Q&A WITH ARUNDHATI ROY
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