‘Most Flames Die, Only a Few Refuse’: To My Friend Arundhati Roy

A TN university removed Roy’s book from its course. Noted publisher Naveen Kishore writes to Roy in solidarity.

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Image of Arundhati Roy used for representational purposes.
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Dear dear Arundhati,

The first thing he did was to put the languages under arrest. So as to reduce the agitated babble to silence. He isolated them. Solitary confinement. Then he proceeded to strip them naked. Men. Women. Children. No one was spared. Meanwhile his men gathered all the name tags that the prisoners had worn and went about the task of mixing the one with the other. Causing immense confusion. In a bizarre revelry of a ritual reminiscent of a lottery. An incoherent alphabet unable to find its way home.

Now they take your book away.

‘Most Flames Die. Only A Few Refuse’

‘Ms Roy had glorified Maoists’.

You wrote this text in 2010. They prescribed it for their students in 2017.

‘Killing fields’, ‘anti-national, ‘security threat’ – What does this mean?

You are predictably neither ‘shocked’ nor ‘surprised’.

Meanwhile, how can the forcible ‘removal’ of thoughts bound into books disappear?

Most flames die. Only a few refuse. To die. Resisting attempts to douse them. To stamp them underfoot. Resorting to subterfuge. And skilful camouflage. Wearing the garb of charred wood. Chameleons. Learning to hide. Amongst the embers. Concealing their fire. And their grit. Behind the ashes. Patiently. Burying themselves deep. Oblivious of the clock ticking. Biding their time. To rise.

Refreshing themselves. Shifting shape. Finding avenues of escape. From the onslaught of water and sand. An army of hose pipes. And water jets. The weapons arrayed against them. To snuff them out. Flaring up in acts of defiance. When least expected. In the unlikeliest of places. Just when the enemy is sensing victory. Fuelling anger. And frustration. With their display of rebellion. Opening up different fronts. Darting forward. And sideways. Stepping back unexpectedly. Inviting the enemy into a trap. Engaging it in skirmishes. Lying low again. Then shooting off in different directions. Simultaneously. And loudly. Screaming its lungs out. Without warning. In a deliberate and fearful attempt. To unsettle. Retreating quietly. Silently.

It would take a very strong wind to blow them out.

‘Each One Of Us Is Minutes Away From Becoming A Statistic’

Question: What does it mean for an entire country to be afraid?

Cower. Hide. Whisper. Tip-toe. To be consumed with fear.

I salute your activism. That which stems from the desire to right wrong. To respond to the prevailing wrongs in our life and to do something actively about fighting them. Not everyone does this. But those that do often plough what is commonly known as a ‘lonely furrow’.

The twin emotions of rage and disgust take over our mind and body and we are blinded with frustration.

Flailing.

Hitting out in every direction.

Venting.

Screaming our impotence.

Beating our head against the wall in shame.

We must overcome our rage and disgust and see that they are shared by others; our influence will gain in quality and scope thereby, as will our morale.

This is how movements are born.

I ask you: How do we prepare ourselves for embarking on a programme that genuinely responds to the growing plea: Enough! We do not want to live in a constant state of fear.

How indeed?

Particularly since we all appear to lead a protected life. One in which there are a number of buffers between ‘that’ which happens to other people and ‘us’.

How many of us actually believe that the violence that visited the Muslims of Gujarat or the women and children of Iraq is going to step over the threshold and stab you between the eyes?

I on the other hand, strongly feel that each one of us is minutes away from becoming a statistic, a burning, a maiming, a rape, a killing, a image, a text, a report, a victim.

‘Centuries of Women & Men Conditioned To Accept – Without Questioning’

“Violence is no longer something that happens to other people.”

One goes on. Not in the manner of one who has resigned oneself. Nor in a way that makes excuses for dreams not realised. Or one that sighs with deep regret. One simply goes on. Without missing a step. Or blinking in the face of all those disguised words, even phrases, that add up one way or another to that one single all-encompassing word: Fate.

One goes on because the opposite of that is unthinkable.

And you, dear Arundhati?

Giving voice. Not speech. Or even ‘literacy’. As in education, though all of that is a part of this vital goal of allowing those that need to be heard a space and an audience, is what you do. Lighting up the imagination of those who stammer in the place of speech, who blush when asked to state their view.

Or simply stay silent.

Years. Decades. Centuries of women and men conditioned to accept. Without questioning. Without raising their heads. Afraid to meet eye with eye.

Yes, you are in your devoted and single-minded way doing what I started this tiny tribute with: giving voice.

I salute you once again.

In solidarity and friendship,
Naveen Kishore

(Naveen Kishore is the founder-publisher of Seagull Books. He tweets @seagullbooks. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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