ANANYA S GUHA
Arundhati Roy mentioned in a recent interview in The Hindu that her pets are street dogs, and not the more refined ones. Why not? she asked adding that she herself is a street dog. The interview also highlighted her views on fiction (it is poetry, love) her architectural concern with writing fiction, and how fiction is blueprint of reality. In her political articles, she writes because of urgency, her immediate felt need to write, but in fiction perhaps she is drawing a parallel world which she loves and knows intimately. Somewhere in the interview she mentions that there is no care in the country, for the poor and land is savagely snatched away from them. She dismisses her incarceration in prison as another event.
The interview is significant for many reasons. The first and foremost is: how does the writer/ artist perceive the world around her? How much of the present life and circumstances do you bring into your creativity? And how does this creativity tell on your life situation? What is or are the merger of realities — life and art? Does the spoken word take a recall from the written, how action oriented is it? In other words does the artist’s imagination also impinge on social realities? Or do social realities take off into aesthetics? These questions can confront the writer of today, and may have done so in the past. In other words is writing all about closeting oneself, and hoping that your book will do the best? What happened to a novelist like her, who after writing her first book, started furiously to explain the political and social legacies of a country trundling and then rushing on to dismemberment.
Interviews such as this are significant in at least they show how writers are a foil to social misdeeds and inequalities in a country. The social or sociological imagination impinges upon the creative and aesthetic sense. For this one may not write a political discourse. If as she says, fiction is architecture, then it must be built upon soundly, imaginatively, and not in the manner of conscious craftsmanship.
But the point is, how long can writers and artists, cut off themselves from their ‘surroundings’, a word which connotes more than its literal suggestion. Surroundings are large, even larger than your life, your immediacy. It is these surroundings she alludes to, her country, where the poorest of the poor have no language to understand, yet find themselves behind prison fetters. Those who can use the power of language can write, writing is shield to protect; the writer and others.
It is this seeking for protection which rings through loudly and clearly in her interview which is actually soaked in the cardinal principle of love and feeling for others, not half as fortunate as you are. Writers please taking note. It is easy to highlight oppression in your writings, not compassion. It is easy to use writing as something which is drily didactic, but not to practise it. The moment this withdrawal takes place then the writer artist is cocooned into a comfort zone, where preaching becomes an alter ego.
Arundhati Roy demonstrates once again the implausibility of loving in this country. It could be mistaken for profanity, disregard, irreverence for the government. So put behind the bars you must be.
What message do such interviews go to the writer/ artist? Is it only plain talk and gutsy things that we admire? She also says somewhere that she has rented a tenement in Old Delhi, where she lives sometimes, spending time with people, moving around even late at night. The common folk truly is her syndrome, and the heart of her matter, something perhaps that is more crystallised in her latest novel.
A good point. Writers note. It is this commonality which must strike chords, bell the cat and awaken what William Golding calls the ”lit centre”. Such an interview is not the paradigm of aesthetics, but of resurgent consciousness, fighting the good fight. One may ask: whom do we protect? Well it is a rhetorical question. We protect those who have no voice, no language, no bargaining aptitude. they are throttled by some raging voices, those who have political access, championing violence and bringing about decrepitude in the social fabric. No cheers for them at all. Cheers for the voiceless and their arbiters in the shape of architects of grand design, artist writers, who perceive in their domain heightened moments of compassion, sensitiveness, taking calculated risks to act out the whole show in their fractured lives. In a way, if you look at the essentials the disturbance is an echo, then comes action, whether in writing or more direct protest.
The why and what of her interview is not self indignation. It is compassion extending even to the animal world. She sees the many many worlds of the country and throws her towel of insight and foresight into these deeply disturbed but silent worlds. You throttle them, then you throttle the country. The writer’s imagination draws deep breath and sustenance from them. Overall it may not be painful. But pleasurable. Those whom we fight for may be ignorant of it. But the light glints somewhere, sometime, for the writer artist snowballed into legitimate action. Prison walls as she says are only infinitesimal parts of the story.
Arundhati Roy’s diversity of a country is rooted in consciousness of protesters, the poor and the hapless in a country which has no place for them. Above it if they are divested of land they have nowhere to go. Their ‘insurgency ‘ is a result of the insurgency of the corporate. The ‘half girl friend’ is only a pathetic imitation of realities. A truncated inversion of it. The dominating world of the writer artist, is a more fuller and rounded one. The imagination strikes plenty there. And there hidden, or not so hidden in labyrinths are street dogs.
Arundhati Roy who is known to be a sympathiser of Maoists in her comments has categorically mentioned the poorer sections in her interview. The interview is an oblique reference to political and social domination of the powers that be, the money launderers and plutocrats. Hence her reference to diversity in a country where politicians are hell bent on creating a monolithic structure is significant. But her interview is an exhortation to writers/artists to strike at the conscience of their readers in an impoverished and caste/class ridden society.
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