Does any country deserve to have Arundhati Roy? The Booker prize-winning novelist of The God of Small Things is running amok in the reckless rage of a suicide bomber. This month she will turn 49, but it seems she is growing up without a brief. (She doesnt even colour her graying hair. )The woman just doesnt know how to be an ‘acclaimed author’. Instead of quietly working on her next novel, she writes provocative, mocking and long essays that upset the flow of the Rising India legend.
In March this year, she went to what the local police call Pakistan, the no-go area in the central state of Chhatisgarh, which is controlled by Maoists, the militant group that has called for the overthrow of Indian state. Roy walked with the Pakistanis in the thick forests, ate chicken curry with them, slept in their camps, and once back in Delhi, she wrote, The Maoists are not the only ones who seek to depose the Indian State. Its already been deposed several times by Hindu fundamentalism and economic totalitarianism.
In August, she took over one of Middle Class Indias few holy cows – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a soft-spoken man known for his impeccable honesty. She wrote, Over the years he (Singh) has stacked his cabinet and the bureaucracy with people who are evangelically committed to the corporate takeover of everything water, electricity, minerals, agriculture, land, telecommunications, education, health no matter what the consequences.
In October, Roy sat beside Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Shah Geelani in a conference called Azadi: The Only Way, and repeated what she had said a week before: Kashmir has never been an integral part of India.
All hell broke loose. The US President Barack Obama is arriving in Delhi this week but newspapers and TV channels were occupied with Roy. Vir Sanghvi, the most eloquent voice of upper middle-class India, wrote, Roy’s statements pose no threat to us at all. Some years ago, she wrote a very long article for The Guardian and Outlook, demanding azaadi for Kashmir. The consequences of that article were hardly damaging or dangerous. India did not collapse. Kashmir did not secede. And the piece itself was quickly forgotten. Senior BJP leader M Venkaih Naidu said, “When there is an elected government in Kashmir as the result of free and fair elections, how can someone say the state is not an integral part of India? Its nothing but sedition We demand the strongest possible action against Roy. In an interview to a Bangalore newspaper, historian Ramchandra Guha said, Shes crazy. Arundhati Roy has become a joke, a publicity fiend. He later issued a clarification, saying, Ms Roy is not a joke, but a vigorous and somewhat one-sided polemicist.
I have more personal views on Arundhati Roy. I think she dresses very stylishly. Her voice is soft. Her smile is dazzling. Her dimples are cute. Her figure is sexy. Her writing is intense, sometimes bordering on poetry. I applaud her choice of her favorite writer Vladimir Nabokov. I have loved every single word she has written. In fact, I find her very existence the epitome of the idea of India: Roys mother is a Syrian Christian. Her father was a Bengali Hindu. Her husband is a Delhi-ite. Roy is a Malayali from Kerala, the coastal state on Indias southern-most tip. And look, she is speaking for the people of Kashmir, a region that India claims to be its northernmost state. How pan-Indian can you get?
Reading Roys works taught me to look at things differently: There could be more than two or three narratives to a story. There is more to the world than our passport identities. It is honorable for us to have an Unsafe Edge. It is brave, not insane, to cross into forbidden territories. There is no Final Truth. That it is fun to mess with peoples heads.
Dear readers, Arundhati Roy is my hero. Each time she attends a public event in Delhi, I make sure Im there. One afternoon, I sighted her at The Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia, near the exhibition grounds of Pragati Maidan in central Delhi. Roys hair had streaks of grey. Her forehead was looking larger than usual. Her skin complexion had gone darker. Her eyes were kohl-lined. Her ear-danglers were of silver. Her black beaded necklace had a red pendant. Her blouse was black. Her brown cotton sari had maroon stripes. She was older, a little less thin, and more beautiful than ever. Her cheeks were still sucked close to the bones. Her smile she was occasionally smiling was still radiant, but also a little sad. That familiar wildness, which I have always sensed around her, had faded. The anarchy in her persona was less loud.
The outward impression, however, could not annul the consequence of being Arundhati Roy. Roy looked like a great man. She had that historic quality, which comes from intense focus on an important subject (Kashmir? Maoists? Adivasis? Justice? Nabokov?). It is certain that one day she would be assassinated.
While walking out of the club, greeting people around her, she did not for a moment break her interior communion. She was entirely governed by her ideas, which were noble. Outside, on a tree-lined lane that skirts the main road, she kept walking straight. I was standing behind a neem tree. After what seemed to be a lifetime, she came very close. Then Roy looked at me, looked away and walked ahead. Like a jazz tune. India is lucky to have her.
The writer is a Delhi-based writer and photographer. He runs a blog called Pakistan Paindabad