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« Of Tigers, Dolphins, Cyclones and Lunar Rainbows | Main | One UFO That Was Launched »

May 24, 2006


AMY GOODMAN: Tens of thousands?

I'm not sure where Ms. Roy is getting her figures from. Though one acknowledges the severity of the problem, the figures are nowhere as high. She's grossly misinformed. Either that or the media here (in India, I mean) is guilty of criminal negligence as far as their reportage on the subject is concerned.

Interestingly enough, yesterday's HT had a small tongue-in-cheek article on Ms. Roy, on its editorial page insinuating, that for all her activism, Ms. Roy chooses to keep a non-Indian passport. I could transcribe the whole thing, if you're interested.

But I have to say the Indian mainstream media was so servile.... It was extraordinary. "

Couldn't agree more here but at least it wasn't as bad as it was when Clinton came.

I adore Ms. Roy. I've read her criticism and learned much but it's really her novel that I loved, "The God Of Small Things". Her words step with such beautiful and melancholy nice.


You are probably right. She may have been exaggerating about the number of farmers who committed suicide. But it is probably still a substantial figure - not just sixty as represented by the number of widows who came to New Delhi.

I am aware of the hostility to Arundhati Roy in India although I did not read the editorial you mention. Why is that so? Is it because she keeps bringing up uncomfortable truths and is a bit of a dramatic diva or is it because she is seen as a limousine liberal who made millions from her blockbuster first novel and yet goes around bemoaning the plight of the poor? Is there also some envy involved in putting her down?

But I don't think that being rich disqualifies one from speaking up for the dispossessed. By that standard, no one from the Gandhi family should be in any position of power in India. Nor should a Kennedy (or a Bush) run for office in the US.

I am not in total agreement with every one of Roy's political positions. But I do find her an outspoken and very smart advocate of the positions she espouses. Criticizing one's own government's failings is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact it should be required in a democracy. After all, this blog's main purpose is to point out the faults of the ridiculous government that is currently in power in the US.

Whenever I go to India, I am amazed by the newspapers - their format, their content and their tone. If I sat at home and just read the papers and looked at the TV programs, I would come to believe that India is a country inhabited only by the super rich, super chic and ultra glamorous people cavorting at clubs and resorts. The front page of most major newspapers look like tabloids. I was in Delhi last February when Clinton was in town. The papers went on and on for a week about the grotesquely ostentatious Chatwal wedding which Clinton attended. It was distasteful enough to turn one's stomach. I guess Roy is critical of that attitude of denial in the Indian media. While India is doing wonderfully on so many fronts, it is not right to pretend that it is going equally well for ALL Indians. One of the biggest culprits in presenting a one sided "shiny" Indian story is our own Thomas Friedman of The New York Times whom too Roy takes to task.

Why DOES Roy hold a foreign passport? Could it be that she is afraid that she might be thrown in jail for her activism as almost happened recently? It is funny that you mentioned HT. My sister's husband is the editor of the Delhi edition of HT. He and I have had many discussions about the honest role of the media which seems to be rapidly disappearing in India. He agrees with me but can do little to change what the owners want to print and the public wants to read. I should mention that the Hindu still manages to do some decent reporting.

I agree with Matt's assessment of Roy's literary output. I loved "God of Small Things" and I did not think that she overly "exoticized" India, as is the new charge against her. The story was a sensitive portrayal of human relationships and I remain impressed.

To have jumped from first time author to political activist is not a small feat. I respect Arundhati Roy for the genuine passion with which she speaks out, reminding us of the unwelcome costs of globalization/corporatization of India.
To be sure, I don't agree with her on all her stances. She can be a 'Drama Queen' of sorts, with her penchant for mild exaggeration. While many would like to dismiss some of what she brings up as pandering to the Western exoticizing of India and taking India's image from shining bright tech-savvy economy back to dark ages of bullock carts, she is still giving India and the world a necessary reminder that the poorest segments of the Indian population aren't benefitting from the riches, though there is a little trickle down.
Arundhati is consciously using her celebrity for a greater goal, rather than sitting on her laurels after paying lipservice to the causes she supports. That's more than 'armchair liberals' like me have been able to do.
I loved her writing in God of Small Things- it was the most creative transmutation of Malayalam idiom into English that added a tremendous charm to a plot which I didn't particularly care for.

I forgot to mention- the democracy now link in Ruchira's post also has streaming video of the interview- watch it if you can, rather than reading it. Arundhati is beautifully expressive in it- kind of reminds me of a dancer's face and expression, the way she presents herself to the camera.

I think Ms Roy is clearly cuckoo. Last week she declared that India was not a democracy. In the past she has famously claimed to have seceded from India and become a mobile republic. Well, we are desperately waiting: Maybe the US will give her political asylum, or the Netherlands. I am sure she would not like to go to Cuba or Venezuela. Most Indians are quite fed up of her antics and hope that she will permanently and seriously leave this terrible country alone.

Thanks Manoj! I knew you would say some thing like this about Roy. I actually wouldn't mind her moving to the US and taking on Bush. But there are many vocal critics of Bush right here. Roy is playing a much more useful role in India - in spite of her off the charts personal foibles. There are enough right wing cuckoos singing loudly in the Indian political symphony. Her voice from the left is a refreshing change.

And why are you using my sister's email address to comment here?

Oh no! I think I've given you the wrong impression. I'm a great admirer of Ms.Roy and her writing. I've been following her work long before she became popular for writing her opus and was shoved into the limelight. She used to write regularly for the now moribund Frontline and was just another activist at the time.

Also she's absolutely entitled to every single cent she's received as payment for book and whatever she got along with the Booker. If anything, the fact she is involved in activism to the extent she is, in spite of her riches, is doubly commendable. But I take issue with this habit of crying wolf, i.e. quoting such bloated figures. Even the interviewer, Amy Goodman seemed to be incredulous and had to check the figure again with Roy. Repeated exaggerated claims such as these do more harm than good, by numbing the reading audience to plight of the actual victims.

There was a definite element of sour grapes in the article I had referred to. As to why she holds a foreign passport, I don't have the slightest clue. It could very well be that she's afraid of personal harm being done to her but it seems unlikely. But with our politicians, anything is possible. Take Aamir Khan and his latest film for example. Did you know that it has been banned from being released in Gujarat, all because he spoke up in support of the people displaced by the Narmada Dam. Not against the dam per se, mind you, but only to advocate for the rights of the people affected. He made it quite clear that he was not qualified to pass judgement on the utility of building the dam itself.

On the state of our national media, just thinking about it is enough to give me apoplexy. I returned to India earlier this year, after spending 5 years in the U.S., where I was pursuing graduate studies and I feel I've returned to an entirely different country, if I was to go by what I read in the papers. I agree the good people at the Hindu and to an extent Tehelka are fighting the good fight, but for how long? The odds are stacked terribly against them. Times of India, the main villian, doesn't differentiate between news reports and advertisements anymore. This is their *official* policy now. Just yesterday, they carried an ad, very cleverly camouflaged as copy, for a private institute for higher education, right next to an article on the 12th board results, with the aim of conveniently tying them together in the mind of the reader. The more I think of these developments, the more I depressed I get. And after reading what your brother-in-law said to you, the situation seems even more dire. If someone in his position feels helpless, what hope can one have?

Thanks M.W:
Sorry for coming down on you a bit hard in my first comment.

You and I are exactly on the same page about both Roy and the Indian media. Ms Roy does have a tendency to speak in hyperbole and take artistic liberties in her political statements. That is dangerous as you point out. Remember what happened to Dan Rather of CBS news when he reported about Bush's absence from Texas National Guard duty and his source turned out to be spurious? Everyone knows that the essential content of the report is true but because of the factual lapse, the whole story got discredited and no further enquiry took place. When the message is important, the messenger needs to be very careful. In case of a "diva" like Roy, she becomes the story and the content even when entirely accurate, gets dismissed as dramatic ranting. A pity.

The "infomercial" type of reporting by major Indian newspaper is a relatively recent development and very alarming. I find thoughtful discussion missing both from the print as well as the broadcast media. The entire mood among middle and upper middle class Indians seems to be one of denial and casual laissez faire. Which is why Arundhati Roy is to be commended for sticking her neck out. Perhaps I too would have been the same way if I had stayed on in India. But as a member of a minority community in the US, my antenna has become finely tuned to social and political improprieties. As Sujatha said, perhaps I too am mostly an armchair liberal. But I do my bit by participating in the process - writing this blog is a large part of that. Actively campaigning for suitable political candidates is another. Voting my conscience rather than my own pocketbook is the most important.

I dont mind Bushbashing but Ms.Roy has become a pain...I think being contrary was cute for a whle and for me,'small things' carried her a goodwll from me,now I find her her enjoying her role as a permanent fly in the matter what ointment!!

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