By Lauren McWhan
A contemporary diamond in the rough amongst the world of literature, Arundhati Roy's work is infused with a strong spirit and a search for freedom. Author, actor, and activist, Roy’s literary masterpieces intertwine with her own personal involvement in India’s political, environmental, and human right causes.
With her ability to combine beautiful tales and the real tragedies in life, Roy exposes the dangers of greed and globalization in both her novels and critical essays.
Born in 1961, Roy was born Suzanna Arundhati Roy in north-eastern India in Meghalaya, spending most of her childhood in Kerala. Having to face her parents separating at the age of two, Roy had a tough upbringing with her mother's mixed marriage to a Hindu being disapproved of by her grandparents. Roy was determined not to be trapped and defined by a miserable marriage; she left her hometown of Ayemenem at the age of 16. After years living in slums and begging for food, Roy began studying architecture in Delhi, in the hopes of finding designs for cheap and sustainable housing. Later, Roy moved into the film and television industry writing screen plays, and a TV series with her second husband filmmaker, Pradip Krishen.
It was during 1992 where Roy began her work on her debut novel The god of Small Things, taking four and a half years to complete the semi-autobiographical tale has sold over 8 million copies worldwide. Becoming the immediate best seller and winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997, The God of Small Things was a commercial success.
A story anchored to anguish but fueled with magic
A tale of two twins Rahel and Estha, their story of growing up among banana jam jars of their blind grandmother amid political turbulence in Kerala, the twins are armed only with their childish innocence. When their English cousin Sophie Mol comes to visit with her mother Margaet Kochamma, the twins learn that anything can change in a day. At the same time Ammu becomes romantically involved with Velutha, a carpenter of the Untouchable caste. Both events inevitably intertwine, with tragic consequences. They learn that lives can twist into new, ugly shapes and cease forever. Painfully beautiful, Roy addresses difficult topics of conversations through its intricate architecture of flashbacks, memories, poetic dream sequences, interior monologues, and flash forwards to capture the sorrows of numerous
However, with success came controversy.
Facing obscenity charges for being anti-communist, inter-caste affair and for its explicit depiction of sexuality. The book was heavily criticised by EK Nayanar, the then Marxist leader of Kerala, who took offence in its erotic content. Going against social codes, the novel tackles questions on forbidden love, an uncontrollable force which is seen within the novel. Social constructs of the caste system see the novel as disobeying social order. With her work often being described as too vitriolic and biased, Roy merely mirrors the society she lives in.
Following her first novel, The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy has filled her years with writing essays on democracy, taking a stand in political issues. Donating £21,000 after winning the Booker prize, Roy made donations to Narmada Bachao Andolan. An environmental and social movement campaigning against dams being erected across the Namada river in central India. Her dedication to social causes placed her with a powerful stance against numerous issues including capitalism, fascism, and humanitarian crises.
“Capitalism has become a weapon of mass destruction”
Exposing the dangers of globalization, Roy’s political writing supports issues such as the Kashmiri independence. Noted as a distinguished world citizen, Roy was awarded the Sydney prize in 2004 for her opposition to the violence of poverty in India and her commitment to the global cause of peace with justice. Following this, Roy was named on the Time list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
More recently, Roy has produced a volume of essays called The Pandemic is a Portal published by The Financial Times. Within these essays Roy discusses how the spread of the Coronavirus has exposed detrimental weaknesses in social systems and infrastructure worldwide. In India, the lack of health facilities only deepened the divide between the rich and poor, with division becoming even more evident between the lower and higher castes.
The continuous parallels between Roy’s books and her life in politics turns her fiction into something with depth and meaning. Whilst also creating breath taking literary masterpieces, she focuses on what isn’t spoken widely about in media, spreading wider knowledge and ownership.