Arundhati Roy is a writer who was born in the tea plantations of North East India and grew up in Kerala. She studied architecture and urban planning at the Delhi School of Architecture.
She wrote two screenplays for films directed by Pradip Krishen; In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones, 1989, which won the National Award for Best Screenplay and Electric Moon, 1991. Her first novel The God of Small Things, published in 1997, won the Booker Prize and has been translated into forty-two languages. Her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, written over 10 years, was published in 2017. In the twenty years that lay between her two works of fiction, Arundhati Roy authored more than fifty non-fiction pieces. Her first major essay, The End of Imagination was written in 1998 as a response to the nuclear tests conducted by the Indian government.
In that essay, she cautions: “If there is a nuclear war, our foes will not be China or America or even each other. Our foe will be the earth herself. The very elements – the sky, the air, the land, the wind and water – will all turn against us. Their wrath will be terrible. Our cities and forests, our fields and villages will burn for days. Rivers will turn to poison. The air will become fire.”
Rigorously researched and persuasively argued, Roy’s essays cover a vast terrain of issues – capitalism, imperialism, the war on terror, social and environmental justice, India’s caste-system, and most importantly resistance. Her book-length essay The Doctor and the Saint is a deep and provocative engagement with the Ambedkar-Gandhi debate. Her many anthologies of essays include The Algebra of Infinite Justice (2001), An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire (2005), Listening to Grasshoppers (2009) and Broken Republic (2011). Taken together, Roy’s essays are a reckoning with the promises of democracy in the late 20th and early 21st Century.
In The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which has been translated into forty-nine languages, Roy moves purposefully away from the literary style of The God of Small Things to tell an extraordinarily expansive story that embraces a populous but vivid cast of characters spread across multiple geographic locations. In lines from the book, now oft-quoted, she writes:
“How to tell a Shattered Story? By slowly becoming everybody, No, by slowly becoming everyone”
Here are her answers to the questions we asked:
Why it`s important to organize women`s gatherings?
Well, if you see my work, I think it`s all kinds of gatherings, not just women`s gatherings. Today, the onslaught of the whole neoliberal, for this whole attack, if you come to India, you see that women are paying the biggest price for it – although those issues are not always conventionally addressed by women`s gatherings, because the NGO-ization of the women`s movement has meant that whenever there is a movement of women which threatens the economic order, they don`t count it as a feminist movement, you know.
So, in that line, do you think it`s important to invest money in women`s human rights? I see less and less is being invested into women`s human rights.
Of course it is less and of course it is important, but what I am saying is that there is a lot of money that is invested in certain kinds of women`s rights, and not in other kinds of women`s rights. So if you say “women”, then in India you have to ask are they upper caste women, are they Dalitwomen, are they Adivasiwomen, are they displaced women, you know, what does the term “women” mean? In this conference we have learned to question what does the term “women” mean. At sports panels they are deciding now who is a woman and who is not a woman, and today we are actually in a stage where we are even confronting a question of who is a human – because we have bots, artificial intelligences, you know, the whole idea of what is human is under question.
My last question, before thanking you a lot for this opportunity, is what solidarity means to you?
Well, solidarity first of all means understanding, the first thing it means is common understanding. When I was outside yesterday at the meeting with groups of young women and they were talking about imperfect solidarities, I said “Do you know that is the best kind of solidarity? Because the perfect solidarity can end up being a tyranny.” So we have to also learn how to be in solidarity when we disagree with each other about certain things, or agree with each other about certain things – we have to be in solidarity which is not completely anarchic, which is useless, but also not completely hierarchical, all these issues…
Thanks a lot.
We are grateful to the Mama Cash foundation which invited and supported us to attend the CREA conference.