15 March 2011

Arundhati Roy: a woman, a writer, a friend

Suzanna Arundhati Roy, more popularly known as Arundhati Roy, is an Indian writer. She advocates social justice and economic inequality issues. She has won the Booker Prize for her novel, The God of Small Things, in 1997.

Child of a Keralite Syrian Christian mother and a Bengali tea planter father, Roy first became an architect before being a writer. She got married to an architect himself, Gerard da Cunha, during her studies but remarried in 1984 to a filmmaker, Pradip Krishen.

She attracted media attention when she criticised Shekhar Kapur’s film Bandit Queen, saying the director has no right to ‘restage the rape of a living woman (Phoolan Devi) without her permission.’ She was catapulted to international fame upon the publication of her first novel, which is semi-autobiographical, distributed to 18 other countries.

Her work was not regarded positively in the United Kingdom, however. It was, for some, ‘execrable’ and ‘profoundly depressing.’ It was also criticized in her home country, and Roy was charged of obscenity by Chief Minister E. K. Nayanar.

It could be for that reason Roy worked as a screenplay writer again. She wrote The Banyan Tree, an anthropological serial that explored the evolution of the Indian people, their cultures and languages; and DAM/AGE: A Film with Arundhati Roy, a documentary against the Narmada dam project. She contributed to the book We Are One: A Celebration of Tribal Peoples, which explores the culture, diversity and threats to everyone in world.

She wrote again, but for nonfiction and political books only. She spoke against globalization, neo-imperialism, India’s industrialization, the Narmada dam project and even the United States’ global policies.

She encountered opposition from some political authorities in her country for her support for the independence of Kashmir from India. Only mainstream journalists backed her namely Vir Sanghvi, executive editor of the Hindustan Times; Jug Suraiya, editor of The Times of India; and Swaminathan Aiyar, a staff of The Times of India. She was put in contempt by the Indian Supreme Court for her allegations of corruptions in the Indian military, and sentenced her to one-day imprisonment with Rs2500 fine.

Environmental historian Ramachandra Guha also criticized Roy’s ‘tendency to exaggerate and simplify’. She was courageous and committed alright, but Guha still finds Roy ‘hyperbolic and self-indulgent, giving a bad name to environmental analysis.’

She sparked more controversies. She had fierce discussions with Gail Omvedt on the Narmada Dam project. She accused the US military invasion of Afghanistan as ‘another act of terror’ and recounted 19 underdeveloped countries it has bombed since WWII. She called President George W. Bush a ‘war criminal.’

She wrote The End of Imagination, a critique of the Indian government’s nuclear policies in 1998. She crusaded against hydroelectric dam projects in her country. She regarded the conflict between Israel and Lebanon a ‘war crime’, accusing Israel of ‘state terror.’

Among with 100 other artists and writers, she cried for an international boycott of Israeli political and cultural institutions. She called for a re-investigation on the 2001 Indian Parliament attack. She insisted a death sentence for Mohammad Afzal. She believed the November 2008 Mumbai attacks covers a wider issue that is poverty.

She remarked that the incident was spurred by the Muslims in India. She attacked the significance of the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower as the country’s iconic symbol. She waved international attention on the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

For all of these, she only got $30,000 for her novel The God of Small Things, the National Film Award for Best Screenplay for In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones, the Lannan Foundation 2002 for her ‘struggle for freedom, justice and cultural diversity’, the Sydney Peace Prize 2004 for her social campaigns and non-violence advocacy, and the India Academy of Letters 2006* for her collection of essays on contemporary issues.

But recognition is not what Arundhati Roy rallies for. She is, after all, a woman, a writer, and a friend.

*She declined to accept the recognition in protest against the Indian government.

The God of Small Things
The End of Imagination
The Cost of Living
The Greater Common Good
The Algebra of Infinite Justice
Power Politics
War Talk
For Reasons of State (Foreword)
An Ordinary Person’s Guide To Empire
Public Power in the Age of Empire
The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile
The Strange Case of the Attack on the Indian Parliament (Introduction)
The Shape of the Beast
Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy

No comments: