After much political dithering and slithering, people in Power have decided to slap an FIR on Arundhati Roy for her alleged anti-India remark vis-à-vis Kashmir. Roy has answered it with an article titled “They can file a charge posthumously against Jawaharlal Nehru too” in The Hindu [Nov 28]. The article is a collection of quotes from Nehru’s writings and speeches which show how Roy’s view is very much similar to Nehru’s. Of course, Nehru was also a “pseudo-secularist” in the vocabulary of those who protest vehemently against Roy. Will they now wave the flag of anti-nationalism against Nehru?
Writing “an old fashioned essay” on Arundhati Roy in Governance Now [Nov 16-30], Shiv Visvanathan, social scientist, argues that Roy is “bit of a social Rorschach. People project on her their fears and longings.” True as that may be, I think Roy is much more than that. She is the Shelley of the Ode to the West Wind sans the despair and melancholy. She is the romantic rebel with a powerful vision.
Who but a romantic visionary can speak these words? “At a time when opportunism is everything, when hope seems lost, when everything boils down to a cynical business deal, we must find the courage to dream. To reclaim romance. The romance of believing in justice, in freedom, and in dignity.” The quote is from Roy’s I. G. Khan Memorial Lecture delivered at Aligarh Muslim University in 2004. The lecture is one of the chapters of her latest book, Listening to Grasshoppers. Interestingly, the book is dedicated “to those who have learned to divorce hope from reason.”
The irrational optimism of the romantic is what fires Roy’s soul. [A coincidence that I’m compelled to mention: I used the phrase ‘irrational optimism’ to describe my own optimism in answer to a commentator’s question in an earlier blog of mine. Roy’s book with its dedication staring at me reached me by the next day’s courier.]
The irrational romantic with a fire in the soul that scorches too many people with quite a few vested interests is indeed playing with fire. These people with vested interests, the people in Power, will find a way of shutting out the blazing vision in the darkest dungeon. Roy has antagonised both politicians and corporate bigwigs. Does she need any more enemies? She has them anyway. Every ‘nationalist’ Indian clamours for her blood.
The latest charge against her is that she was advocating secessionism in Kashmir. Ironically, Roy believes that India is labouring under a New Secessionism which is engendered by a relatively small section of people who appropriate everything to themselves: “land, rivers, water, freedom, security, dignity, fundamental rights…” [From the same lecture mentioned above]
What Arundhati Roy aspires to do is bring back all those things to the people of India. To everyone, rather than the few.
She is like the prophets of old, speaking inconvenient truths too loud and clear. And like the prophets’, too, her voice will remain a cry in the wilderness, the political wilderness of India vitiated by power-hungry, wealth-hungry leaders and their equally hungry followers as well as the corporate bigwigs. Such a hunger does not understand visionary dreams. Rather, it does not want to understand.
Roy’s dream may never materialise. But the dream is admirable. With her dream, Roy stands out as an oddity in today’s India which would rather revolve round Pamela Anderson and Rakhi Sawant. Will India shut out that odd, blazing dream behind the ominous curtain of POTA or some such Act?
My earlier posts on Arundhati Roy: