With her symbolic representation of the big man, the ‘Laltain’ and the small man, the ‘Mombatti’, Arundhati Roy had registered her phenomenal presence in the corridors of the literary world when her debut novel The God of Small Things brought her laurels with the Booker prize in 1997. In the year 2017, her second work of fiction The Ministry of Utmost Happiness again cast its spell and simply mesmerised the world of literature.
In the intervening period of twenty years, Roy contributed many essays that reflect on the fallout of a tectonic shift in the socio-political milieu of India. Her latest book My Seditious Heart is a collection of those thought-provoking and hard-hitting essays. The notion of modernisation, globalisation, liberalisation, weaponisation, caste conflict, religious fundamentalism, oppression of the marginalised, Maoist, and Kashmiri Insurgencies and so on are some of the flash points, she vociferously vocalises in her essays.
With her overt sympathies with the ongoing revolutionary movements in India, the author has also earned the wrath of particularly the right-winged fanatics who irately dub her anti-national and seditionist.
In her first essay, ‘The End of Imagination’ Roy critiques the deadly concept of the nuclearisation of a state. She sketches the harrowing spectacle of the holocaust and the ghastly end of civilisation, the nuclear weapons can cause. The political motive that drives the proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction is also succinctly laid bare.
Roy believes that any state which has nuclear bombs in its arsenal, in fact, shelters a Frankenstein’s monster. Her essay ‘Doctor and Saint’ resonates with every sensitive and informed individual. It meticulously dwells upon the idea of caste in India and portrays the dichotomous standpoints of Gandhi and Ambedkar pertaining to this contentious issue. Those who are the diehard votaries of Gandhi and revere him as Mahatma, will not see eye to eye with the author.
Roy is up in arms over Gandhi’s acceptance of the caste system and opines that historians have been unfair to Ambedkar. To Gandhi, she dubs “the saint of the status quo”, whereas Ambedkar in India is designated the iconic leader of the Dalit community, the harbinger of hope for the downtrodden.
She also takes up cudgels against the construction of ‘Sardar Sarvor’ Dam. The big dams are not built with the intent of bringing prosperity to the poor, tribal villagers. They simply snatch away the natural water resources and aggravate the misery of the debt-ridden farmers by displacing them from their homes and flooding their lands. Comparing the big dams with the nuclear bombs, the author denounces the establishment for its pro-capitalist stance.
Her essays do not just document the socio-political upheaval. They can also be aptly categorised as part of the literature of ideas. Her acerbic style of writing coupled with well-turned phrases is absolutely in sync with the subject matter. It is not a mere harangue but the genuine concern of a socially conscious writer. Bolstered with the historical details from the past, the essays will be equally relevant in the future as well.
Book: My Seditious Heart
Author: Arundhati Roy
Publisher: Penguin Hamish Hamilton
Pages: 993; Price: Rs 999