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.