Some Perspectives on Arundhati Roy

by Mala Pandurang

Arundhati Roy. Critical Perspectives. (ed.) Murari Prasad. New Delhi : Pencraft International. New Orientations Series. 2006. 211 pages. Rs 450.

This volume is a competently edited collection of eleven qualitative essays that focus on Arundhati Roy’s engagements with intersecting discourses of postcolonialism, globlization, anti-capitalism and feminism.

The contributions can be divided into two categories. First, those offering multiple perspectives of Roy ‘s only novel, The God of Small Things – beginning with Aijaz Ahmad’s oft quoted response to GOST that first appeared in Frontline in 1997. While Ahmed accepts that ‘the ideology of form’ is Roy ‘s strength, he critiques her ‘ideological opposition to communism’ as fraught with complications. Campbell-Hall presents a comparative study of the textual representative of skilled labour in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient and Anil’s Ghost and GOST and suggests that the text offers alternate post colonial identities through the dalit artisan characters; Alex Tickell analyses the scene of the family in their sky-blue Plymouth as a ‘fitting analogy for the creative situation of the post colonial author’; Antonio Navarro-Tejero focuses on the signification of the ‘factory’ in the novel in the context of the ‘decadence of domestic business as modernization and capitalism takes over’; and Madhu Benoit analyses the consequence of the ‘metatemporal narrative mode.’ The essay I particularly enjoyed reading was Brinda Bose’s reading of the construction of the erotic in GOST. Bose counters Aijaz Ahmad’s critique of Roy ‘s political positioning by suggesting that ‘ one’s personal politics is after as extension of one’s position’, and therefore ‘ a politics of desire could be considered as viable as a politics as any other’.

The second set of essays deal with Roy ‘s non-fiction works and explores aspects of Roy ‘s ideologies in the context of the politics of publishing and reception of her political essays in Western newspapers. Amitava Kumar is extremely appreciative of Roy’s ‘ resolve to build a republic of many’ through her alliance with the Narmada Bacchao Andolan and even goes as far as suggesting that Roy’s international visibility makes her the ‘most important writer in India familiar to the west since Rabindranath Tagore’. On the other hand, Julie Mullaney expresses unhappiness with the British media representation of Roy as ‘ the public voice of India’s anti-globilization movement’ and points out that Roy’s compliance with the creative recycling of her essays by various Western publishing agencies suggests that ‘she is collusive in the very process she decries'( 114). Bishnupriya Ghosh demonstrates how Roy ‘s pose as a mathematician makes it possible for her to maintain ‘an imaginative vigil over the excesses of global processes of privatisation and economic and technological development’, and Murari Prasad examines the discourse of marginality conflates with the representation of resistance in Roy ‘s writing . The collection ends another repeatedly citied article, N Ram’s interview with Roy in Frontline in 2001 wherein Roy responds to Ramachandra Guha’s trenchant criticisms of her activism viz. the Narmada Bacchao Andolan, and her anti-nuclear and anti-globalisation polemics.

All the essays in this collection have been previously published, except perhaps the contributions of Bhishnupriya Ghosh and Murari Prasad. Still, the book remains an extremely useful resource as it not only allows access to a wide range of scholarly responses in a single collection, but also offers an insight into the trajectory of criticism of Roy ‘s work ever since God of Small Things was first published in 1997.

Feb 8, 2006

Mala Pandurang is Head of the Department, Department of English, BMN College, Mumbai.