Author: Arundhati Roy
The history being peddled by Hindu nationalists … is turned into mythology and mythology into history, has been very ably perforated and demolished by serious scholars. But the tale was never meant for serious scholars. It is meant for an audience that few serious scholars can hope to reach.Arundhati Roy, “The Graveyard Talks Back”
Arundhati Roy’s collection of essays on the fight for freedom and the rise of fascism in the Indian subcontinent, and the power of language in shaping people’s ideas about the social structures of power is a compelling read. Not only does Roy paint a fierce picture of political struggle but also explores how the language of struggle can play a role in shifting the reading of history itself, and asks whether or not this language will bring separate struggles together, or keep them apart.
I’ve been very interested in the relationship between fiction and politics, especially those of struggle and social change, for quite some time, and have admired Roy’s outspoken engagement with these topics, especially from a radically left standpoint. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of the separation of language and dialect in the development of India’s national identity and the assertion of a caste system in the first essay of the collection, “In What Language Does Rain Fall Over Tormented Cities?” Roy discusses this history in relation to writing both of her novels, The God of Small Things and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (the latter of which I still must read!).
I was expecting a little more discussion on the place of fiction in a politically fraught world than there is, but the book doesn’t actually make any claim that this is the primary intention of the work, so I can’t fault it for that. I was thoroughly interested in the essays of pure politics as well.
For each essay, I searched for a form, for language, for structure and narrative. Could I write as compellingly about irrigation as I could about love and loss and childhood? … About things that affect ordinary people’s lives? Not as reportage, but as a form of storytelling? Was it possible to turn these topics into literature? Literature for everybody — including for people who couldn’t read and write, but who had taught me how to think, and could be read to?Arundhati Roy, “The Language of Literature”