BOOK REVIEW

Reading Arundhati Roy

M.S. NAGARAJAN

ARUNDHATI ROY Critical Perspectives: Murari Prasad Editor; Pencraft International, B-1/41, Ashok Vihar II, Delhi-110052. Rs. 450. Not to have known Arundhati Roy argues yourself unknown. That she revels in stirring up a hornet's nest is a mild understatement. Her article "The Great Indian Rape Trick" on the film `Bandit Queen' in which she charged Shekar Kapoor that he had misrepresented Phoolan Devi is an instance in point. Besides her stunning debut novel The God of Small Things that won the Booker prize in 1997, she is the author of three screenplays, eight works of non-fiction and a dozen essays and articles. As journalist, social activist and intellectual, her impact on Indian public life cannot be easily disregarded. No wonder, then, that over the years, there has been an avalanche of articles on, and interviews with, her. Arundhati Roy: Critical Perspectives is a choice collection of some of these items that deal with the recurrent themes that have animated the whole of Arundhati Roy's oeuvre.

Critique

Of the eleven chapters in the book, eight have been already published in learned journals and newspapers, one of which is an engrossing interview with her by N. Ram in Frontline. Six essays are on her novel, The God of Small Things, two are of a general nature, two are on her non-fiction and the last is the spicy interview. Her fictional and non-fictional writings cannot be kept apart from each other. For her, literary and political concerns are but two sides of the same coin.Aijaz Ahmed's brilliant essay, "Reading Arundhati Roy Politically," argues that the The God of Small Things is the most accomplished novel by an Indian author, but faults her novel on three counts: "far too much is anxiously written, and therefore overwritten"; "the book panders to the prevailing anti-Communist sentiment which damages it both ideologically and formally ... she has neither a feel for Communist politics nor a rudimentary knowledge of it," and, "the way it depicts and resolves the issues of caste and sexuality, especially female sexuality ... since the novel does stake its transgressive and radical claim precisely on issues of caste and bodily love." Devon Campbell-Hall's essay examines Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient and Roy's The God to show how the two works of fiction spiritualise manual labour. The skilled artisans Kip and Velutha, the two "disruptive catalysts" are so portrayed that they reject global industrialisation. They occupy what Homi Bhabha calls `the third space' which empowers manual labour, breaking the footholds of traditional culture that would ascribe occupations based on birth. Madhu Benoit treats The God as a `scriptable' (in Roland Barthes's sense) novel and discusses the `metatemporal narrative mode' shifting points of view, disrupted narration and achrnolological time.

Non-fiction

Brinda Bose looks at the deliberate transgressive sexual choices of Ammu and Rahel to draw attention to the politics of eroticism. It explodes the myth that love and sexual indulgence are only the prerogatives of the elite. Julie Mullaney's essay evaluates Roy's `anti-capitalist, transnational feminist practice' which is to build the solidarity of women cutting across national, racial boundaries with a view to lend a voice to the struggles of working-class women and thus make feminist agendas visible and explicit in anti-globalisation movements. Bishnupriya Ghosh in "Tallying Bodies: The Moral Math of Arundhati Roy's Non-Fiction" discusses at length the entire range of Roy's non-fictional works. The dominant vein in this essay is the whole litany of injustices perpetrated on countless `non-citizens' the world over. Gail Omvedt takes Roy to task for making over-simplified claims such as her dismissal of `big dams' (Narmada Bachao Andolan) which in the long run help in benefiting the rural folk leading them to a life of prosperity. She condemns Roy's support to anti-development organisations. Murari Prasad succinctly sums up Roy's contribution "to give a forum to myriad voices of the subaltern across the human community. Imbued with the passion for mobilising the marginal, her courage of conviction permeates the entire range of her writings."The essays, scholarly in nature, provide the right perspective for a fuller comprehension of Arundhati Roy's works.

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