Sunday, 11 November 2012

If we do not love people, what are we fighting for?

Arundhati Roy speaks at the Sharjah International Book Fair on 9th November 2012.

She moved quietly and with grace. All eyes were on her as she made her way on to a stage in front of a packed hall in Sharjah. Her greying hair and petite figure draped in a simple red sari belied the vibrant energy she was known for. 

Arundhati Roy's presence at the Sharjah International Book Fair 2012 was greeted with applause – it was a success even before she said her first word.

Known for her fearless criticism of governments and corporate giants, the award-winning author was at the fair to talk about 'God of Small Things', her most famous work of fiction that won the Man Booker Prize in 1997.

The air was thick with anticipation. What would she say? Here was a woman disliked by both the ruling party and opposition – a rarity in India. The Indian government often called her a rebel, a woman against globalisation and progress. The UAE was about to find out if this was true or not.

After the formal introduction and welcome, she took to the stage with the interviewer. When talking about her book, Roy said she began writing it only because of a river in Ayemenem, where she grew up. As she described how she wrote it, a smile lit up her face, and she lyrically described a beautiful river lit by a 'broken yellow moon'. Right at the beginning, it was evident that Roy was a woman who used language to empower. Her easy yet refined rhetoric exuded a calm confidence.

Arundhati Roy wants to be the voice of the downtrodden. She has been working actively to eliminate the caste system in India. She said, “the caste system continues to be the engine that drives Indian politics.” 

In her own words, she writes about 'incredible bravery and profound struggles'. In the interview, Roy emerges as a deeply sensitive human being who cares about people and issues that others hardly even notice. And her cause is very personal. She has spent two and a half weeks in the forest with guerrillas, to write about them of the experience, she said that there was the expected fighting, but she spent most of her time with them just ‘cracking up’.

Writing fiction for her was a lonely affair. Maybe that’s why she enjoys writing about real issues and real people. She feels connected to the people of her country when she writes. But is she happy doing this? The answer is thought-provoking. “Happiness is a weapon,” and she doesn’t want to be a victim.

Roy’s opinions extend beyond India as well. As expected, she was asked for her opinion Obama’s second term. Contrary to all the cries of ‘better change’ that the world has been screaming, she doesn’t think that there will be any change – for the better. According to her, Obama increased attacks in Afghanistan two-fold. How, she wonders, could he stand on that stage, hugging his daughters and wife even as he rips apart thousands of families in other parts of the world?

There were many memorable moments during Roy’s talk. One of them was when she was asked what she thinks of wearing the hijab. Her response was received with a round of applause. “Removing the hijab off women who want to wear it is not liberating them, it’s undressing them.”

So who is Arundhati Roy? Is she a human rights activist? “I don’t believe in human rights,” she is quick to respond. For her, it is jargon – a term coined by NGOs and governments to ‘evade the real issue’. 

Is she a writer? Yes, but she is much more. She is an empathetic human being who takes other people’s problems seriously. And for the rest of us, she is a picture of hope. 

Someone who doesn’t make empty promises for a better world. Someone who acknowledges that there are many more unseen, unheard people working harder than she is. Someone who we can trust – because she is more about ‘doing’ than ‘talking. She isn’t a larger than life celebrity. Arundhati Roy is simply a passionate believer in change.

By Georgina Paul

The writer is a MA Media and Communications student specializing in Journalism at Manipal University, Dubai.

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