From writing The God Of Small Things to voicing everything she believes in without mincing her words, author and activist Arundhati Roy has been the object of our sapiosexual desire for years. Recently, she spoke to Elle India about writing. feminism, and more. Excerpts:
On Things That Can And Cannot Be Said, her new book
"It’s a small book co-authored by me and actor John Cusack, who actually came up with the idea of us going to meet Snowden in Russia. Snowden is extraordinary in many ways. I’ve never known anyone who can speak continuously in complete sentences the way he can. His is an amazing journey, from being a Bush supporter—pretty right-wing as far as I can tell, he signed up for the invasion of Iraq—to where he is now. We spent two days together, John Cusack, Daniel Ellsberg—the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, he’s known as the Snowden of the ’60s—and I. It was a fascinating, freewheeling conversation."
"(As a writer,) I’m pretty disciplined. Insanely so right now because I’m working on a new book. I write every single day, at home, at my desk. Sometimes the day goes by and I haven’t noticed. Suddenly I look around and it’s dark. The only light there is comes from my computer screen. Last week I burnt a boiled egg and the pan it was in. My kitchen filled with smoke. Then this week I jumped up in a panic to take the egg off the fire only to realize there was no egg on the fire. A bit mad all this."
"I didn’t decide (to write the new novel). It decided. I’ve been circling around it for years. I’m never in a hurry when it comes to fiction. I’ve done so much travelling and writing in the last 20 years that I feel like sedimentary rock, you know, so many layers of understanding, of things that cannot be expressed in any way other than fiction. You just sit there and all those layers of experience have to break down and become a part of your DNA, and then you sweat it out as prose."
"My non-fiction is always written with urgency and a fair bit of anger. Every time I write a political essay I say, ok, I’m not writing another one."
"With my non-fiction, it’s not easy to sift intelligent criticism from the knee-jerk idiocy and vitriol that goes around on the net. But I get the cut and thrust of it. People often say, “Arundhati Roy is a controversial writer.” It’s a way of not dealing with the argument. A more accurate statement would be “Arundhati Roy writes about controversial issues.” The controversy is there. Are dams good? Should we be privatising everything? Should the whole of Bastar be handed over to corporates? I write about those things, I weigh in, I take a position, but I’m certainly not creating the controversy..."
"I’m on the A-list of anti-nationals."
On her mother
"It was impossible to live at home. At the time it was traumatic, but in many ways I’m lucky that I left home when I did. My mother is my creator and my destroyer. In her presence I’m chopped liver. She has created an amazing school, she’s changed the lives of her students. Generations of them. I admire her for who she is, but I have to be careful to not get burnt by that. We’re like two nuclear powers, we oughtn’t be in close proximity for too long."
"(Now,) we’ve signed a peace accord, and it’s holding up. But if war breaks out, let me say clearly and unequivocally—I want her to win. I never want to defeat her."
"She’s been very central to who I am, in positive ways, negative ways, every way possible. She’s an extraordinary person, but doesn’t have any of the motherly qualities women are supposed to have. And I don’t know if I admire her for not having them or if sometimes I think, ‘Why can’t you be a little less weird?’ But no, not really..."
"She’s also been very unwell all her life, you know, she has severe asthma. And someone who has asthma is controlled by their breath. And so was I—controlled by her breath. I grew up terrified that my mother would die on me. I watched every breath she took with terror and relief. I’ve spent a lot of time with her in hospitals. A few months ago, they told me they were putting her on a ventilator, it was that bad. And then she just bounced back, and now she’s running the show again. Her empire is back in her hands. So she’s Houdini, basically. An escape artist. My mother needs a book about her. By me. No one else can write it."
On living alone
"I am part of a very wonderful and strange community of people who all live alone. That must never be confused with loneliness. I have deep, enduring friendships. We’d walk to the ends of the earth for each other. So yes, I live alone but my life is full of love. My relationship with Pradip, my former husband, and my girls Mithva and Pia, who lost their mother when they were very young, remains wonderful. I live alone because I wouldn’t want to inflict my eccentricities on anyone else, nor would I want someone else to suffer the—often serious—consequences of what I write. If I didn’t want to live alone, I wouldn’t live alone."
On her fight with the system
"Let’s just say there are people who find it easy to sidle up to power, and there are people who naturally have an adversarial relation to it, and I think that battle is what tilts the balance in the world. That’s the line behind which I stand. Many people have fought long and remarkable battles to create the freedoms we have. How can we concede those spaces? How can we think that some natural phenomenon has gifted us these freedoms? No! They have been wrested, one by one. I get so annoyed when I hear “cool” young women say ‘I’m not a feminist.’"
"I mean, do they know what battles were fought? Every freedom we have today, we have because of feminists. Many women have fought and paid a huge price for where we are today! It didn’t all come to us only because of our own inherent talent or brilliance. Even the simple fact that women have the vote, who fought for that? The suffragettes. No freedom has come without a huge battle. If you’re not a feminist, go back to into your veil, sit in the kitchen and take instructions. You don’t want to do that? Thank the feminists."
"It’s wonderful to see the emerging independence of women in India, but then there’s this dark undercurrent of conservatism running parallel to this revolution. Remember the women in Afghanistan? When we were growing up, they were doctors and surgeons, they partied and wore cool clothes. And now? We have to be alert to the dangers. We can be set back by centuries in no time at all."
On working out
"I didn’t have a tragic childhood, but I had a very disturbing one. I dealt with it by running. I ran and ran and ran. Around the house, around the school playground... I recently met my old PT instructor, Mr Selvapakiam. He would only train the boys in school, but I hung around him and he paid me some attention. I’m not some star athlete. I don’t go to the gym to suffer. I am suspicious of people who volunteer to suffer. I go for sheer pleasure."
"(I used to be an aerobics instructor) in my broke days. There was me and this other trainer, a beautiful woman called Sushma. She was a weightlifter, so strong and fabulous. All these lalajis would come to our class to see the women in gym gear, and we used to mess with them. Once this one guy got so exhausted, he lay down in the back of the class and I got nervous, I thought he had died. I saw the news report in my mind’s eye—Lalaji leching ke liye aaya tha, stretcher mein chala gaya."
On her sense of style
"How do you make modernity out of a unique heritage in fabric and style? We’re not the kind of women who are about to go around in little black dresses (though I have nothing at all against them), nor do we want to only wear saris and salwar kameez, although I love wearing saris. So how should we dress? What should we wear? Clothes, the way I dress, it’s fun, it gives me a great deal of pleasure, and it’s political too."
"When I was studying architecture it was a question that was constantly on my mind, this play between tradition and modernity. In my younger years all I ever wanted to do was escape the clutches of tradition and all that it had in store for me. Then you come up against the hideous monster of acceptable modernity and you turn and flee from that too. So what I wear, I think, tells the story of this flux. Style is important. Let nobody say it isn’t. Yes, it’s a slightly delicious excess, and I’m grateful I can afford it. Fortunately I don’t do the jewellery thing... my whole wardrobe wouldn’t cost as much as a pair of diamond earrings. My clothes are a lovely indulgence. And I must have some indulgences."
On winning the Booker Prize
"I was thrilled when I won the Booker, of course I was. But I remember, the night I won I had this weird dream that a bony, emerald hand had reached into the water in which I was swimming—I was a fish, swimming with other fish—and the hand lifted me out of the water and a voice said, ‘I’ll give you anything you want, what do you want?’ and I said, ‘Put me back!’ I was terrified that my life would change… explode. And it did. I knew this militantly political person in me would have to come out, she would have no place to hide. I’d pay a heavy price in my personal life. That happened. But over time I’ve learnt how to deal with it and what to do with it, so now I’m not traumatized. But I was, I’ll admit."
You can read the full article here.
Republished from Vagabomb.