India have faced similar or worse situations. Two years ago, Gauri Lankesh, a prominent Indian journalist critical of Hindu nationalist politics, was shot dead in the southern city of Bangalore, prompting international calls on India to safeguard freedom of expression.
Last year, Pen International, a worldwide association of writers, said, “In recent years India’s climate for free expression has severely deteriorated, with writers, journalists and social media users finding themselves increasingly under attack”
But the great sense of urgency to “blow open mainstream consensus” is what brings out the political essayist in her, Roy said during the conversation. Her collection of non-fiction writing from the last 20 years, compiled in a over a 1,000 pages, will be out this June.
“Non-fiction in my case has always come when I see the atmosphere darkening, kind of bullying consensus to the corporate press, the way it starts going after something,” said Roy, after reading the prologue of her 2017 novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. The book, which is her second novel since the Booker-winning The God of Small Things, has been translated into dozens of languages.
“Of the 51 languages it is being translated to, one is Nepali,” Roy told the cheering audience in the room.
Nepali artist Irina Giri was among the hundreds of people in the hall who watched Roy speak eloquently about her writing and the issues closest to her heart. Giri says it was surreal to see one of her favourite authors in person. After the nearly two-hour long conversation ended with a standing ovation, Giri followed Roy to the hotel lobby where dozens of people had lined up to get their books autographed.
"I got my book signed for the family," said Giri, who had bought a copy of The God of Small Things just that morning.
Before leaving the stage, Ghosh said we needed to “rewrite the recipe for happiness in these dark times” and asked Roy to read an excerpt from her first political essay, ‘The End of Imagination:’ “The only dream worth having, I told her, is to dream that you will live while you’re alive and die only when you’re dead.”
The audience broke into applause, and watched Arundhati Roy take a bow and leave the stage with her unforgettable smile.
Published: 13-04-2019 07:00
- Arundhati Roy