Monday, 15 November 2010
A problem called Saint Arundhati
Make no mistake about it. Ms Roy writes stupendous literature. Her mastery over the English language, her ability to craft scintillating phrases, is par excellence. I am huge fan of her writing skills. I also fully support her right to freedom of speech, as the rest of us enjoy.
So far so good. Now here’s where things go awry: Ms Roy is a one-book wonder. That one book, which won her the Booker, turned her into an international celebrity overnight. It became her ticket to fame. And we were all proud her. And we wanted more. Of her fine prose. And rivetting fiction.
But that was not to be. Ms Roy forgot all about telling stories, and jumped right into dark realism. And became a self-styled social activist-cum-column writer. Well, okay, nothing wrong with that, we said. If she could bring her skills to the fore to effect social change, what can be better than that?
The real problem began when she suddenly turned into a hardliner leftist, so to speak, and began writing extremely one-sided and immensely militant opinion pieces. Which essentially are one hundred per cent against the State. So in Ms Roy’s opinion, The Great Indian State is a monster that grabs land, rapes poor women, murders innocents and is out to inflict dirty capitalism on the unsuspecting masses. And the opposers to the Sate are all angels. Especially the Naxals, ‘Gandhis with Guns’ in her flowery language. And oh, Kashmir has been usurped through force by the monstrous Indian State, and it must be freed ASAP. (What will become of it after azadi is irrelevant, of course.)
Most of us in India summarily reject her thoughts. Not because what she says is all balderdash… she actually makes very significant points on the damaged democracy called India… but because her views are extreme, biased, jaundiced, and at times, illegal. And too black and white for any sort of credibility. So we enjoy her prose, and shrug at her volcanic tirade against the nation.
But here’s the bigger problem: Because the one-book wonder is the Booker prize winner, we have to drink her regular dose of poison. And pay the price. Her frantic, over the top, one-sided, paranoid rants get happily covered by the global press. And leave behind a totally distorted view of the nation. I was in London recently, and discovered that some locals have begun to equate her with Aung San Suu Kyi. And are convinced Ms Roy has been terrorised by the monstrous Indian State. And that she too should be awarded a Nobel Peace. And granted asylum in the UK with full honours.
In short, Ms Roy has become a larger problem than we all care to think. And with the Mother Teresa-isque image she enjoys globally, under no circumstances can the state act against her, even when she breaks the law repeatedly under the guise of freedom of speech. Because that one act will actually get her international sainthood. Which is probably what she now covets
So, all that India can do is sit back and enjoy her glittering prose. And bear the cross that she has become on our collective necks. There’s nothing we can do about it. I also imagine Ms Roy welcomes it when we trash her. That she revels in the mud slinging. Because that only adds to the cult of angeldom.
Boy, I wish, how I wish, Saint Arundhati returned to penning fiction. We have lost a fine writer. And are stuck with a beautiful hate mongerer.