Revolution in South Asia

An Internationalist Info Project

Nepal: Conversation with Arundhati Roy

Posted by hetty7 on May 4, 2011

This article from myrepublica speaks about her experiences and perceptions and remarks on her essay Walking with the Comrades. 

Arundhati Roy (AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi)

“While walking with the comrades, Roy was frequently branded as romantic to which she reiterated: “Often when you’re in the middle of a huge and dangerous argument, one of the strategies is to use labels as missiles in order not to deal with questions. I have no problem with romance but what do they mean by that?”

Arundhati on Arundhati

Sunina Karki/Bibek Bhandari

Kathmandu, April 19: “Thin, black, clever” in her words, Sryian Christian from Kerala, Arundhati Roy thought she was the “worst that a Christian girl could be.”

In the village of Aymanam in Kerala, Roy observed that she was one of the girls who hadn’t been indoctrinated. She rather spent time catching fish and knew every insect, grass and dragonfly.

The 1997 Booker Prize Winner for The God of Small Things, Roy was in Kathmandu to attend a conference “Count Me IN’ organized by CREA, a feminist human rights organization.

“I had to get out of here (the village). To be a woman and to be married into the community was like being buried alive,” she said during a two-hour session on Monday that was part of a three-day conference. Moderated by Shohini Ghosh, an essayist and documentary filmmaker, Roy shared her childhood experiences of being a woman – and that too, a rebellious one – and the moments that made her strong.

The talk mainly delved into her personal life. Listening to Roy’s life ordeals, euphemized by her signature wit, it seemed as if the writer had channelized the low moments of her life to boost her self-esteem.

“I didn’t see much complexities, I just saw a simple terror of being a normal woman,” recounted Roy who ran away from home at the age of 16.

And in fact, years later, she seems to have succeeded for she is nothing like a ‘normal’ woman.  She has proved to be an exceptional one usually clouded by controversies for her political write-ups ranging from India’s nuclear issue, separation of Kashmir and the growing Naxalite movement to global topics like the United States’ war in Afghanistan.

For Roy, the inclination toward political writing started during her student years at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi.

“By third year I started questioning about cities, urbanization and who are they for, among other topics.”

After graduation, Roy went to Goa, sold cakes on the beach and later returned to Delhi where she lived amongst the underprivileged strata of society in the Nizamuddin Basti.

It was during this time, before she started working on The God of Small Things, that she met her husband Pradip Krishnen, wrote scripts for movies and penned a series of political essays on the movie Bandit Queen which raised a series of debates.

“I was shocked that they had changed India’s most famous bandit into history’s most famous case of rape,” Roy said.

Though the controversy was covered – momentarily- because of her famed novel The God of Small Things, she noted that a lot of people quite didn’t understand the book.

“A lot of people were looking at me like I had won the World Cup without knowing what the book was all about,” added the 49-year-old writer.

Her award-winning novel, however, also turns to be the pages from her past.  Some of the characters are, thus, inspired by her family members, her brother to name one. Another influential figure in her life is her mother, Mary, who is also a woman’s rights activist.

“My mother and I have a very complicated and a conflicted relationship. My mother was, is and has been a huge influence in good and bad ways,” she revealed. The conversation was paused by laughter, triggered by her humor.

Moderator Ghosh didn’t miss talking about Roy’s essay ‘Walking with the Comrades’ that appeared in Outlook India, an Indian magazine, in March 2010 and her trip to Chattisgargh. ( In February 2010, quietly, unannounced, Roy decided to visit the forbidding and forbidden precincts of Central India’s Dandakaranya Forests, home to a melange of tribespeople many of whom have taken up arms to protect their people against state-backed marauders and exploiters.)

Informing about the women ‘s status in the tribal group, Roy added on how she went with a firm prejudice that in an armed struggle women were going to be sufferers and at the receiving end of violence.  However, she was completely disabused by the fact that the Maoist armed forces comprised 48 percent women.

“I interacted with many of them and also learnt the reasons behind their joining the movement.  They had watched their mothers and sisters being raped and killed, their houses being burnt down by the police” observed the writer. However, according to Roy, women’s struggle and revolt was not only the struggle with the state demanding their rights but also to break out from the boundaries of the patriarchal society.

Thus writing about these issues, the questions she often faces is if she is a feminist, to which Roy rhetorically questions back,” Writing about millions of women being displaced isn’t a feminist issue.” But being termed a feminist, another adjective that finds its way toward her is – romantic.

While walking with the comrades, Roy was frequently branded as romantic to which she reiterated””Often when you’re in the middle of a huge and dangerous argument, one of the strategies is to use labels as missiles in order to not deal with questions. I have no problem with romance but what do they mean by that?

And amid different labels and loathing that Roy has come in for because of her writing, especially that with political connotations, she has underscored issues sidelined by the urbanites in her home country. She added that one doesn’t have to belong to a particular caste, creed, religion or any affiliation to write about issues surrounding them.

“For me the idea of being a writer is someone who tries to break out of that and who believes that eventually all of us must reach out and be able to have relationships outside our own little cocoons.”

‘Count me In’ conference held from April 16 to 18 brought together marginalized women from South Asia – India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka – to discuss violence against women and strategies of resistance.

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