Friday, February 4, 2011

Arundhati Roy Releases the Malayalam translation of "The God Of Small Things" Feb 3, 2011

The publisher hovered over the petite author with a proprietorial air. And she smiled beatifically at the gathering of a thousand or so people who came to watch their heroine slay another dragon: overcoming the hurdle to translation in the language of the state where her novel is set. Here she is on the stage releasing the book:

Recounting how women in different countries she visited had found a connection with her novel, she observed: “Literature must vault over cultural barriers and join people.” She took a view of the writer as someone engagĂ©: the important thing is not winning prizes, but “to connect to the worldly order, to write about it, to change the structures of power, to shake up things that are bad, to love the things that are good. These are the important things in being a writer.”

She reminded the audience: “It is easy to forget The God Of Small Things is a political novel. It is about caste, about violence, about contemporary things … The most ugly thing about our country, and our culture, is caste. It is there in the book. And please don't forget that.” Here is the book:

Priya A.S. translated Arundhati's novel,
titled Kunju kaaryangalude odaya thampuran
It was published by by DC Books on Feb 3, 2011

And here is the publisher himself, Ravi DeeCee, having a copy signed by her:

To read more click below.

Arundhati Roy Releases 'The God of Small Things' in Malayalam

The author arrived in a lovely blue-green saree, the colour of the river Meenachal, wearing a trim red choli with a necklace of black string attached to a pendant of square metal secured to a fragment of nondescript red fabric. She wore the gleaming smile of one who is among people she loves and is loved by. She confessed that when her plane came in to land in Kochi her heart went all a-flutter (making a quivering gesture with the palm of her right hand). That morning she had read the introduction of the translator, Priya S., and confessed to a flow of tears, in recalling the sensations which were her companions throughout the writing of the story, the sorrow, the pain, the joy of writing, the smell of the river Meenachal, the conversations with the fish. “There is a lot of love for the land in the novel ... every insect every plant, every fish, every smell.” Lapsing into Malyalam she noted, “Choonde ittu veettil varive illarunnu.” [We wouldn't return home at all going fishing with a rod].

She considers it too simple to tell a straightforward narrative which begins at the beginning, goes through the middle, and arrives at the end. Do you plan a building that way, designing and building the entrance, then the bedroom and then the back door? No. In the same way you need to get the plan in your head of the whole novel, and move the parts around so all the events that will populate it are laid out ahead of time, and then you arrange the order in which they make artistic sense. You can start anywhere when it comes to the actual writing. She herself had such a plan when she ventured, but in the confusion of the book publication and people coming to her house and making off with various things, she mislaid the original manuscript of the plan and has not seen it again.

Even my political writings tell a story,”said Arudhati .”You learn to use narrative in a complex way.”

Someone asked if she had revisited the novel and wanted to change anything. Her answer was, No. “You say precisely what you think when you write,” she said. For a long period of time (four and a half years) she had invested her effort to get across her story, searching and finding the words, and now it is out there. The novel no longer belongs to her, it belongs to readers all over the world. She has done with it, and does not want to tamper, for there is no end of 'improving.' She has let it go.

It is easy to forget it is a political novel. It is about caste, about violence, about contemporary things. … The most ugly thing about our country, and our culture, is caste. It is there in the book. And please don't forget that.”

As an author she finds no language is capable of expressing today's reality in India. Be it Hindi, or Urdu, or Oriya, or English, one has to dig deep and find a layer below the conventional words and expressions to describe the contemporary world.

A brief excursus into politics caused her to note the great change of situation in India after US influence had gained ascendancy in Afghanistan in 1980 with the defeat of the Soviet intervention. The Indian government changed its non-alignment foreign policy at that time, and is now firmly tied to USA and Israel. She said that our new reality are the twin forces of fascism: unfettered free market fascism, and Hindutva fascism, and for each to exist they have manufactured their own brand of terrorist opposition. For Hindutva it is Islamic terrorism; for free market fascism, it is Maoist terrorism. The two major parties are both right-wing, and though we imagine we have a choice when we vote, we don't in fact. With the BJP, the layer of Hindutva is at the top and the other below, she noted gesturing with the palms of her hands; with the Congress the layering is reversed.

The hope of an author is to connect people by transcending cultures and regaining our common humanity. She was encouraged when she went to New York and met the strong Jewish women who abound in the world of New York publishing, and they said: “We all have those aunts like Baby Kochamma.” Once, in Estonia, where the only previous book from Kerala published was a volume by EMS Namboodiripad, she was hailed by a woman who said The God of Small Things was her story. Arundhati linked her staunch opposition to nuclear weapons with being a writer, when she said that in this respect the role of literature is the very opposite of atom bombs: “Literature must vault over cultural barriers and join people.”

A question about the prevailing sense of life being precarious in the novel for the twins, Rahel and Estha, was addressed by the author. She said it perhaps stems from the actual sense her own mother might die any day, for she was subject to severe attacks of asthma a few times a week, and then her mother would lament from her bed what would happen to her two children. She and her brother both derived a sense of being 'unprotected' since her mother was battling it alone in Aymanam after her divorce, living on the edges of their community with no support. As a child she was forced to grow up and process all the things happening, sometimes getting things wrong, for that understanding was necessary to protect oneself. “I was a very adult child; I have become a child-like adult and the channel of communication [between the adult and the child] is open.”

Many people from the audience wanted to unburden themselves of a prepared critique of her novel, or express their own political creed on a public platform; asking a question was secondary to their purpose. One such person ranted about politics and religion, quoting a critic who said Arundhati was a 'one-trick pony,' and went on until he finally asked: how does her religion manifest itself in the novel? Arundhati answered that she is not a Christian or a Hindu in the accepted sense, and does not subscribe to any God, except the God of Small Things. So a religion like Taoism, that seeks to weave a philosophy of life that connects all the beings of the world, from insects to humans, is nearest in kinship with her mental view.

Another person from the audience criticised her for introducing unnecessary sex into the novel. That, she found a bit rich, coming from a Kerala man. Kerala, she said, is the hotbed of blue films in India, a veritable hell of pornography, and even the normal movies not only have an overdose of sex but depict women in oppressive conditions. Raising her voice, she exclaimed: “It is not the Sex in the novel they find objectionable but the Politics of the Sex, the fact that a low caste Dalit makes love with a person of high status.”

Noting that a lot of emphasis has been given to winning prizes and getting a Padma Bhushan award, Arundhati said: “It is not important. It is okay to win a Booker, but not such a big deal … I am not complaining. I am happy that I won the Booker prize. But I am NOT the Booker prize. It is the book that defines me; it is my politics that defines me; it is my language that defines me.”

Stating again how prizes reduce the importance of the authors, Arundhati observed: “We are not children. We do not need the approval of a board of governors. We are serious people.” The important thing is not winning prizes as writers, but “to connect to the worldly order, to write about it, to change the structures of power, to shake up things that are bad, to love the things that are good. These are the important things in being a writer.”

For an article covering this event in The Hindu, please see:


paul said...

Excellent description of Arundahthi's
take on the world - a writer must be
"engage" - the Sartrean vision.
But is writing to be reduced to politics ? To overturning power structures ? Does not writing have its own life - style, sensibility ?

Thanks Joe.

Amita Palat said...

Thank you, Joe for giving us a factual report on Arundhati's views. It was an interesting read. Amita

Anonymous said...

I just read your report on Arundhati Roy's speech on Feb 3, 2011,-- the day the Malayalam translation of her book "The God of Small Things" was released.
Very interesting! Enjoyed, very much living through that evening once again.
I think, these Reports are making your blog more interesting. May by, you should widen its scope even more, including your thoughts on various other topics,related to literature. I often think of your poems, sincerely hope, someday they will find their way to your blog.
-- A caring Soul

shevlin said...

Hey Joe, you are a natural writer. Enjoyed reading the piece. Keep it up!



So well written! Thanks..

Harish Nair said...

Now that its Malayalam translation also got an academy award makes the work more precious and the theme one to study deeper.