Print edition : February 03, 2001
Scimitars in the Sun

The interview of N. Ram with Arundhati Roy (January 19, 2001) is the most productive of the interviews we have had in the media in recent years. The questions were searching and the answers brilliant. As a matter of fact, the fight between the Narmada Ba chao Andolan (NBA) and the Gujarat government and the cause of the environment and the Adivasi oustees became clearer to us here than in the series of articles that appeared in the media. The interview was a student's guide to the texts of The End of Imagination, The Greater Common Good and Power Politics by Roy.

Frontliner Ram and the Booker Prize winner Roy have done yeoman service to readers. We look forward to more such interviews by Ram.

V.V. Prabhu Kollam, Kerala * * *

I cannot remember reading such a 'meaty' interview ever before. It was absorbing and revealing and brilliant. I am not talking about the early part, about her political involvement with bombs and big dams, which was also good but was nothing new. But her rebuttal of Ramachandra Guha's charges sent shivers through me. It was devastating and a bit shocking and entertaining, and made me wince in pity for the 'ecological historian'. It made very good reading. I also thought her exposition about being a cele brity was touching and beautifully put. It is time we as a society learned to differentiate between beauty queens, actresses and 'true' celebrities who are there because of solid achievements and intellectual accomplishments.

Maybe there is a lesson in this - never pick a fight with a master (mistress?) of words, for their missiles are more potent than nuclear warheads. Poor Ramachandra Guha - will he ever be able to face a class of graduate students again, knowing that they will all have read his obituary? He may have asked for it, but his shame will be a terrible thing to endure.

Subhadra R. Goswami New Delhi * * *

Arundhati Roy's response to critics like Ramachandra Guha and B.G. Verghese reminds me of what George Bernard Shaw wrote after the publication of his magnum opus The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. He wro te:

"The people who exasperate me most are those who have really read the book, or think they have. I took the utmost pains to make it intelligible, clear, lucid, unambiguous, simple and unmistakable. The result appears to be that only one man in the civilis ed world has understood it, and that man is Albert Einstein.... I have, at great cost of labour, eliminated from this book all the common adulterations of doctrine by mush, gush, nonsense, hypocrisy and humbug, only, it seems, to make it unfit for human consumption. People cannot take it in until they have reintroduced all the adulterations from their home supplies. Then they expatiate, at my expense, on their own adulterations.

"....... An illusion was produced in the mind of Home Secretary Sir Willian Joynson Hicks that he had read the book for he proceeded to quote from it a string of propositions, not one of which it contained, and most of which it disproved. And Sir William was presently quoted, without acknowledgement, but with vigorous intensifications, by the minor lights of his party, the present prospect being a general election at which the country will be invited to vote for the Conservative Party to save it from th e horrors of Shavian Socialism which was bred in Sir William's fancy and not in my book." (Quotation from Author's Note for Popular Edition of the book, 1929, published by Constable and Company, London)

Dr. P.D. Gupta New Delhi * * *

Arundhati Roy's interview scintillates with wit. The exceptional sharpness and boldness expressed in her criticism of the Supreme Court and the advocates of globalisation and privatisation are signs of her commitment to the cause of the Adivasis and the masses. There is a remarkable range, depth and feeling to her evocative words. When Arundhati Roy presented the Booker Prize money to the NBA, it overwhelmed several people. And now she has turned down offers, even from Hollywood, for film rights of her novel. Coming down from celebrity status to the common masses is an exemplary example.

D. Narendran Kannur, Kerala * * *

The judgment delivered by the apex court giving the green signal for the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam has not in any manner dampened the fighting spirit of either social activist Medha Patkar, who has been fighting tooth and nail over this issu e for several years, or Arundhati Roy, the elegant and enlightened writer who has joined hands with Patkar.

The Frontline Editor's exhaustive interview with Arundhati Roy speaks for itself, in the sense that there has been a discursive and detailed analysis of the difficulties of the people displaced by the Sardar Sarovar dam.

One gets a full picture of the problems faced by the displaced persons so far. It is disturbing to learn that the three lakh people displaced by the pet project of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister, namely Bhakra Nangal dam, have still not been resettled.

Why our country alone has refused to allow the World Commission on Dams to hold a public hearing is still a mystery? When the Gujarat government banned the Commission's entry and threatened to arrest its representatives, the Centre chose to maintain sile nce. What was the reason for that? Is the Prime Minister aware of the matter?

Arundhati Roy is right in not responding to Ramachandra Guha, who has been singularly vitriolic in his attack against Roy. For example, Arundhati Roy had simply stated that big dams and nuclear bombs are both political instruments, extremely undemocratic at that. What is wrong in this explicit expression? Guha read between the lines and said that Roy had compared big dams with nuclear bombs.

Again, the carping criticism of Guha and B.G. Verghese about Roy's excellent essay "The Greater Common Good" is not in good taste. Saying "that it's sentimental without being factual, that it romanticises Adivasi life style..." is not healthy criticism.

Roy hits the nail on the head when she says categorically that ''every writer, good, bad, successful or not, who's sitting at a desk..., is lonely. It's probably the loneliest work in the world.''

Both Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy have joined hands to alleviate the Himalayan hardships of the thousands of displaced persons. Such of those in power and position who understand the problems of displaced persons, as indicated by this dedicated duo, sh ould come forward and extend a helping hand.

Perhaps we cannot help Patkar and Roy in the noble cause, but let us not find fault with their work.

Mani Natarajan Chennai * * *

"Scimitars" baffles one for a moment, but the way in which Arundhati Roy makes it glint in the sun illumines the entire context. Destroyed rivers and estuaries, submerged forests and drainage, all pass alike vividly before the mind's eye. As she rightly feels, and confidently asserts, Arundhati is read - or, to put it more safely in the first person, I read her because I can't help it. She compels attention and holds it - holds little children from play and old men from the fire, as it were. Her reasoni ng is carried alive into the heart by passion; her genuineness, her empathy, her utter "simplicity", her translucent speech, are yet not weak but strong, rather like wild, untamed horses that would brook no restraint. Or, if you like, as beguiling and se ductive at times as alapana in Sindhubhairavi or Kharaharapriya: once in their hold, there is no escaping their power to transport and transform. Both the reader and the subject stand utterly transformed by their spell. In a way, Roy is a bit like Charles Dickens, full of impassioned utterance, animating objects and situations alike. Remember Great Expectations? ''I... was set out on the open country-road when the day came creeping on, halting and whimpering and shivering, and wrapped in p atches of cloud and rags of mist, like a beggar!'' Always reinventing and revivifying old and familiar images. Roy alone could have treated celebrity, and not age, ''like a tin can attached to a cat's tail."

We wait for Roy in shining armour to defend the old and crumbling world of little things and great rivers, before the market dams creativity forever.

Abraham Kurien Lucknow * * *

The interview with Arundhati Roy is exhaustive and convincing. We, who were brought up with the idea that big dams are the temples of modern India and are quite necessary for its development are beginning to see the truth, thanks to Arundhati Roy. It is heartbreaking to think that we are determined to bring development on the graves of million of others. The interview, like her previous articles published in Frontline, shows how mass hysteria often obliterates the truth. It speaks of her greatnes s as a writer - that she has not confined herself to the proverbial ivory tower but has employed her genius for a humane cause.

Amiya Kumar Patra by e-mail * * *

The Cover Story is truly a reader's delight. Her reply to the tirade of Ramchandra Guha is amazing. The interview has for the first time provided us with all the reasons that we wanted from Roy for her actions.

Jessy John Maharashtra * * *

The interview drives home the point that a novelist should not be underestimated, or branded incompetent, when it comes to expressing his/her views on social issues. Many of us seem to foster the notion that people involved with 'literary pursuits' are m ere perpetrators of fantasy and have little to do with the real things in life. However, Roy has proven it to be a myth by coming up with a logical self-defence. If she has such a strong conviction to dedicate her life for a noble cause, it should be app reciated. She has done tedious research in order to present the facts and figures in her essays accurately. Thus, it is unfair to accuse her of being inordinately impassioned, or biased.

The best way to counter her arguments would be to disprove them. Ramachandra Guha's remarks about her fail to do this and succeed only in betraying his frustrated state of mind. His advice to her that she confine herself to fiction sounds all the more lu dicrous - especially because he himself claims to have specialised in two most unrelated fields, namely cricket and history.

Jose Varghese Kottarakkara, Kerala Farming crisis

The Cover Story on the "Farming crisis"(February 2, 2001) left out an important dimension. Even subsistence farmers who do not depend on the market must fight governments which may take actions that destroy their crops. For example, villagers in Madhya P radesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, who planted sona (garbanzo bean), maize and wheat, were dismayed to see the crops submerged in December 2000, just before they were ready for harvest. Why did the government not consult them before deciding when to close the gates of Sardar Sarovar? Had they been consulted, they could have saved the crops, which would have helped offset the foodgrain shortage due to drought.

At Sankranti time I met an elderly couple in Domkhedi sharing their meagre harvest of sona with their goats. "The goat is eating it!" I exclaimed. They replied: "We say, eat! eat! The water came and ate. So you also eat!"

Currently, with the gates closed, these tribal farmers are trying to pump this water to irrigate their fields, which are above the current reservoir level. Let us hope that they can harvest the crop before the government decides to drain the water out.

Aravinda Camp: Visakhapatnam Blood on silk

I was astonished to read about the children working in the silk industry of Bangalore and nearby areas. (January 19, 2001). At a time when Bangalore is becoming the Silicon Valley of India, children should not go through such difficulties.

Stringent action has to be taken against this type of crime and also people who encourage child labour.

Grijesh Kumar Junagadh, Gujarat * * *

It was a well-researched report on child labour. Child labour owes its existence to population pressures, poverty, ignorance, the absence of responsibility on the part of parents, and exploitative social customs. In many places young children, especially boys, are seen working for long hours in restaurants or carrying heavy loads. These children are employed because the labour is cheap. There are also cases where children fall into the clutches of anti-social elements. They live in fear, obeying their m asters, and become hardened criminals when they grow up.

Voluntary agencies should work for the uplift of such children. These agencies may not be able to stop them from working but they can provide them nourishment, recreation and educational facilities after work. The condition of domestic servants should al so be improved by ensuring them and their dependents a minimum standard of living.

Vinod C. Dixit Ahmedabad
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor