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Arundhati Roy, We Want the Novelist in You Back

On her birthday, an appeal to Arundhati Roy to give us some more of her delectable fiction.

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A cramped 10X10 room. Books, clothes, and other oddities lie strewn all over. A room somewhere in a not-so-posh neighbourhood of Delhi. Not even a room. Just a space defined as a room by the excuse for furniture and furninshing that unceremoniously occupy it. A room without any impression-making acumen. A woman, who appears to be the product of the “unholy union between Sai Baba and Bugs Bunny” (Introduction, In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones: The Original Screenplay) looks up from a text she had been peering into, and asks about a possible Hindi translation for ‘dialectical materialism’. A question which she answers herself, breaking into a laugh – “dwandatmak bhautikvaad”; the sharp trails of cigarette smoke she’s surrounded by defining her acerbic demeanour.

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Pradip Kishen’s 1989 TV film In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones not only dared to break quite a few cinematic conventions, but was also remarkably scripted by his then wife, who acted in the film too. But you and I probably don’t refer to her as an once scriptwriter (Malgudi Days), and actor (Massey Sahib).

Her more relatable persona is that of an author and activist. And today is her birthday. So, to begin with, Happy Birthday Ms Arundhati Roy!

Sometimes when you skim through what the Indian media writes, and reports, it seems the world is divided between those who love Roy, and those who hate her. But we are not going to rally endlessly on such walkways. Instead, on her birthday, we would like to have the novelist, short story writer Arundhati Roy back, whose fiction regaled us. And for those who still choose to hate her, as Virginia Woolf once wrote, “Women and fiction remain, so far as I am concerned, unsolved problems.”

A Benevolent God, Readying Herself Up in Heaven

On her birthday, an appeal to Arundhati Roy to give us some more of her delectable fiction.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/Arundhati Roy)

Roy published her first, and only novel till date, The God of Small Things in 1997. She deploys almost sensuous, yet pithy prose to tell the story of a family – its domestic obscurities, the alchemy of its relationships, the history of its surrounding, a compendium, chronicle of its mixed, muddled past. In a sense, the god of small things is the collective aspiration of our everydayness. The everydayness which defines human endeavour, and will.

In a purely practical sense it would probably be correct to say that it all began when Sophie Mol came to Ayemenem. Perhaps it’s true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house – the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture – must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story. 
The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
On her birthday, an appeal to Arundhati Roy to give us some more of her delectable fiction.
The cover of The God of Small Things.
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Canonically, the everyday only features in history through a set of causalities. The everyday needs to be an ‘event’ to become historical. Roy beautifully debunks this idea in her fiction. When Sophie Mol, the character whose death marks the beginning of the book, indeed arrived in Ayemenem, she set forth a cartwheel of occurrences, not being fully aware herself.

Still, to say that it all began when Sophie Mol came to Ayemenem is only one way of looking at it. Equally, it could be argued that it actually began thousands of years ago. Long before the Marxists came. Before the British took Malabar, before the Dutch Ascendency, before Vasco da Gama arrived, before the Zamorin’s conquest of Calicut. Before three purple-robed Syrian bishops murdered by the Portuguese were found floating in the sea, with coiled sea serpents riding on their chests and oysters knotted in their tangled beards. It could be argued that it began long before Christianity arrived in a boat and seeped into Kerala like tea from a teabag. That it really began in the days when the Love Laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much. However, for practical purposes, in a hopelessly practical world…
The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
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A Brief ‘Briefing’

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The only other piece of fiction that Roy wrote is a short story entitled The Briefing.

Written as a note to be read by a tourist guide to those who visit the largest fortification in the Alpine region – a fort constructed during the 19th century by the Hapsburg family in order to halt the advance of the revolutionary changes rooted in anti-imperialism that were being provoked by the French Revolution.

Remarkably written as an allegory, the impressionist, yet lucidly detailed story delineates a compounded reality which entails the perilous effects of climate change, a ruthless, agenda-driven War on Terror, and the corporate takeover of our everyday.

On her birthday, an appeal to Arundhati Roy to give us some more of her delectable fiction.
The fort that has never been attacked. Built by the Hapsburgs in 1833, it is believed the Nazis hid the gold they looted during World War II here. (Photo: iStockphoto)
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Beauty. We could go on about it all day and all night long. What is it? What is it not? Who has the right to decide? Who are the world’s real curators, or should we say the real world’s curators? What is the real world? Are things we cannot imagine, measure, analyse, represent and reproduce real? Do they exist? Do they live in the recesses of our minds in a fort that has never been attacked? When our imaginations fail, will the world fail too? How will we ever know?
The Briefing, Arundhati Roy
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The Writer of Big Things

As we mentioned in the beginning, we would refrain from talking about Roy’s political writing and commentary. After all, endless value-judging can seldom prove to be a productive journalistic, or literary endeavour. There has been news for sometime that Roy is working on a new novel. One fervently wishes that one gets one’s hands on it soon.

As she borrowed from Lewis Carroll to end her Lanan Foundation lecture, Come September, let us steal a march to ask her to write about “cabbages and kings”, or just “shoes and sealing-wax”, “to talk of many things”, because only she can tell us “why the sea is boiling hot”, and “whether pigs have wings”.

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