Sunday, October 31, 2010

Doomed to gloom

Arundhati RoyImage by TW Collins via Flickr
Long-due sympathy for a certain Ms. Roy
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The link below leads to an statement by Arundhati Roy only 3 paragraphs long so even if your concentration span has been reduced to one of a demented puppy thanks to guaranteed IQ evaporators like Twitter, this is something you should be able to plow through. This is as close to Twitter that Arundhati Roy is ever going to get. Thankfully no 160 character rants from her yet!
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"I write this from Srinagar, Kashmir. This morning's papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir..."
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Thereby begins Arundhati's 'post' from Srinagar. Look at me and worship my courage, it says in not so many words. Me the tragic heroine in yet another underdog's cause, abandoning all concern for personal safety and comfort, fighting for what is the 'one and true certified inarguable whole-and-soul, white as white comes, no greys, browns or blacks' version of right, the voluntary 'Take me, I am here' martyr a-la the new Che Guevara under the constant glare and sniper focus of Big Government, Big Corporation and Loony Right Wingers. No wonder Sergei Nechaev from Hamilton, Bahamas comments on the same article "in homage to a fearless & heroic writer of staggering talent and insight. If there were ten others like her the world would be a very different place. But there aren't." Like him, there are way too many people completely sold on the legend.
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What title can I possibly attach to her name which someone else has not already? 'Defender of the weak', 'Secret agent of the Vatican', 'The last hope of humanity and feminism', 'Anti-national', 'The most articulate voice of dissent', 'Pathological attention seeker' are just a sampling of the thousands of nominations/accusations being bandied around. I think I'll add another... 'Clinically depressed', for her life is so full of sadness and only sadness.
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Come to think of it, there is so much real injustice in this world that no one has any right to be happy before they are all solved. I had a Che Guevara poster in my college hostel room which said "Always be capable of feeling any injustice committed against anybody anywhere in the world." Arundhati Roy, I believe, may have taken this directive too much to heart. Which issue of injustice is more important than the other is a very very tough call to make. So many issues, so little time. No wonder this lady is quite so bonkers.
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The issues which she takes up are all very real and so it is difficult to resist reading her immaculately composed articles. But in the middle of a few good paragraphs of what is wrong with my country, while I am finding myself in mild agreement, she wrecks it all by going [Faking a quote here but read any of her articles and you'll find one version of this quote of her's in all her articles] "India is a failed nation meant only for the Hindu, upper-caste and class. Period... shobbie doobie doo" or while touching upon some truly ridiculous sections of the Indian Constitution, she ruins it by going [Fake quote again] "All said and done, the Indian Constitution is a document that has never worked for anybody... rum te tum!" And from her standard bag of literary tricks, she will also hoarsely whisper to the reader [Fake but real quote number 3] "Read my article for this may be my last. The CM/PM/capitalist monsters/powers-that-be have marked me for destruction. Ooooh!" and you can almost see her smiling when she says [Fake but real quote number 4] "In a weird kind of way, the Maoists/tribals/militants/protestors are the upholders of the Constitution while the powers-that-be trample the ideals enshrined in this all-of-a-sudden-highly-valued document. Take that!"
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The essential difference between speaking for a subjugated people and speaking like a subjugated people eludes her. As a visiting observer, you cannot claim to have felt as outraged as the victims themselves and if you make such a claim, your double standards will be exposed for all that are sane to see. The benefits of voicing their opinion to the outside world are completely lost if you speak the same warped language of one-sidedness and rhetoric as in their case, they may have valid reasons for feeling so but not you. It's the same India and largely capitalistic world that gave you a childhood, an education and a thinking mind to analyze the world as it is the same India that gives you a national platform to air these views. No one is asking you to sugar-coat the truth but is it too much to acknowledge that the matter is much more than a simple case of black-and-white. But Ms. Roy insists on being vehemently sad and making others feel likewise too. All she ends up doing is pooling a general mistrust, cynicism and bigoted hatred not only for herself but also the causes she espouses almost dooming them to failure.
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The ultra-nationalistic (read extremely stupid, extremely intolerant, extremely violent, fundamentalist and corrupt) elements that keep promising to bring her to 'appropriate out-of-court' justice need to take a hike. Neither do we really need to jail her. Arresting her under the Sedition Act would only make her and her followers swell up in pride as the Act used by the Brits against the likes of Tilak and Gandhi at their peaks is being used to silence her. Instead in keeping with her fondness for conspiracy theories, I have one proposed by my dad, quite easily the most cynical person yet strangely optimistic person I have known (His theory should throw light on the unique category that I bracket him in). He says that the reason why Arundhati Roy will never be arrested or harmed is that by keeping her out of jail and letting her voice her staunchly anti-government opinions openly, the Indian government is making an international advertisement of how free speech is encouraged in this country unlike our Communist neighbour, and the more she flourishes, the more in international circles, the fame and reputation of India's historical claim to tolerance grow. In panning pretty much everything under the sun, Ms. Roy is doing us a world of good. I hope someone lets her know that. In her subsequent gloom, lies her redemption.

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8 comments:

R I T I said...

I agree with Baba completely. Arrest under sedition act ?.. whatever makes her feel happy .. :/ Think she wants that to happen to her. You should see Cyrus Brocha's interview with Arundhati Roy this week in 'The week that wasn't" :D

Kumar Bibek said...

Yeah, "Cyrus" rocked. But, I really don't know why is she so eager to be arrested and put behind bars.

manik17505 said...

Armchair activism!!!

prateek said...

Well, going by the way the argument comes across,it appears that in the hallowed idea of a happy blossoming India (much as the Modernists would have us believe), you would like us to snuff out all the sadness out of the society. Probably in that case, aren't you trying to do an Arundhati Roy of the centre(or slightly veering to the right of it) yourself. What I am trying to say is let us listen to what she says.

She brings some amount of public consciousness to the issues she addresses and no one can deny that. What she has pointed out in her article was nothing new. Basharat Peer in his book 'Curfewed Nights' has given a profound and a poignant first hand account of things as they happen on the ground. There is a certain sense of alienation and helplessness of a people stuck in the wrong folds of history.

Ram Guha alleges that Ms. Roy does not seriously pursue the issues she addresses and does not take them to their logical conclusions. One may only point to the overarching framework within which all these problems inevitably add up as pieces of a jig saw puzzle. To study them in isolation may be described erratic at best.

I believe you would agree with me that at least she is genuinely concerned with the interests of the poor and the marginalized. It appears from your write up that it is her manner and her unwillingness to accept and owe allegiance to the symbols of the Indian state that you accuse her of all the cynicism. But again sir, she is only one among the multitude of dissenting voices with an alternative point of view.

Ideology is defined as a partial representation of reality and at sometimes a distortion of it. TO one, his/her own. Ms. Roy has every right to voice her opinion as she deems fit. We all know and value the Voltairian credo on free speech.

Having got the opportunity to work under you, we came to understand and appreciate the meaning of being a discerning reader. It is in the same tradition that I believe that we must give Ms. Roy, her due share in the discourse.

Roy said...

@Prateek: I am listening to her... very very carefully which is why I can see her mask of 'genuine concern' fall off. Like I said, if it were a Kashmiri Muslim saying that Kashmir is not an integral part of India, I'd have believed that he has a right to say so. If it were a tribal saying that all policemen are rapists, I'd have believed that he/she has had experiences leading to that opinion. But when you come in from outside and speak rhetorically and radically on every issue there is, you are nothing more than a phony. When you have the privilege (her life despite all her big talk is not quite uncomfortable) to see the grey in a situation and still choose the kill-to-survive motto is sad. In keeping with the Voltairian thought on free speech, if she is free to have a so-called 'ideology', I am free to vehemently oppose it through my writing only. If bringing focus on issues is by spewing violent rhetoric and one-side-takes-all writing, how on earth is she different from the RSS/VHP, corporate/government nexuses that she raves and rants about?

prateek said...

Well, she is doing more for the causes than you or me. She has been to the NBA people, Dantewada and Kashmir. She, at least, has met people on the ground. She has tried to bring the other side of the story into the focus. How often do you hear from the adivasis of Dantewada. So don't you think, we, of all the people, better not pass judgements on the integrity of her 'concerns', remaining within the cosy comforts of our living rooms.

The problem in India is that the subalterns are denied a voice. I do not dispute the fact that they have one. But, unarmed with the sophistry of language, their voice gets drowned out from the dominant idiom. It is here that people like Roy have lent a voice. I do not say that she has been the most dedicated of activists around and that she does appear to move from one issue to another. But, again the canvas of a writer is very broad and the same goes for an activist. Why do you think otherwise would the intellectual activists of NBA (Chitraroopa Palit or Smitu Kothari) come out in support of her? Now, even Mahatma Gandhi was an outsider to Champaran. I certainly don't mean to equate Roy with Gandhi but I am trying to put across my point with the most obvious of examples and there are plenty, you would agree.

There were instances when her views have been provocative. But, all the while she has been advocating for talks - between the govt. and the NBA, between the police and the Naxals, between the govt, of India and the Kashmiris - to solve the emerging problems. If her advocacy of violence on the part of Adivasis is seen to be wrong, then it should also be noticed that she does make a distinction between a Naxal and an Adivasi. When the Indian state sends a fully armed battalion to kill and maim the tribals, what do you expect them to do, throw flowers at them.

I appreciate your moderate views, but at the same time, the issues in picture are complex and are not in black and white. Now, when the Indian government has committed wrong in some cases ( I am not making sweeping generalisations), then I would not grudge Ms. Roy, her views.

Do read the following:

http://www.narmada.org/debates/ramguha/smitusresponse.html

Roy said...

@Prateek: It is quite evident that we have if I may call them so stark 'ideological' differences. You think that the mission behind her write-ups is justice and reconciliation. I think the mission behind her writing is personal glorification and complete polarisation on the lines of George W Bush's "with us or against us" philosophy. You think that her literary equivalent of a red-hot poker in the eye is the same as a balanced dialogue which respects the sentiments and intelligence of her readers. Personally I detest being painted with the same brush as a right winger or a corporate murderer as she claims all of India to be essentially an "upper class, upper caste Hindu hegemony", and though she may be an "independent mobile republic", my country matters to me emotional intellectually limited individual that I am. I think that by her vitriolic language (Asking for dialogue is she? I vehemently disagree. There is not a single note encouraging bilateral understanding in most of her writing. In recent articles, she only seems to buying time till the public anger against her dies down.), she is only driving more people away from the cause, the people who matter and shape the future of the country, the admittedly selfish middle class, than drawing these people towards it. Yes, by her tone of writing she'll get a lot more international publication but it is not the way to seeking a solution. You feel that the noble ends justify the violent means and in a strange way, it's not very different from Narendra Modi's vision of 'development' of Gujarat and India. Do what it takes, the long term consequences be damned. I think both the left wing and the right wing have woefully lost the plots and God or whosoever is in charge help us when the two increasingly riven apart segments square off for a final fight.

prateek said...

You are free to interpret my ideological inclinations in the way you want to. I just hope that the 'people who matter - the middle class', wake up and start shaping up the policy in the right manner. At the end of the day, if that happens, I would be the happiest soul on earth.