Arundhati Roy’s follow-up to The God of Small Things, 20 years in the making, is arguably already the literary event of the year. And the book isn’t even on the shelves yet. Roy is venerated abroad, treated like a saint. At home, though, she is derided as
Twenty years after her Bookerwinning debut, The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy returns as fiction writer, with The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Were Arundhati Roy just another writer, the release of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness on June 6, her muchanticipated second novel 20 years after her coruscating Booker-winning debut, would be the subject of hyperventilation on the nation’s books pages alone. Except Roy is not so much a writer as a political lightning rod. And our nation has no books pages to speak of, the mainstream media treating books with the sort of kindly condescension the young and strong might reserve for the old and infirm.
In lieu of bookchat, in the run-up to publication, Roy has found herself as the inadvertent centre of a minor but gusty squall. “Instead of tying stone pelter on the army jeep [sic]”, tweeted the actor and BJP member of parliament Paresh Rawal, “tie Arundhati Roy!” After deleting the tweet, Rawal claimed he had been “coerced” by Twitter and that he stood by “the citizens and Indian armed forces under any situation and at any cost”. And to think that it’s Roy whom her critics describe as shrill and hysterical. A couple of days after Rawal’s tweet, Roy is perched on a sofa in an Old Delhi cafe laughing at her attackers, her gunmetal curls greyer, perhaps, but otherwise little affected by the passage of decades. At the cafe, incongruously located at the end of a narrow lane of spare-parts shops opposite the Jama Masjid, glasses of Rooh Afza are served, though Roy, still spare and fit in her mid-50s, leaves hers untouched. She was, she says, not in Srinagar to make the remarks attributed to her that set Rawal off and led to a fresh round of absurd studio debates predicated on fake news. In 2010, a case was filed against her for sedition for saying Kashmir was not an integral part of India. At the time, Roy defended herself by claiming that she “spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal