Responding to Roy

Ever since I read Arundhati Roy’s latest novel travelogue essay, I’ve been toying with a response — and each time, tossing the thought aside for want of both time and energy.

Now I can stop “toying”, thanks to good — if elusive — friend Salil Tripathi, who constructs the counter argument with his usual skill in Mint. The payoff:

Fascination with Maoism is beyond moral sensibility. It is a parallel universe, where recalling Gandhian hunger strikes evokes hysterical laughter; where poor treatment of women in the forests is equated with their poor treatment in the cities. This takes moral equivalency to a new low. This is amoral nihilism.

It is also Roy’s Hanoi Jane moment. She is a voyeur, with the sky as her bed sheet, stars as her guiding light and birdsongs as her alarm clock. She connects those stars to form an intricate pattern. To us, it is Ursa Major; to her, an AK-47. In this surreal landscape, children don’t go to school, but learn to kill from ambush videos; tribals and rebels are one; and majoritarian justice by a show of hands is considered fair because everything else has failed. This is where cultural relativism leads us: In this Maostan, they probably speak Na’vi, and Roy is their Avatar.

Also read an earlier take-down, by Sivaram Srikandath:

But where she loses the  plot is in making her world is so strikingly mono-chromatic. Just black and white, with barely a  shade of grey. No prizes for guessing who is black and  who is white.  The villains in the story  are those who wield power – vast, unfettered power, namely the Indian State  – and the heroes are the Maoists of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army operating in the Dandakaranya forest of Central India.

The heroes and the villains live in starkly differing worlds and the author  adroitly paints the two  in opposing semantic shades as an effective literary device.. The devious universe of the Indian s tate is best described, and lampooned by ominous sounding phrases  like Gentle Giants Who Really Care,  Gravest Internal Security Threats, Killing Machines, Looti Sarkar,  etc; the capitalized alphabets  being Roy’s cute,  trademark style marker.The Maoist  reality on the contrary is romanticized as a peaceful  way of life that leaves a “lighter carbon footprint than any climate change evangelist.”  It is a world of stars and fireflies; of private suites in a thousand star hotel; and  of  sweet Bastar tamarind trees “watching over the land like a  clutch of huge, benevolent, Gods.”  A forest where the floor is a carpet of gold,  and the air is suffused with the slightly heady smell of the flowering mahua.

Arundhati Roy and the politics of democracy


Remind me again — why do I find her shrill, scatter-shot denunciations so infuriating? One example of the many sweeping statements that rest not on fact but on the shaky foundation of her choler:

So, you know, you have a situation where more and more people are just outside the barcode. You know, they are what you would call “illegible.” And we have a very, very serious situation here, where now they are planning, you know, once again, to make a—what do you call it—a electronic ID card. Of course, once again, to people who don’t have water, who don’t have electricity, who don’t have schools, but they will have ID cards, and people who don’t have ID cards are not going to exist.

Ah well. My friend Amit Varma [Twitter, blog] recently pointed me at this 2002 article by writer/academic Ian Buruma — as measured a dissection as any you could wish for.

Roy and the art of brevity

The Economist recently reviewed Arundhati Roy’s Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy [which, in a classic manifestation of burnt child dreading fire syndrome I haven’t worked up the courage to read yet; I’m still trying to recover from this one].

The review is 656 words.

Roy has just responded to the review.

The response is 1323 words. [That’ll teach them!]

Totally unrelated [Honest! Cross my heart and hope to die from choking on my own laughter honest!]: The Bullshit Generator.

Extreme sport

Ueli Gegenschatz flies through canyons at over 100 miles per hour.

Earlier this year, Ray Zahab did a 33-day sprint through snow to reach the South Pole.

As we speak, Jon Gunnar Benjaminsson, a paralyzed Icelander, is preparing to cross the rugged terrain of his native land in a specially designed vehicle.

Incredible feats all — but not a patch on what I attempted last evening. Unlike Gegenschatz and Zahab and possibly Benjaminsson, however, I failed to get past the first three stages.

See if you are a better man than I am, Gunga Din. Statutory warning: Not to be undertaken without trained medical personnel standing by for emergency aid in case of coma.

Ready? Go.