Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Arundhati Roy: 'The people who created the crisis will not be the ones that come up with a solution'

The prize-winning author of The God of Small Things talks about why she is drawn to the Occupy movement and the need to reclaim language and meaning

Arundhati Roy: 'The expropriators should have their wealth expropriated.' Photograph: Sarah Lee

Sitting in a car parked at a gas station on the outskirts of Houston, Texas, my colleague Michelle holds an audio recorder to my cellphone. At the other end of the line is Arundhati Roy, author of the Booker Prize-winning The God of Small Things, who is some 2,000 miles away, driving to Boston.

"This is uniquely American," I remark to Roy about interviewing her while both in cars but thousands of miles apart. Having driven some 7,000 miles and visited 23 cities (and counting) in reporting on the Occupy movement, it's become apparent that the US is essentially an oil-based economy in which we shuttle goods we no longer make around a continental land mass, creating poverty-level dead-end jobs in the service sector.

This is the secret behind the Occupy Wall Street movement that Roy visited before the police crackdowns started. Sure, ending pervasive corporate control of the political system is on the lips of almost every occupier we meet. But this is nothing new. What's different is most Americans now live in poverty, on the edge, or fear a descent into the abyss. It's why a majority (at least of those who have an opinion) still support Occupy Wall Street even after weeks of disinformation and repression.

In this exclusive interview for the Guardian, Roy offers her thoughts on Occupy Wall Street, the role of the imagination, reclaiming language, and what is next for a movement that has reshaped America's political discourse and seized the world's attention.

AG: Why did you want to visit Occupy Wall Street and what are your impressions of it?

AR: How could I not want to visit? Given what I've been doing for so many years, it seems to me, intellectually and theoretically, quite predictable this was going to happen here at some point. But still I cannot deny myself the surprise and delight that it has happened. And I wanted to, obviously, see for myself the extent and size and texture and nature of it. So the first time I went there, because all those tents were up, it seemed more like a squat than a protest to me, but it began to reveal itself in a while. Some people were holding the ground and it was the hub for other people to organise, to think through things. As I said when I spoke at the People's University, it seems to me to be introducing a new political language into the United States, a language that would be considered blasphemous only a while ago.

AG: Do you think that the Occupy movement should be defined by occupying one particular space or by occupying spaces?

AR: I don't think the whole protest is only about occupying physical territory, but about reigniting a new political imagination. I don't think the state will allow people to occupy a particular space unless it feels that allowing that will end up in a kind of complacency, and the effectiveness and urgency of the protest will be lost. The fact that in New York and other places where people are being beaten and evicted suggests nervousness and confusion in the ruling establishment. I think the movement will, or at least should, become a protean movement of ideas, as well as action, where the element of surprise remains with the protesters. We need to preserve the element of an intellectual ambush and a physical manifestation that takes the government and the police by surprise. It has to keep re-imagining itself, because holding territory may not be something the movement will be allowed to do in a state as powerful and violent as the United States.

AG: At the same, occupying public spaces did capture the public imagination. Why do you think that is?

AR: I think you had a whole subcutaneous discontent that these movements suddenly began to epitomise. The Occupy movement found places where people who were feeling that anger could come and share it – and that is, as we all know, extremely important in any political movement. The Occupy sites became a way you could gauge the levels of anger and discontent.

AG: You mentioned that they are under attack. Dozens of occupations have been shut down, evicted, at least temporarily, in the last week. What do you see as the next phase for this movement?

AR: I don't know whether I'm qualified to answer that, because I'm not somebody who spends a lot of time here in the United States, but I suspect that it will keep reassembling in different ways and the anger created by the repression will, in fact, expand the movement. But eventually, the greater danger to the movement is that it may dovetail into the presidential election campaign that's coming up. I've seen that happen before in the antiwar movement here, and I see it happening all the time in India. Eventually, all the energy goes into trying to campaign for the "better guy", in this case Barack Obama, who's actually expanding wars all over the world. Election campaigns seem to siphon away political anger and even basic political intelligence into this great vaudeville, after which we all end up in exactly the same place.

AG: Your essays, such as "The Greater Common Good" and "Walking with the Comrades", concern corporations, the military and state violently occupying other people's lands in India. How do those occupations and resistances relate to the Occupy Wall Street movement?

AR: I hope that that the people in the Occupy movement are politically aware enough to know that their being excluded from the obscene amassing of wealth of US corporations is part of the same system of the exclusion and war that is being waged by these corporations in places like India, Africa and the Middle East. Ever since the Great Depression, we know that one of the key ways in which the US economy has stimulated growth is by manufacturing weapons and exporting war to other countries. So, whether this movement is a movement for justice for the excluded in the United States, or whether it is a movement against an international system of global finance that is manufacturing levels of hunger and poverty on an unimaginable scale, remains to be seen.

AG: You've written about the need for a different imagination than that of capitalism. Can you talk about that?

AR: We often confuse or loosely use the ideas of crony capitalism or neoliberalism to actually avoid using the word "capitalism", but once you've actually seen, let's say, what's happening in India and the United States – that this model of US economics packaged in a carton that says "democracy" is being forced on countries all over the world, militarily if necessary, has in the United States itself resulted in 400 of the richest people owning wealth equivalent [to that] of half of the population. Thousands are losing their jobs and homes, while corporations are being bailed out with billions of dollars.

In India, 100 of the richest people own assets worth 25% of the gross domestic product. There's something terribly wrong. No individual and no corporation should be allowed to amass that kind of unlimited wealth, including bestselling writers like myself, who are showered with royalties. Money need not be our only reward. Corporations that are turning over these huge profits can own everything: the media, the universities, the mines, the weapons industry, insurance hospitals, drug companies, non-governmental organisations. They can buy judges, journalists, politicians, publishing houses, television stations, bookshops and even activists. This kind of monopoly, this cross-ownership of businesses, has to stop.

The whole privatisation of health and education, of natural resources and essential infrastructure – all of this is so twisted and so antithetical to anything that would place the interests of human beings or the environment at the center of what ought to be a government concern – should stop. The amassing of unfettered wealth of individuals and corporations should stop. The inheritance of rich people's wealth by their children should stop. The expropriators should have their wealth expropriated and redistributed.

AG: What would the different imagination look like?

AR: The home minister of India has said that he wants 70% of the Indian population in the cities, which means moving something like 500 million people off their land. That cannot be done without India turning into a military state. But in the forests of central India and in many, many rural areas, a huge battle is being waged. Millions of people are being driven off their lands by mining companies, by dams, by infrastructure companies, and a huge battle is being waged. These are not people who have been co-opted into consumer culture, into the western notions of civilisation and progress. They are fighting for their lands and their livelihoods, refusing to be looted so that someone somewhere far away may "progress" at their cost.

India has millions of internally displaced people. And now, they are putting their bodies on the line and fighting back. They are being killed and imprisoned in their thousands. Theirs is a battle of the imagination, a battle for the redefinition of the meaning of civilisation, of the meaning of happiness, of the meaning of fulfilment. And this battle demands that the world see that, at some stage, as the water tables are dropping and the minerals that remain in the mountains are being taken out, we are going to confront a crisis from which we cannot return. The people who created the crisis in the first place will not be the ones that come up with a solution.

That is why we must pay close attention to those with another imagination: an imagination outside of capitalism, as well as communism. We will soon have to admit that those people, like the millions of indigenous people fighting to prevent the takeover of their lands and the destruction of their environment – the people who still know the secrets of sustainable living – are not relics of the past, but the guides to our future.

AG: In the United States, as I'm sure you're aware, political discourse is obsessed with the middle class, but the Occupy movement has made the poor and homeless visible for the first time in decades in the public discourse. Could you comment on that?

AR: It's so much a reversal of what you see in India. In India, the poverty is so vast that the state cannot control it. It can beat people, but it can't prevent the poor from flooding the roads, the cities, the parks and railway station platforms. Whereas, here, the poor have been invisibilised, because obviously this model of success that has been held out to the world must not show the poor, it must not show the condition of black people. It can only the successful ones, basketball players, musicians, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell. But I think the time will come when the movement will have to somehow formulate something more than just anger.

AG: As a writer, what do you make of the term "occupation", which has now somehow been reclaimed as a positive term when it's always been one of the most heinous terms in political language?

AR: As a writer, I've often said that, among the other things that we need to reclaim, other than the obscene wealth of billionaires, is language. Language has been deployed to mean the exact opposite of what it really means when they talk about democracy or freedom. So I think that turning the word "occupation" on its head would be a good thing, though I would say that it needs a little more work. We ought to say, "Occupy Wall Street, not Iraq," "Occupy Wall Street, not Afghanistan," "Occupy Wall Street, not Palestine." The two need to be put together. Otherwise people might not read the signs.

AG: As a novelist, you write a lot in terms of motivations and how characters interpret reality. Around the country, many occupiers we've talked to seem unable to reconcile their desires about Obama with what Obama really represents. When I talk to them about Obama's record, they say, "Oh, his hands are tied; the Republicans are to blame, it's not his fault." Why do you think people react like this, even at the occupations?

AR: Even in India, we have the same problem. We have a right wing that is so vicious and so openly wicked, which is the Baratiya Janata party (BJP), and then we have the Congress party, which does almost worse things, but does it by night. And people feel that the only choices they have are to vote for this or for that. And my point is that, whoever you vote for, it doesn't have to consume all the oxygen in the political debate. It's just an artificial theatre, which in a way is designed to subsume the anger and to make you feel that this is all that you're supposed to think about and talk about, when, in fact, you're trapped between two kinds of washing powder that are owned by the same company.

Democracy no longer means what it was meant to. It has been taken back into the workshop. Each of its institutions has been hollowed out, and it has been returned to us as a vehicle for the free market, of the corporations. For the corporations, by the corporations. Even if we do vote, we should just spend less time and intellectual energy on our choices and keep our eye on the ball.

AG: So it's also a failure of the imagination?

AR: It's walking into a pretty elaborate trap. But it happens everywhere, and it will continue to happen. Even I know that if I go back to India, and tomorrow the BJP comes to power, personally I'll be in a lot more trouble than with the Congress [party] in power. But systemically, in terms of what is being done, there's no difference, because they collaborate completely, all the time. So I'm not going to waste even three minutes of my time, if I have to speak, asking people to vote for this one or for that one.

AG: One question that a lot of people have asked me: when is your next novel coming out?

AR: I have no answer to that question … I really don't know. Novels are such mysterious and amorphous and tender things. And here we are with our crash helmets on, with concertina wire all around us.

AG: So this inspires you, as a novelist, the movement?

AR: Well, it comforts me, let's just say. I feel in so many ways rewarded for having done what I did, along with hundreds of other people, even the times when it seemed futile.

• Michelle Fawcett contributed to this article. She and Arun Gupta are covering the Occupy movement nationwide for Salon, Alternet and other outlets. Their work is available at


Sunday, 27 November 2011

Arundhati Roy’s Walking With the Comrades

What's it like living in the jungle with Maoist guerrillas? Arundhati Roy sat down with The Daily Beast to discuss the lengths she went to tell the story of a hidden battle between guerrillas and the Indian government

Friday, 25 November 2011

Happy 50th birthday, Arundhati Roy

Sandip Roy Nov 24, 2011

Happy 50th birthday, Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy always speaks her mind even when she knows it will win her no friends. Reuters

Arundhati Roy turns 50 today. (Team Note:  Correction she was born in 1959 and not 1961)

She probably was not expecting a PIL in a Jammu court for her comments on Kashmir as a birthday present. But being Arundhati Roy, she is probably not too surprised.

If she read the weather report, somebody would find some reason to be upset about it. But on her birthday here are five reasons to be thankful for Arundhati Roy.

She is an equal opportunity offender: Arundhati Roy always speaks her mind even when she knows it will win her no friends. Over the years with every cause she’s taken up, every essay she has written, she has probably lost friends. She is not afraid to be the person everyone loves to hate. She annoys us and forces us to stop sitting on the fence. She has lambasted Bush, Kerry, Congress, BJP,  Anna Hazare, fundamentalists and liberals. ” She spares no one.

Except, her critics say, militants, Maoists, terrorists. She is accused of being a hypocrite, taking on the Indian state in Kashmir but not the plight of the Pandits. But she has spoken about it in an interview with Tehelka and not shied away from assigning responsibility.

It is the duty of the leaders of Kashmir’s present struggle to get the Pandits to return. That needs more than rhetoric. Apart from it being the right thing to do, it would give them enormous moral capital. It would also help shape their vision of what kind of Kashmir they are fighting for.
But she says there is a difference between Godhra and the riots in Gujarat. She always, unequivocally, draws a distinction between “a state-assisted pogrom against a people in a country and something that militants have done.

Getty Images.
She is strident, unapologetic, shrill. And these are her virtues. She is not afraid to be the last protester standing.

She takes responsibility as a citizen: You may not agree with her. But in a democracy we always need that person who is willing to take the unpopular view. She is, writes Manu Joseph, Neo in The Matrix.
She is, more than anything, an anomaly that completes the system, a system that not only made her but also needs her for its own balance and survival.
Arundhati Roy can be accused of being uncompromising, of making the perfect the enemy of the good. But she takes responsibility for her country in a way few of us have the courage to.

At a time when everyone wants to point fingers at everyone, from the UPA government to bureaucrats to the media for the malaise in the country, Roy is not afraid to look into the mirror. As we pat ourselves on the back endlessly  about being the world’s largest democracy, Roy asks the uncomfortable question in an interview with India Currents:
But when I am a citizen of a democracy, I have to take responsibility for what the state I voted for does. Are people in a democracy more responsible for the acts of their elected government?

She lives outside Page 3. Arundhati Roy burst on our national scene as a star with the Booker Prize in 1996. She was smart, beautiful and photogenic. She could have cashed in on that for the rest of her career and been the toast of literary fests around the world.  But she chose to march to her own drummer. Shoma Chaudhury says in Tehelka sometimes it’s easy to forget the moment when she burst into the limelight.
Watching her now, few will remember that Roy was first announced to the world by a breathless article in a leading Indian magazine. The year was 1996. Liberalisation was just five years old. An ebullient middle-class was looking for a mascot. Roy came tailor-made from heaven: she had an elfin beauty, a diamond flash in her nose, a mane of gorgeous hair, a romantic backstory and a manuscript that triggered an international bidding war. India loved her….Arundhati Roy was India’s triumphant entry on the global stage. She was the princess at the ball.
But this Cinderella chose to instead turn her back on the ball and instead show that the emperor had no clothes. In 1998, fresh from the Booker euphoria, she wrote The End of Imagination, her angry critique of India’s nuclear bomb. That was her first act of “betrayal” and she hasn’t stopped.
She lives her stories: Arundhati Roy has been accused of being an activist butterfly, a Janey-come-lately to various causes who then sucks up all the media oxygen. A western filmmaker making a documentary about dams was told she could get funding only if she could get Arundhati Roy in the film. The filmmaker capitulated and the film got made.

A picture of Roy when she had won the Booker Prize. Reuters.

But in an age where journalism comes out of Wikipedia and Google searches, Roy lives her stories. She goes into the forests and spends time with Maoist guerillas before she writes about them. You can accuse her of being too romantic in her view of them, or justifying their violence but you cannot accuse her of not getting her hands dirty in the pursuit of a story.

She has been accused of hypocrisy, of paying fines instead of slogging it out in jail.  But she still goes the extra mile for her story. It is true that sometimes the story then becomes about Arundhati Roy not tribals, or Maoists or Kashmir. But she understands fully that she is a star and that sometimes causes need stars.
I know I will be a lightning conductor. I know the press will come. They will have to be accountable. On the other hand I’ll also be a celebrity arriving on the scene. I went because you have to realise you can’t always be pristine and say I am the Snow Queen and I will only do what is right for me. You have to take the shit.
She is 100 percent Indian:  In  The Guardian, Leo Mirani posed the question:
Who would want to live in Arundhati Roy’s India? Who would even want to read about Arundhati Roy’s India? … Confronted with the relentlessly bleak picture she paints, one in which the only good guys are murderers and mercenaries, who can blame middle India for retreating into their iPods and tabloid newspapers?
Well there is one person who for sure wants to live in India. And that is Arundhati Roy. I have seen Arundhati Roy on stage in Berkeley, the tumultuous applause that greets her. It almost feels like a cult, vibrating with some kind of Arundhati-aura. It makes you wonder why she keeps returning to India where she is routinely harassed, censured, accused of sedition, of being a traitor and trotted out on television shows to boost the ratings. She is like the red meat routinely served to a hungry rabble. She could easily be a princess in exile, lobbing self-righteous firebombs at the world’s largest democracy. But she chooses to live in Delhi, in the heart of the beast. As she told Tehelka:
I’m not going to explain my relationship with this country and its people. I am not a politician looking for brownie points.
We could say Happy Birthday, Arundhati Roy. But then she’s claimed she’s never liked that word “happy.”
“Happy is a tinny middle-class word. We think it’s our right to be happy. It comes in unexpected snatches,” she once said.

Here’s hoping for a  little snatch of happiness today for Arundhati Roy.


Thursday, 24 November 2011

Happy Birthday!

Here is wishing Ms Roy a very warm and wonderful birthday from the team and all its members

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

PIL filed against Arundhati Roy for her Kashmir remarks

This just goes to show the idiot quotient is rising in India. Fucking stupid the way they are going about attacking free speech in this country!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

We are all Occupiers

People the world over salute the Occupy movement for standing up to injustice and fighting for equality at the heart of empire


Tuesday morning, the police cleared Zuccotti Park, but today the people are back. The police should know that this protest is not a battle for territory. We're not fighting for the right to occupy a park here or there. We are fighting for justice. Justice, not just for the people of the United States, but for everybody.

What you have achieved since 17 September, when the Occupy movement began in the United States, is to introduce a new imagination, a new political language into the heart of empire. You have reintroduced the right to dream into a system that tried to turn everybody into zombies mesmerised into equating mindless consumerism with happiness and fulfilment.

As a writer, let me tell you, this is an immense achievement. I cannot thank you enough.

We were talking about justice. Today, as we speak, the army of the United States is waging a war of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. US drones are killing civilians in Pakistan and beyond. Tens of thousands of US troops and death squads are moving into Africa. If spending trillions of dollars of your money to administer occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan is not enough, a war against Iran is being talked up.

Ever since the Great Depression, the manufacture of weapons and the export of war have been key ways in which the United States has stimulated its economy. Just recently, under President Obama, the United States made a $60bn arms deal with Saudi Arabia. It hopes to sell thousands of bunker busters to the UAE. It has sold $5bn-worth of military aircraft to my country, India, which has more poor people than all the poorest countries of Africa put together. All these wars, from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Vietnam, Korea, Latin America, have claimed millions of lives – all of them fought to secure the "American way of life".

Today, we know that the "American way of life" – the model that the rest of the world is meant to aspire towards – has resulted in 400 people owning the wealth of half of the population of the United States. It has meant thousands of people being turned out of their homes and jobs while the US government bailed out banks and corporations – American International Group (AIG) alone was given $182bn.

The Indian government worships US economic policy. As a result of 20 years of the free market economy, today, 100 of India's richest people own assets worth one-fourth of the country's GDP while more than 80% of the people live on less than 50 cents a day; 250,000 farmers, driven into a spiral of death, have committed suicide. We call this progress, and now think of ourselves as a superpower. Like you, we are well-qualified: we have nuclear bombs and obscene inequality.

The good news is that people have had enough and are not going to take it any more. The Occupy movement has joined thousands of other resistance movements all over the world in which the poorest of people are standing up and stopping the richest corporations in their tracks. Few of us dreamed that we would see you, the people of the United States on our side, trying to do this in the heart of Empire. I don't know how to communicate the enormity of what this means.

They (the 1%) say that we don't have demands … they don't know, perhaps, that our anger alone would be enough to destroy them. But here are some things – a few "pre-revolutionary" thoughts I had – for us to think about together:

We want to put a lid on this system that manufactures inequality. We want to put a cap on the unfettered accumulation of wealth and property by individuals as well as corporations. As "cap-ists" and "lid-ites", we demand:

• An end to cross-ownership in businesses. For example, weapons manufacturers cannot own TV stations; mining corporations cannot run newspapers; business houses cannot fund universities; drug companies cannot control public health funds.

• Natural resources and essential infrastructure – water supply, electricity, health, and education – cannot be privatised.

• Everybody must have the right to shelter, education and healthcare.

• The children of the rich cannot inherit their parents' wealth.

This struggle has re-awakened our imagination. Somewhere along the way, capitalism reduced the idea of justice to mean just "human rights", and the idea of dreaming of equality became blasphemous. We are not fighting to tinker with reforming a system that needs to be replaced.

As a cap-ist and a lid-ite, I salute your struggle.

Salaam and Zindabad.

• This is the text of a speech given by the author at the People's University in Washington Square on 16 November 2011

Friday, 18 November 2011

Arundhati Roy on Naxals and OWS (Audio) - Against the Grain

There is a war going on in the tribal heartland of central and eastern India between the Naxalite Maoists and the Indian state, in which -- Arundhati Roy believes -- much is at stake. The award-winning writer discusses her time accompanying a group of Maoists in the forests, and the brutal counterinsurgency effort mounted against them by the Indian government. She also talks about the Occupy Wall Street movement and anticapitalism.

Mon 14, November 2011

Copyright: Against the Grain

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Arundhati Roy on Naxals, OWS -Against the Grain

There is a war going on in the tribal heartland of central and eastern India between the Naxalite Maoists and the Indian state, in which -- Arundhati Roy believes -- much is at stake. The award-winning writer  discusses her time accompanying a group of Maoists in the forests, and the brutal counterinsurgency effort mounted against them by the Indian government. She also talks about the Occupy Wall Street movement and anticapitalism.

Mon 14, November 2011


Monday, 14 November 2011

Guest Picks: Arundhati Roy

Thursday, November 10, 2011
 Arundhati Roy at the WNYC studios (Melissa Eagan) 
Writer Arundhati Roy was on the Lopate Show and she shared what she's been reading recently.

What have you read or seen over the past year (book, play, film, etc…) that moved or surprised you?
        Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man.

What are you listening to right now?
       Sharafat Khan’s “Raag Nat Bihag.”

What’s the last great book you read?
       Neruda’s collected poems.

What’s one thing you’re a fan of that people might not expect?
             Vilayat Khan’s music.

What’s your favorite comfort food?
            Red rice and fish curry.


Sunday, 13 November 2011


“Fearless Speech”  

Internationally-lauded author, activist and world citizen Arundhati Roy will speak as part of the People’s University, which exists to bring free education to all people.
“Cap-ists” and “Lid-ites”

Arundhati Roy at the People’s University in Washington Square
November 16, 2011
12:30 PM - 1:15 PM

Washington Square Park

“Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds… Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free.”

Arundhati Roy won the Booker prize in 1997 for her novel, The God of Small Things. Her non-fiction work includes An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers, and Broken Republic. An impassioned critic of neo-imperialism, military occupations, and violent models of economic ‘development’, Roy was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize in 2004.  Her consistent exposure of the Indian state’s repressive policies has led to her being variously labelled a seditionist, secessionist, Maoist and unpatriotic troublemaker.

RSVP on facebook:


Arundhati Roy Gets Norman Mailer Writing Award


Arundhati Roy, the passionate Indian rights activist and author, slammed aspects of American foreign policy and lashed out at the Indian government for using its armed forces against its own citizens at a high-profile event in New York City on Nov. 8, attended by, among others, President Bill Clinton.

Roy was speaking at the fundraising gala organized by the Norman Mailer Center at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City, where she was awarded the prestigious Norman Mailer Award for Distinguished Writing.

 The award was presented to her by renowned movie director Jonathan Demme of "Silence of the Lambs" fame, whom she had met at the Cannes Film Festival some years ago, according to Lawrence Schiller, president and founder of the Norman Mailer Center and Norman Mailer Writers Colony.

Other award recipients included Nobel Prize Winner Elie Wiesel, who was honored with the Norman Mailer Lifetime Achievement Prize; Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards for Distinguished Biography; and Gay Talese who received the Norman Mailer Prize for Distinguished Journalism. 

Roy is in the United States for a series of appearances, among them a Nov. 11 talk at the Asia Society in New York City before traveling to other states, including California.

Wearing a black sari with a printed blouse, Roy gave an eight-minute speech while accepting the award, in which she talked of how she developed her skills as a writer and also about how she lived in a country that had enormous resources and beauty but had not reconciled its internal differences, Schiller told News India Times. 

She spoke of how Kashmir remained an unresolved problem, and commented that using one’s military force on one’s own people is not the way to solve problems.

Roy broke into the world literary scene when she won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel "The God of Small Things," which is said to have sold 6 million copies. 

Since then, she has become an activist on environmental and poverty issues, taking confrontational stands on global and national problems. 
“Arundhati Roy emerged on the literary scene as a writer of great integrity, style and skill,” said Schiller who collaborated and worked with Mailer for 35 years. 

“But even in that first book, there was a voice of action. But as time went on, her’s was a voice that needed to be heard. Even as she gave up one area of communication, much like Norman Mailer, she began communicating on other things.” That's why, he said, Roy was their choice despite the fact that she has only one novel to her name. 

“I was the one who called her in India and told her (about the award). She was overwhelmed that it was an award for her writing. I said we were not giving it for writing alone but for her actions,” Schiller said.

Mailer, who died in 2007, was an acclaimed novelist, journalist, essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, and film director, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and co-founder of The Village Voice. 

“Mr. Mailer and I collaborated and worked together for 35 years. One thing we had in common – we were both people of action,” said Schiller, a writer, movie producer and director who has won several awards. 

The gala raised around $460,000 for the writers colony in Massachusetts, which invites aspiring and established authors from around the world to be in residence. 

The event was attended by many renowned writers from around the world, Schiller said. “There were Nobel Prize winners, Booker Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, big business from the United States and the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Russia. It was the biggest literary event in the country,” he contended. 

Schiller, who was with Mailer when he died, said the two had decided to start the writers center that has on its board Salman Rushdie, Joan Didion and others. 


Saturday, 12 November 2011

Arundhati Roy on the Leonard Lopate Show

Arundhati Roy discusses the Maoist insurgency in India and the fight against corporations looking to exploit the rare minerals buried in tribal lands. In Walking with the Comrades, Roy takes readers to the unseen front lines of this ongoing battle, chronicling her months spent living with the rebel guerillas in the forests. In documenting their local struggles, Roy addresses the larger question of whether global capitalism will tolerate any societies existing outside of its control.

Copyright : The Leonard Lopate Show

Friday, 11 November 2011

Transcript: Arundhati Roy Q&A at CUNY Graduate Center

By Sarahana » Gandhi, get your gun!

arundhati roy speaking at CUNY graduate center
Arundhati Roy at CUNY Graduate Center. All photos by Sarahana

14 years ago, Indian author Arundhati Roy made her debut with The God of Small Things, a novel that won the Booker prize and went on to sell more than 6 million copies worldwide. But the world of fiction was quickly abandoned when she turned to full time activism, churning out fiery political essays, and generally getting into trouble with the Indian government and religious fundamentalists.

Most recently, she spent time with Indian Maoist insurgents — at their invitation — in the jungles from which they operate. The essay she's brought back has been published as Walking with the Comrades, from which she read a few excerpts at an event hosted at City University of New York's Graduate Center (despite the center's further slashed, and quickly depleting, funds).

This is a transcript of the Q&A that followed the reading.
Some redundancies have been removed and friendly titles have been added. Transcript of the reading portion will be posted next.
----- TRANSCRIPT OF Q&A -----
(Love Makes Our Battle Ferocious)

Ruth Gilmore (CUNY): Thank you Arundhati for that amazing reading and the thoughts that you brought to my mind and all of our minds as you described this war against the forest people. One thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot having read some of your work over the years and listening to you read now is how much beauty you put into a story [..?] and I think all the time about how you help people to think about the worst things that are happening in the world so that we can do something about it. And I wonder if you would talk, if you’d be interested in talking, a little bit about the sort of political project and the aesthetic project and finding all of the beauty in moments of the greatest hurt[?].

Arundhati Roy: Well I don’t actively look for it because it’s there. You know if you read the rest of the essay that I read from, actually we spent so much of our time just laughing, you know, inside [the forest], because I always sense that when you’re outside the immediate area of resistance, it’s much easier to feel despair because you have that choice. You can always say, “Okay, doesn’t matter, I won’t study politics, I’ll do interior design” or something whereas people who are in there, they don’t have a choice, you know. Even despair is not a choice because whether you’re a pessimist or whether you’re an optimist, no one is asking you, like you have to fight that battle some way or the other and there’s a sort of clarity there. And a lot of beauty, and a lot of hope.

I think for me it’s not a strategy, the way I write. It’s just the way I write. Or it’s just the way I think. I mean 10, 20, 30 years ago when I began to write about these things, this was at a time when the elite of India was so optimistic about the project of free market and they would say “this woman needs to be sent to have her head examined”, you know, “she’s crazy” and so on. Whether we win or lose or whatever it is, this is the side we're on. And the truth is if you live in India, or in Kashmir, you will know that there’s so much to be said, there’s so much wilderness, there’s so much imagination that hasn’t been enclosed, and that I think is what makes our battle so ferocious; because there is so much that we love. It’s not that we have to retrieve it, we have it. And it hasn’t been destroyed yet, though the project is on. It hasn’t been destroyed yet. And so I think we only fight if there’s something we love that we have to save, otherwise what’s the point.

(Not the Voice of the Voiceless, Or Any Nonsense Like That)

Peter Hitchcock (CUNY): One of the things we do at the center  is we have a year-long seminar with faculty fellows and graduate student fellows and coincidentally today we were discussing your work. One of the questions was about audience because I think it surprised many of us reading this work just how little of the state of affairs is actually being discussed within the transnational media conglomerates. And so I guess my question is about whether you see your primary role as bringing these stories, this reporting, as it were, to the world. Or do you see the primary apex of your activism actually within what is extant in the Indian state?

Arundhati Roy: Well, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my role in that I think a lot of what I do is not necessarily aimed at trying to persuade people to my point of view or anything. It’s more about... how can I say it. For example, about 2 or 3 months ago, I got a message from the forest. And it said, “Didi, aap ke likhne ke baad, jungle mey khushi ki laher pheilithi,” which means, “After you wrote, a wave of happiness went through the forest.” And for me, that’s why I write, to be part of the resistance because I don’t necessarily see the transnational media or the idea of having to build bridges of solidarity — I did, at one time; I used to say that India’s best export is dissent. But now I feel very much that people really have to fight their own battles. You know, we can’t spend all our energy trying to build transnational solidarities because those are very fragile. If they come, it’s great, but I never... I mean, let’s say when I wrote Walking with the Comrades, a 20,000-word piece, I had no idea who the hell would want to publish it. But you just have to write it. I wrote it, and then it was published in a big magazine, and it really did in some ways change the nature of the discourse because otherwise these were just faceless terrorists and so on.

But I think I always see it as an act of solidarity with the people whose struggle I’m a part of. I never see myself as representing somebody or being the voice of the voiceless or any nonsense like that, you know. I am very much part of the whole thing. I’m just doing my part in it.

(The Paradox of China)
Peter Hitchcock (CUNY): Speaking of solidarity, you mentioned in the piece that you read about the export of ore to China. It must be one of the paradoxes of history, right, that as part of the operation against Moaists in India, ore is going to the Maoists in China.

Arundhati Roy:  I was in China some time ago and at some meeting, we were talking about the three gorgeous dams, and I said, you know, if you object to a dam or [?] project in China, then what do you do? They said you write a letter to the Letters & Petitions department, after when you get arrested. I said, “Well clearly you need some Indian Maoists now”.

But China’s interesting isn’t it? That in some ways it’s becoming like a capitalistic economy run by a Communist state. So in India they look to China with a great deal of envy, thinking, you know, “Why are we sagging with this democracy, however tattered it is?”; because you can’t, in India, actually you cannot push through this free market project without militarizing. And yet in order to be the favored finance destination, you have to pretend to be a democracy. So all that is going on.

But, just, since you mentioned China, I recently read Kissinger’s book on China, and there’s a delightful part in it, where he talks about how after Tiananmen Square, the Chinese couldn’t understand the cooling off of the relations with the United States. They couldn’t understand how a country could place human rights at the center of its foreign policy [laughs]. That’s Kissinger’s idea of U.S. foreign policy: human rights at the center.

(Anna Harazre and the Middle Class' War Against the Poor)

Peter Hitchcock (CUNY): On that question of how this situation appears in the foreign press, recently, somebody like Anna Hazare has seen a lot more press than the economic and political crisis in Central India. Do you have an explanation for that?

Arundhati Roy: Anna Hazare [laughs]. I suppose the closest explanation to that movement is the Tea Party here. It’s really very interesting what happened in India. Basically, just before that movement sort of bubbled up to the surface, the government and the corporations and the media were reeling under a scandal, which was known as 2G, which was basically the selling of spectrum for mobile phones, and basically corporations, media lobbyists, the Information Minister, and all the way up to the Prime Minister, people were involved in selling billions of dollars worth of this spectrum to private corporations at very cheap rates, and then they resold them and made huge profits; and a whole lot of phone conversations had been taped; and big media journalists, the major corporations in India, and all these people were involved.

Suddenly, for the first time, the whole gloss of, “Corporates are honest and efficient” fell apart; it was shattered. And suddenly this anti-corruption movement came up, supported by the — surreptitiously supported by the — extreme right, by the fascists, by the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or National Patriotic Organization]; but not really showing their hand. And they only spoke about government corruption and their movement was supported by the corporate media, 24/7. There was not one, single, minor slogan against any corporation. It was all just about... not just even government, but just about the ruling party, which is the Congress, because, you know, there was so much of the right wing behind it.

And this bill itself, which they are trying to pass, very few people have read it, but I have, and it’s crazy; because it basically suggests that there should be a panel of people who are pure and virtuous and picked in quite complicated ways, but they should run a kind of super cop, where there are 40,000 policemen overseeing corruption; how these 40,000 people are not going to be corrupt themselves you don’t know.

And actually eventually what happens in India is that we have a country where it isn’t possible for people to be legal. You have hundreds of thousands, millions of people living in slums, you have roadside vendors, you have everybody who’s just being preyed upon by the state because they are illegal; I mean they are living in illegal places, they are pavement dwellers; and you suddenly have the middle class turning on them and saying “It’s corrupt politicians that are allowing these dirty slums there and these filthy people selling samosas on carts, and everybody should be moved into the malls or moved out of the cities.” Any anti-corruption movement has to be nailed to an accepted legality, and that accepted legality is going to belong to the middle class, and there’s a huge support of the middle class for this anti-corruption movement for this reason.

So you have exactly the opposite of Occupy Wall Street, you know? So you have a huge middle class support of people who are saying that it’s corruption that’s preventing us from becoming a super power, you know? It’s the poor that are getting in the way.
(Gandhi, Get Your Gun!)

Ruth Gilmore (CUNY): I have a follow-up question to something you said earlier that gets to a question folks here in the audience have put to you. You said earlier in response to what I asked you about that you were maybe skeptical about building bridges and solidarity. And yet the notion of what their [?] means [?] all these different qualities to it, so in some ways they’re going to be a battle of that people in that particular forest [?]. But there’s of course a raid against the hugest global forces imaginable; and while I certainly don’t think that we should put on our green fatigues and run there since there are all these battles to fight here, I’m just curious about how you hope things might turn out in the end if all the battles are [?]. So let me follow with a question here: “Dear Arundhati,” writes one of your admirers, “There was a part in Walking with the Comrades where you cite Gandhi’s ideas on stewardship, which is basically a defense of private property. How does or should the Indian public square away the moral imperatives of non-violence and property when there’s so much violence and dispossession waged in the very name of ‘security’ and ‘development’?” — our writer likes the quotation marks.

Arundhati Roy: Well, I actually got into quite a lot of trouble and quite a few arguments because there’s a part in the essay where I talk about the fact that, just in terms of consumption, the guerilla army is more Gandhian than any Gandhian. And, that one day I should write a play called “Gandhi, get your gun” because, as you can imagine, non-violence, or the idea of non-violence has been co-opted by the elite in ways that suit them. So my question is, to people who — you know, if it’s Anna Hazare who’s on a fast supported by the corporate media and supported by the middle class, that’s fine; but non-violence is a form of political theatre that can be extremely effective provided you have a sympathetic audience; but if you’re deep in the forest, surrounded by 1,000 policemen who are burning your village, I mean you can hardly go on a hunger strike, right?

And, I ask: Can the hungry go on a hunger strike? Can people who have no money boycott goods when they don’t have any goods or any money at all? And Gandhi believed in this idea of trusteeship that rich people should be allowed to hold on to what they have and be persuaded to be nice about it, you know? And obviously I don’t believe in that.

I... to come back to the question you were asking about solidarity: see, what I meant was, I didn’t mean that there shouldn’t be solidarity, but I think that those solidarities will happen when people understand what are these battles, what is the connection between Wall St. occupation and the people fighting in the jungle? Right now that might be a little muddled because are we really clear about what we’re asking for, what we’re fighting for? You know, even in the last essay in this book, which I’ll read a part out at the end; the last essay is called "The Trickle-Down Revolution", in which I say, yes, right now the Maoists are fighting against the corporate takeover, but will they leave the bauxite in the mountain? Do they have a different way of looking at the world? A different development model; because the western world, and particularly the United States, has managed to brainwash everyone into believing that this is progress, this is civilization, this is paradise, you know?; whereas what I’m saying is that really what we’re asking for, and what this battle in the forest is about, is a different idea of happiness, a different idea of fulfillment, a different idea of civilization; and we mustn’t be frightened to articulate our demands, our dreams, our need for change very clearly.

(Capists & Liddites)

The time really has come for that, and if you think of a society in which 400 people own more than half of all of Americans, clearly, you don’t have to be a philosopher or a huge intellectual to say this has to stop, and that today I think that we have to say that no individual, no corporation can have unlimited amounts of money. There has to be a cap on it, there has to be a lid on it; so we call ourselves capists and liddites, if you like.

But, like for example, in India, there’s a mining company that owns steel plants, it does iron ore mining, it makes millions from it, called the Jindals. And there’s a resistance to their projects all over the place; so when you’re mining iron ore, you just pay a small royalty to the government, and you make all those millions. With all those millions, all these mining companies, they can buy judges, they can buy journalists, they can buy TV stations, they can buy everything. The CEO is a member of the parliament, he’s won the right to fly the national flag on his house with the Chairman of the Flag Foundation. They have a law school — like this beautiful campus in the heart of some kind of squalor outside Delhi — where the faculty comes from all over the world because they are paid so well, and they teach environment law, all kinds of other kindnesses. And, they recently even ran a protest workshop. They had all the activists and poets and singers coming and talking about protest and music. So these guys own everything. They own universities, they own protests, they fund activists, they have the mines, they are in parliament, they have the flag; they have everything. The Tata’s [Indian multinational conglomerate] have mines, they have foundations, they fund filmmakers, they make salt, they make trucks, they make internet cables. You can’t get away from them, and they’re not accountable. So, other than being capists and liddites, we demand that no corporation can have this sort of cross ownership. If you have a mine, stick with the mine, you can’t own a television company and the flag and be in parliament and run the universities, you can’t, you know? So, we need regulations like this, otherwise you end up like Italy where Berlusconi owns 99% of the TV outlets.

Someone in audience: In New York, Mayor Bloomberg.

Arundhati Roy: So there are some pretty simple things. Frankly, I also believe that children shouldn’t inherit their parents’ wealth. There has to be a way of limiting what people can have because we can’t depend on people’s saintliness. [?] Nice people, and eat organic vegetables. It doesn’t work.

(When Animals Begin to Lose Their Mind)

Peter Hitchcock (CUNY): I’ll try to follow that up by combining two questions. Given, again, the situation that you just described, is it possible for this insurgency to win without some form of transformation at the level of government in India as a whole? In other words, can there be a compromise of some sort, or can they only win with a different government?

Arundhati Roy: No, first of all, I think it would be foolhardy to believe that anybody can actually win a military victory against the Indian army. At the same time, we remember that in Kashmir there are 700,000 soldiers who’ve been posted there to deal with what they [?] something like 300 militias. Once a whole population is against you, you can’t hold down, so if 12 million people in Kashmir need 700,000 soldiers, then what do, you know, 600 million need? The math doesn’t work out. In fact, nobody can win that, then there’s just devastation.

I think that is not a question of the government transforming. I think it’s a question of other movements and people in India realizing that it is for their own good that they better stand up for this battle; because, eventually, even in the terms of the free market, even in their own terms, earning a 5% royalty and selling of your mountains, rivers and forests; you’re really paying for other people’s economies with your ecology; it’s only when animals begin to lose their mind do they soil their own nests. So, there is no logic to say that this is good for the country; not even the logic of the free market.

(Trading in Every Feeling for a Silver Coin)

Peter Hitchcock (CUNY): One of the questions that you’ve filled in many times obviously is that The God of Small Things sold 6 million copies around the world. And then you embark upon a non fiction career of criticizing the government that can imprison you. So, the question basically — I know that you’re not into that kind of careerism which says you must write for the dollar — but do you ever feel that pull, that you could write fiction again? Are you writing fiction?

Arundhati Roy: First you have to rephrase your question, and remove and separate the talk about money from the talk about literature.

Peter Hitchcock (CUNY): I’m a professor at CUNY, I have to.

Arundhati Roy: No, to be honest, I really... I’m even speaking for myself when I say people should not have unlimited amounts of money. I so often have said that it took me 4 years to write The God of Small Things and by the time I finished writing it, I had no idea what I had done; you know, whether it would make any sense to anybody or whatever; and suddenly it became this big success, and I used to feel like every feeling in The God of Small Things had been traded in for a silver coin. It was, you know there’s something ugly about being rewarded in that way. I mean a little bit was okay but it was really too much.

To answer your question about fiction, yes, today I really do feel now that I’ve said, in some urgent sense — there was a sense of urgency about my non fiction; and there’s absolutely no sense of urgency when I write fiction; I just like to really take my time over it. And I feel that I’ve said all I’ve needed to say directly. So I do feel like returning to that other place where I can tell it as a story, you know? But because I’m not a careerist and I’m not particularly ambitious and I’m not going anywhere, I find it difficult, especially if you live in India now, there’s such a lot of horrendous things happening all the time, and I just keep getting sort of dragged into it; and as I’ve said before, fiction is such a delicate thing, such a ambiguous thing; and to do that, to kind of build a sort of steel wall around a very ambiguous thing, is difficult. But I hope it happens.


Thursday, 10 November 2011

Arundhati Roy at CUNY - 10 November, 2011

 Photos courtesy: John @jboy

Photo courtesy: Rajeev @

Nov. 13th – Arundhati Roy Speaks in Berkeley

Earth at Risk 2011
November 13th | Berkeley, CA

Reduced Prices Now Available: $10.00 Regular / Low Income $5.00
Don’t miss a rare opportunity to hear Arundhati Roy speak in person in the United States.

Derrick Jensen Interviews: Arundhati Roy, Chris Hedges, Thomas Linzey, Waziyatawin, Aric McBay, Stephanie McMillan, and Lierre Keith.
Deep Green Resistance organizers will be present with literature and available to chat and answer questions.

Derrick Jensen has been called “the philosopher-poet of the environmental movement.” During this day-long event, Derrick will interview seven people who each hold an impassioned critique of this culture and can offer ideas on what can be done to build a real resistance movement.

Our planet is under serious threat from industrial civilization. Yet activists are not considering strategies that might actually prevent the looming biotic collapse the Earth is facing. We need to deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet. We need a serious resistance movement that includes all levels of direct action–action that can match the scale of the problem.

Can’t make it to Berkeley? This event will be livestreamed.


Wednesday, 9 November 2011


Presented by: OCC Professor Jayanti Tamm

The award-winning author Arundhati Roy has transformed her focus from writing fiction to raising awareness of global health, security, and human rights issues. Prof. Tamm will discuss why Roy is one of the leading voices against the harmful aspects of human displacement, globalization, and modern warfare.

 November 18, 2011. 11:00 am –12:00 noon • College Center Solar Lounge
All Events are Free and Open to the Public!
No pre-registration is needed.


Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Arundhati Roy on ‘Walking with the Comrades’

November 1, 2011 | by Anderson Tepper

Arundhati Roy’s 1997 Booker Prize–winning debut novel, The God of Small Things, helped transform her into an overnight literary celebrity and something of a poster author for the boom in Indian writing. (Billboards across the country trumpeted her Booker victory.) She followed up the novel, however, with a stinging essay condemning India and Pakistan’s nuclear showdown, entitled “The End of Imagination,” and set off, as she’s said, “on a political journey which I never expected to embark on.” She was soon taking up the pen on a range of issues—big dam projects that were displacing communities, India’s occupation of Kashmir, political corruption, and Hindu extremism. Suddenly, she was seen in a very different light at home: a voice of conscience, perhaps, but also a shrill and uncomfortable reminder of what lurked behind India’s democracy.
But perhaps nothing quite prepared her for the virulent response to her March 2010 cover story for the Indian newsweekly Outlook, an inside report from the jungle camps where Maoist insurgents (and tribal villagers) were locked in a deadly and drawn-out battle with government forces over mineral-rich land. “Here in the forests of Dantewada [in central India],” she writes, “a battle rages for the soul of India.” That article forms the centerpiece of her new collection, Walking with the Comrades, from Penguin Books; while Kashmir: The Case for Freedom, out now from Verso, also includes pieces by Roy as well as Tariq Ali, Pankaj Mishra, and others. She’ll be making two rare appearances in New York next month, at the CUNY Graduate Center on November 9th and the Asia Society on November 11th. I recently spoke with her by phone in Delhi.
Tell me about the reaction in India to your article “Walking with the Comrades.” I know it caused quite a stir and, as you say, landed in the flight path of a whole slew of debates, on both the left and the right.

Whenever my essays are collected into a book what is missing is the atmosphere in the country at the time when the original pieces were published. These essays came at a time when the government had announced Operation Green Hunt, calling on paramilitary forces to go into the jungle and very openly branding all resistance—not just the guerrillas, but really all across the board—as Maoist. They were picking up people by using laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Special Securities Act, in which thinking an anti-government thought is a almost a criminal offense. So when I went into the forest, my idea was that nobody really knew what was going on in there. These places were choked off; there was a siege on reporting. But what was real and what was not? I wanted to go in and deepen the story, to make it more human. But, of course, the idea that there are masses of people taking up arms caused a lot of anxiety among the right-wing. Among the people on the left—and India has a very long, complicated, and strong legacy of political and intellectual left-wing activity—many were absolutely outraged for a lot of reasons, mostly to do with old debates about whether organizing indigenous people qualified as Maoism, whether they are truly a revolutionary class, about the ideas of armed action versus entering the mainstream and standing for elections.

You make a point to contrast the guerrillas’ situation with that of Gandhi, for example. You even jokingly consider writing a play for their cultural wing called Gandhi Get Your Gun.

[Laughs] Well, I got into trouble for saying that, too! But it’s true that when intellectuals and academics debate the different kind of resistance movements, they don’t take into account the landscapes of these struggles. When I went into the forest, one of the things that struck me was that Gandhian nonviolence can be a very effective form of political theater but it can’t succeed without an audience. So whether it’s the occupation of Wall Street or somewhere in India, it has to have an audience. Deep inside these forests there was no one to bear witness.

You describe how you were personally invited by the Maoists to join them on their march through the forest and to see for yourself what was happening. As a writer, it was certainly a rare opportunity, though dangerous and even grueling. Tell me about what you discovered, what surprised you.

Perhaps what surprised me most was that I found that almost half of the guerrilla army was made up of women. It was a very interesting story, how the Maoists had first approached the tribal women when they went into these areas more than thirty years ago. I spoke to the women and they told me about why they had joined—most had witnessed the most horrible crimes against women by either paramilitary or vigilante organizations, while others had joined to escape patriarchal traditional societies. What was really interesting to me was how much, over many years, Maoism had influenced the indigenous people and indigenous culture had influenced the Maoists.

I want to ask you about your “political journey” of the past decade or more. Among Indian writers, you’ve come to occupy a unique place—not only have you remained in India, you’ve been extremely vocal and critical on a variety of national subjects. Is this a role you’ve embraced?

Yes, I have, but only reluctantly. You see, when you live here, inside of all of this, you end up writing to refuse to be humiliated.

In “Trickledown Revolution,” the book’s final essay, you describe a street protest in Delhi by pavement dwellers whom you call “shadow people” and “refugees of India Shining.” You are one of the few writers, it seems, who speaks up for them.

Well, I personally find it very embarrassing when people say things like, “She’s the voice of the voiceless.” We all know there’s no such thing as the voiceless. Everybody is quite capable of telling you what is happening to them in this country. The dilemma for the writer, I think, is how to spend your life honing your individual voice and then, at times like this, to declare it from the heart of a crowd. That tension, that balance, is something I think about quite often.

This book, like much of your work, can be seen as act of imagination, a vision of other possibilities. You write: “If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate-change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low down on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle every day to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, the mountains and the rivers protect them.”

I always find it interesting that when you’re with people who are really at the receiving end of oppression, you find a lot less despair than you do in middle-class drawing rooms. In these situations, despair is not an option. I wonder if the amount of information that is hammered into our heads day and night leads people to think that the world’s problems are so huge they’re insurmountable. Whereas people who are fighting against something in a more or less localized way are far clearer about what they have to do and how they have to do it.

You’ve said before that it is a struggle to find the time and space to write fiction and that you feel you need to invent a language to bridge your political and creative concerns.

Yes, what is most difficult for me is that just as certain and as real as these battles are right now, writing fiction is proportionately uncertain. Fiction is such an amorphous thing, you can’t be sure that you’re doing something important or wonderful until you’ve done it. So, because of the position I am in now, to work on fiction I have to create some sort of steel barriers around it. Fiction is something that involves so much gentleness, so much tenderness, that it keeps getting crushed under the weight of everything else! I still haven’t figured it out entirely—but I will, I will.