Arundhati Roy is a renowned author who has many published works and has gained many recognitions throughout her career. This essay will be focusing on her life as an author and the many works of hers. I will also seek to examine her contributions to the field of literature and society as a whole.
Arundhati Roy, born in 1960 in Kerala, India, was an architecture student at the Delhi School of Architecture. Although she was trained in architecture, her interest was not in that field; she envisioned herself in growing as a writer. Her first work, ‘The God of Small Things’ (1997) kickstarted her career as an author. This work led to her winning the Booker Prize for Fiction and was published in 19 countries in 16 languages, selling around 6 million copies. Her general style of literary output was composed of political nonfiction, capitalism, and struggles related to her homeland. She was often met with conflict with Indian authorities because of her active role in numerous human rights and environmental causes. She faced criticism because she vocally supported Naxalite insurgency groups. She voiced out her concerns and thoughts about various issues such as, the need for inclusion of Afghan women in the peace talks between the Untied States and Taliban, against the arrest of a professor who was arrested for alleged Maoist links, Kashmiri independence, prevention of the construction of dams in Narmada etc. Hence, in recognition of her involvement in her advocacy of human rights, in 2002, she was awarded the Lannan Cultural Freedom Award, the Sydney Peace Prize in 2004 and also the Sahitya Akademi Award from the Indian Academy of Letters in 2006 (Tikkanen, 2020).
Arundhati Roy: Works and Contributions
Arundhati Roy’s books include, The God of Small Things (1997), The Cost of Living: The Greater Common Good and the End of Imagination (1999), Power Politics (2001), The Algebra of Infinite Justice (2002), War Talk (2003), In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones (2003), Come September (2004), Public Power in the Age of Empire (2004), An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire (2006), 13 December: A Reader, the Strange Case of the Attack on the Indian Parliament (2006), Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy (2009), Shape Of the Beast, The – Pb (2009), Dictionary of Commerce (2010), Broken Republic: Three Essays (2011), Walking with the Comrades (2011), Capitalism: A Ghost Story (2014), The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017). I will now go into some of her most seminal works among them in detail.
The God of Small Things (1997)
The theme of the book revolves around the marginal characters who had to bear the weight of oppressive traditions in the Ayemenem society. The novel covers concepts of untouchability, caste segregation, power conflicts and feminism. The book seeks to venture into the caste system prevalent in south India, communism in Kerala and the roles played by Syrian Christians situated there. This work is often studied in the post-colonial point of view, analyze her perspectives in trying to highlight the dehumanizing social taboos and the struggles underwent by the marginalized ‘untouchables’ and women. The book does a good job at illustrating the struggles faced by women in the creation of their identities in a primarily male dominated society. The book pushes the readers to think, reflect on the unhealthy and cruel nature of traditions and mentalities in the society and understand the need for social reform. “Roy is keenly aware of the exploitation and oppression of have-nots (including women) by the upper classes. The novel encompasses the poor exploited and socially rejected people of the Kerala society. They are misfits, out casts, factory workers and low caste people, Roy clearly points out the fatal effects of massive industrialization” (Krishnnaveni, 2014, p. 8).
The Cost of Living: The Greater Common Good and the End of Imagination (1999)
The Cost of Living was her first non-fiction work through which Arundhati Roy exposes the authoritarian paternalism of the Indian state. The volume consists of 2 essays that consist of the country’s major projects such as the bomb detonation and the dam and irrigation ones. The first essay, ‘The Greater Common Good’, focuses primarily on the Narmada project and the potential flooding of the valley upon the building of huge dams on the river. In this essay, she calls out the Indian government and promotes resistance against the issue till justice is served. The second essay, ‘The End of Imagination’, covers the detonation of the nuclear bomb, and through this essay she sought to reveal the foolishness and arrogance of the state, and the plight of the people having to deal with the consequences of these actions. Through this article, she questions the government on why it would choose to test the bomb when majority of the citizens of India are living in poverty and struggling to make ends meet.
War Talk (2003)
War Talk is a collection of 6 short political essays that cover the problems of globalization and militarization. She talks about the imminent threat of nuclear war between India and Pakistan and how the helpless citizens are often left to deal with the negative consequences of the tensions between the two states. In all 6 essays, Roy is highly critical about the usage of power by the ones in charge and the consequent vilification of those who dare to showcase opposition against this unequal reign of power, wealth and privilege.
An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire (2006)
Through this book, Arundhati Roy managed to highlight the importance of resistance yet again. It consists of 14 well-constructed political articles through which Arundhati Roy aimed to deconstruct the notions of state terrorism, imperialism, empire, globalization of the corporate, neoliberal capitalism and brutality. She starts off by defending the Narmada Bachao Andolan and spoke in favor of the Dalits and Adivasis who became victims during the process of protecting their own lands from developmental projects. She talks about how the genocide of people is tolerated under the pretense of ‘nationalism’ or ‘freedom’. She calls out the cases of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Vietnam ad Korean Wars, the unwavering support for Israel causing even more havoc in Palestine and other such war crimes committed by the US government. She continues to highlight how the United States has learnt nothing and shows no signs of remorse after the happenings of the Vietnam War and continues to engage in these harmful actions at the cost of millions of Iraqi lives. Roy believes that the rise of corporate globalization can be hindered if people as a whole refuse to and accept their ideas, products, weapons and versions of history. Through this book, she did a commendable job in exposing the government’s arrogance and its tendency to divide and exploit citizens for the benefits of multinational corporations and government interests alone.
Walking with the Comrades (2011)
Through ‘Walking with the Comrades’, Arundhati Roy carefully illustrates the conflicts between the Indian State and the Naxalites or Maoists. The Maoists are a revolutionary guerilla force whose battle ranges over land, rights, power, ecology, minerals etc. against the exploitative nature of the Indian government. Through the rise of big business in India, the state has ruthlessly focused on the displacement of tribal people and the eradication of the Naxalite insurgence in the area, to allowing smooth mining processes. The government even hired insiders among the tribal people to snitch on the Maoists. Roy explains how the Gandhian ideals of nonviolence and satyagraha do not work in situations like this. In her view, the Operation Green Hunt, the military campaign against the Maoists is in reality a ploy to enable the destruction of the lives and livelihoods of the people that reside there. While acknowledging the violent nature of the Maoists’ methods, she also talks about how their resistance was the reason why multiple mining processes and dam constructions were halted, things that no nonviolent movement could achieve.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017)
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a Novel that people looked forward to for 20 years. It is a story that consists of two main sides, the perspective of Anjum, a trans woman and her struggles in Delhi and the other perspective is Tilo, an architect (who just like Arundhati Roy herself) turned into an activist. This novel has the characters’ lives intersect and commemorates the various struggles of the orphans, Muslims, queer people, addicts and other victims who fall prey to the various nationalistic projects that ensue. Through Anjum’s story, this work goes into great detail about the plight of transgender individuals and the struggle for acceptance even after the right to vote was established as of 1994. In the second section of the book, is the life of Tilo who was born an ‘illegitimate’ child of a Syrian Christian woman and an Untouchable man, the story then progressing into her quaky love life and how it leads to Anjum’s and Tilo’s lives intersecting. Anjum’s divided relationship with her identity and Tilo’s complicated romantic life depiction could stand to represent the various divisions and conflicts over religion and shared histories.
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As explored in the essay, Arundhati Roy’s contributions to the field of literature as well as politics is huge, and accepted by many. She is someone who utilized the immense fame she received for her first book in ways that could benefit the gesneral public. Although she received numerous backlashes for her works that challenged the functioning of the Indian government, her supporters and herself continued to push through. Her works, both fiction and non-fiction played a vital role in instilling important thoughts in the minds of readers about the way our country is moving and aided in nurturing the readers to use their voices and other forms of expression to speak out about these concerns.
Krishnaveni, R. (2014). A Brief Study of “The God of Small Things.” International Journal of English Language, Literature and Humanities, 420–428. https://ijellh.com/papers/2014/August/38-420-428-August-2014.pdf.
Tikkanen, A. (2020). Arundhati Roy. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Arundhati-Roy.