Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy gets the Racialicious Loved-Up this week because of she rocks the word the way kick-ass musicians rock mics. Here’s what I wrote about her at the main blog. Below is an excerpt from a 2001 interview with The Progressive, in which she explains her childhood, her privilege and using it to stand with the disenfranchised, and how fiction is a way to tell the truth.
Q: You grew up in Kerala. What’s the status of women there?
Arundhati Roy: Women from Kerala work throughout India and the world earning money to send back home. And yet they’ll pay a dowry to get married, and they’ll have the most bizarrely subservient relationships with their husbands. I grew up in a little village in Kerala. It was a nightmare for me. All I wanted to do was to escape, to get out, to never have to marry somebody there. Of course, they were not dying to marry me [laughs]. I was the worst thing a girl could be: thin, black, and clever.
Q: Since you wrote your novel, you’ve produced some remarkable political essays. What was that transition like?
Roy: It’s only to people in the outside world, who got to know me after The God of Small Things, that it seems like a transition. In fact, I’d written political essays before I wrote the novel. I wrote a series of essays called “The Great Indian Rape Trick” about a woman named Phoolan Devi, and the way the film Bandit Queen exploited her, and whether or not somebody should have the right to restage the rape of a living woman without her consent. There are issues I’ve been involved with for a while.
I don’t see a great difference between The God of Small Things and my works of nonfiction. As I keep saying, fiction is truth. I think fiction is the truest thing there ever was. My whole effort now is to remove that distinction. The writer is the midwife of understanding. It’s very important for me to tell politics like a story, to make it real, to draw a link between a man with his child and what fruit he had in the village he lived in before he was kicked out, and how that relates to Mr. Wolfensohn at the World Bank. That’s what I want to do. The God of Small Things is a book where you connect the very smallest things to the very biggest: whether it’s the dent that a baby spider makes on the surface of water or the quality of the moonlight on a river or how history and politics intrude into your life, your house, your bedroom.
Q: You use a metaphor of two truck convoys. One is very large, with many people going off into the darkness. The other is much smaller and is going into the light of the promised land. Explain what you mean.
Roy: India lives in several centuries at the same time. Every night outside my house I pass a road gang of emaciated laborers digging a trench to lay fiber optic cables to speed up our digital revolution. They work by the light of a few candles. That is what is happening in India today. The convoy that melts into the darkness and disappears doesn’t have a voice. It doesn’t exist on TV. It doesn’t have a place in the national newspapers. And so it doesn’t exist. Those who are in the small convoy on their way to this glittering destination at the top of the world have completely lost the ability to see the other one. So in Delhi the cars are getting bigger and sleeker, the hotels are getting posher, the gates are getting higher, and the guards are no longer the old chowkidars, the watchmen, but they are fellows with guns. And yet the poor are packed into every crevice like lice in the city. People don’t see that anymore. It’s as if you shine a light very brightly in one place, the darkness deepens around. They don’t want to know what’s happening. The people who are getting rich can’t imagine that the world is not a better place.
Q: You made a decision, or the decision was made for you, to identify with, or to be part of, that large convoy.
Roy: I can’t be a part of the large convoy because it’s not a choice that you can make. The fact that I’m an educated person means that I can’t be on that convoy. I don’t want to be on it. I don’t want to be a victim. I don’t want to disappear into the darkness. I am an artist and a writer, and I do think that one always places oneself in the picture to see where one fits. I left home when I was sixteen and lived in places where it was very easy for me to have fallen the other way. I could have been on the large convoy because I was a woman and I was alone. In India, that’s not a joke. I could have ended up very, very badly. I’m lucky that I didn’t.
I think my eyes were knocked open and they don’t close. I sometimes wish I could close them and look away. I don’t always want to be doing this kind of work. I don’t want to be haunted by it. Because of who I am and what place I have now in India, I’m petitioned all the time to get involved. It’s exhausting and very difficult to have to say, ‘Look, I’m only one person. I can’t do everything.’ I know that I don’t want to be worn to the bone where I lose my sense of humor. But once you’ve seen certain things, you can’t un-see them, and seeing nothing is as political an act as seeing something.