Author Arundhati Roy says youngsters need to be aware of political, social and economic issues that engulf them.

Sukant Deepak    |   September 30, 2015 | Posted by Manpreet Kaur | UPDATED 16:46 IST

The delicate calligraphy of The God of Small Things and the rage of her essays come together as she answers questions, releasing hand gestures and shadows even as the fantastic permed grays on her head decide to be careless. The delicate nose pin maintains its arrogance as she answers in whispers amidst a sea of old and new comrades with flowing beards looking at her. The peculiar vulnerability in the voice makes one more attentive. Much more receptive.

When Booker prize winning author Arundhati Roy was in Jalandhar in August to attend the birth anniversary of Punjabi revolutionary poet Avtar Singh Sandhu “Pash”, organised by Pash Memorial International Trust, hundreds of people from the state’s countryside decided to take their seats at the venue. Pindrop silence during her two-hour long lecture, punctuated only by the sounds of old wall fans, was followed by mobile phone camera flashes and rounds of photographs with the author, who has been frequently visiting Punjab’s villages. Not to mention, grown-up sturdy Punjabi men touching her feet. The interaction with Roy, who was recently listed as one of the 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2014, is not linear. Here are some excerpts:LOVING INDIA
The author says not many nations in the modern world can claim to have a strong tradition of rebellion and intellectual dissent that India has. “We, as a people, have fantastic wisdom in understanding dissent.

The state had to pause Operation Green Hunt following a massive outcry from all quarters,” says Roy. She believes the establishment is going great lengths to break the intellectual support that different movements may be enjoying. “An effort is being made to train our imagination. And to achieve the same, education and culture are being used as tools. Look at the textbooks today; words like dissent, revolution and class war have been erased. Appointments to important cultural centres are made on the basis of political affiliations and not merit,” she laments.

The writer insists that for most NGOs, the word justice has vanished from the vocabulary and the emphasis is only on human rights. “When you take away politics from justice, what remains is human rights. NGOs have become all about identity politics; why don’t they even utter the word capitalism?” she asks. Stressing that women’s rights groups have failed to focus on and highlight the condition of women living in the countryside, Roy cites the example of Chhattisgarh and those involved with the Narmada Bachao Andolan. “Does anyone even want to get into the economic ramifications of displacement the Narmada project has had on women? What about women at the receiving end of violence unleashed by security forces in Chhattisgarh?” she asks. Speak to her about the recent government crackdown on organisations such as Greenpeace and Roy stresses the state can tolerate dissent only to some extent. “It’s alright to have a lion around. But only a pet one will do,” she says.

Roy, who prefers to stay away from all literature festivals, claims the undertone in such events is that an author should write stories that appease, and not awaken. “There seems to be a suggestion that books should be written only to win a Booker Prize, appeal to popular sensibilities and become bestsellers. Cross that line and the word activist is attached to your name. Sadly, a writer is not expected to understand injustice,” she says.

Though refusing to elaborate about her next work of fiction, as “fiction is about a completely different rhythm and this is no place to talk about it”, the writer clarifies that it would be unfair to slot her fiction and essays in different brackets. “Do you really believe I could have written those essays if I were not a writer? Doesn’t everybody see structure, journalism and scholarship in those writings (essays)?” she asks, before joining the sea of people who have come to see her. She then gets lost in them.

Arundhati Roy at a glance
1997 National Film Award for Best Screenplay for In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones
1997 Booker Prize for debut novel, The God of Small Things
2002 Lanan Foundation (USA) Cultural Freedom Award
2003 Special Recognition as a Woman of Peace at Global Exchange Human Rights Awards in San Francisco, US
2004 Sydney Peace Prize
2006 The Sahitya Akademi Award, which Roy declined to accept “in protest against the Indian Government toeing the US line by violently and ruthlessly pursuing policies of brutalisation of industrial workers, increasing militarisation and economic neo-liberalisation”.
2011 Norman Mailer Prize (USA) for Distinguished Writing
2014 Featured in the list of Time 100, the 100 most influential people in the world

“Experts on poet Avtar Singh Sandhu “PASH” Pash is not dead. His voice still resounds. At a young age, he effectively brought forth different problems plaguing the society around him through powerful idioms and metaphors. Pash was not only a Punjabi poet but belonged to everyone.” -NAMVAR SINGH, Literary Critic

“A major reason why I translated all of Pash’s works into Hindi was the fact that he will always remain relevant. Look at the contemporary society. Don’t his words sound true even today? Look around, don’t we have injustice, inequality and fascism in different forms prevalent all round? -CHAMAN LAL, Translator

“Pash is not great just because he was a revolutionary. The fact he could reach out to even those who did not subscribe to any specific ideology, think on different planes, project his thoughts aesthetically without sounding absurd is what makes him stand out. The sheer genius of his verse will ensure he never dies,” says Roy.

Stressing that Punjab’s iconic poet, who was killed by Khalistani militants on March 23, 1988, will continue to inspire future generations as he demonstrates an unparalleled ability to imagine. Roy says, “He gave a heart to the revolution. You cannot be a writer or a poet just because you believe in the leftist ideology.” For this 53-year-old author, getting labelled is dangerous, for there will be a fear of living in a ghetto. “An awakened writer’s job is not to lecture or indulge in naarabazi. A revolutionary looks at justice everywhere-starting right from home. No matter what we are talking about, why must we forget the beauty in art and literature?”


Talking about her essay Walking with the Comrades, that chronicles her journey to the heart of Maoist bastion-the jungles of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh-the author says that spending time with the tribals and Maoists was to get a clear picture of what was actually happening there. “Just because I wrote that essay does not mean I am a Maoist. I wanted to tell the world that for people in those neglected parts, it was a fight for survival. And they are not terrorists just because India’s massive and powerful media decided to label them so,” she says.
Roy says Operation Green Hunt, launched against Maoists during the tenure of the UPA government, is still on, though silently. “The architects of the operation, who thought the whole country would support them when they unleashed massive war machinery against the tribals, realised their PR campaign was not going on the planned course. It is a war where the para military forces have been trained like the Army and instructed to unleash violence on their own people. Of course, we still like to call ourselves a great democracy,” says Roy.