A com­plete edi­tion of ARUNDHATI ROY’s un­abashedly polem­i­cal es­says was re­leased in June. She speaks to SHOUGAT DASGUPTA


Q. Given what has hap­pened in the 20 years since you wrote these pieces, do you de­spair?

It’s im­ma­te­rial whether I, per­son­ally, de­spair or not. I am not the point. The ques­tion is whether we—all of us, col­lec­tively— feel things are go­ing well or not. Do we feel we live in a real democ­racy in which peo­ple’s rights are pro­tected re­gard­less of caste, class, reli­gion or eth­nic­ity? If not, is jus­tice at least an ideal? Are we mov­ing in that di­rec­tion? Are we mak­ing the right de­ci­sions with re­gard to the en­vi­ron­ment? Have the great dams we have built de­liv­ered what they promised? Are the in­sti­tu­tions in our coun­try—courts, schools and uni­ver­si­ties, hos­pi­tals, banks—work­ing for the good of our peo­ple? Are they within reach of the poor­est of the poor? How many lynch­ings per month, or per week, how many mass mur­ders and pub­lic flog­gings can we per­mit our­selves and con­tinue call­ing our­selves a democ­racy?

Q. Why does re­sis­tance, such as the farm­ers’ protests, have such lit­tle ef­fect on pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion?

It’s sad, but it’s noth­ing new. It’s the same old trope about declar­ing the na­tion un­der threat and de­nounc­ing ev­ery­body who ques­tions that as­ser­tion as un­pa­tri­otic. Peo­ple fall for it ev­ery time. Shake­speare wrote about it, Goebbels was a glee­ful pro­po­nent. It’s a great irony that the sui­cide bomber of Pul­wama had the great­est say in who’d rule In­dia for the next five years. His was the de­cid­ing vote—he man­aged to make those who were reel­ing un­der this govern­ment’s poli­cies vote against their own best in­ter­ests. I mean, what can you do ex­cept con­grat­u­late the fas­cists heartily for a deadly game well played? What can you do ex­cept won­der whether we will ever have a fair elec­tion in this coun­try again? If we want one, we have a se­ri­ous fight on our hands.

Q. Your crit­ics say your con­dem­na­tion is without nu­ance, weary­ing…

Let’s flip that around, if you don’t mind. As I have said in my fore­word, each es­say is, in fact, a re­sponse to the un­seemly, un­nu­anced, bul­ly­ing and vul­gar cel­e­bra­tion around some pretty hor­ri­fy­ing events. Yes, I can un­der­stand it is weary­ing for the guests when some­one keeps drag­ging corpses into the cock­tail party. But what should we do with the bod­ies? Bury them qui­etly? When the Supreme Court passes an or­der to evict two mil­lion Adi­va­sis from their for­est homes, you don’t hear much protest. But when it is sug­gested that the poor­est 20 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion be given a liv­ing wage, a howl of con­dem­na­tion rises. Any­how, for the mo­ment, it looks very much as though the ‘ac­chhe din’ are be­hind us. We are in a pretty un-nu­anced cri­sis, po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal.

Q. Is there still space in our press to con­front power in the way you have in these es­says?

I think the me­dia is un­der huge threat right now. There will al­ways be out­liers, we’re not all go­ing to lie down and obe­di­ently die, are we? But the threat is real. And that dense, shrill, te­flon-coated, fool­ish­ness is al­ways close at hand. I think the dam­age some TV news an­chors have done to the so­cial fab­ric of this coun­try is un­for­giv­able. If there is in­deed a tukde­tukde gang, it’s them.

Q. Af­ter years of be­ing asked about your re­turn to fic­tion, is it too early to ask about a re­turn to non-fic­tion?

God knows. I have no idea what I’m go­ing to do next. It doesn’t mat­ter. How long will they let peo­ple like me sur­vive and work? I don’t know. Some­times I feel like My Sedi­tious Heart is a weather fore­cast over 20 long years. Now the weather has ar­rived. We have to en­dure it.

MY SEDI­TIOUS HEART Col­lected Non-Fic­tion by Arundhati Roy PEN­GUIN `999; 1,032 pages

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