Arundhati Roy was born in Bengal in 1961 and grew up in Kerala in Southern India. After studying architecture she turned to writing film-scripts. Her first novel “The God of Small Things” was an international success and won the esteemed Booker Prize, and since then her political essays have been widely read. She is now living in New Delhi.
Arundhati Roy was born in Bengal on 24th November, 1961, as the daughter of a Christian headmistress unhappily married to a Hindu tea-planter and grew up in Aymanam, a village not far from Kottayam in Kerala. Her mother, Mary Roy, worked in Kottayam at the primary school, Corpus Christi, and became known throughout India through a court-case which changed Indian inheritance law in favour of wives.
After finishing school, Arundhati Roy went to New Delhi at the age of 16. There she first lived in a colony of squatters, then began studying at the Delhi School of Architecture. She married Gerard Da Cunha, a student colleague with whom she moved for awhile to Goa, then returned to New Delhi, got divorced and was taken on by the National Institute of Urban Affairs as a research assistant.
A grant enabled her to spend 8 months in Florence to study the restoration of artistic memorials and historical city centres, but she then felt a longing to write. Back in New Delhi she got to know her later husband, the film-maker Pradip Krishen, who filmed her in his documentary “Massey Sahib”. Arundathi Roy’s first commission as a film-writer was the commentary to Ashish Chandol’s documentary film “How the Rhino returned”, and her next a 26-part television series entitled ”Banyam Tree”. After half of the period of filming, the venture had to be given up due to lack of production money. Her film-script for the documentary “In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones” won the National Award for the best script, cast a sharp eye over Indian students and was then filmed by Pradip Krishen.
The documentary “Electric Moon”, for which she wrote the script and chose the props, was shown at the London Film Festival and flopped. This experience led her to turn to essay-writing and to her publication in 1994 of “The Great Indian Rape-Trick”, in which she sharply criticised the film “Bandit Queen” from Shekhar Kapur and especially his claim to have filmed the ‘truth’ about the life of Phoolan Devi. This literary tiff led to a court-case.
Arundhati Roy wrote her first novel in 1997. This was “The God of Small Things”, whose appearance caused a furore due to sales of the rights for $1,000,000 – the highest sum ever paid for an Indian writer’s first novel. It set her financially on par with writers like Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth. In India the first edition sold like hot cakes. The book was released on the same day in all English speaking countries and has been translated into 32 languages by now. In October 1997 it brought her the esteemed Booker Prize.
The narrative is presented from the point of view of the twins Esthappen and Rahel, who grow up in a patchwork family in Kerala. ”The God of Small Things” is a story of hope and distress, of starts and failures, and of guilt and its consequences. It is not presented chronologically but according to events haunting the memory of the narrator Rahel. Readers were fascinated by not only the story and its tragic end but also this form of narration, well suited to the theme of bursting out of old conventions.
The description of the love between a woman of bourgeois background and an “untouchable” resulted in a public scandal in India, which was followed by a lawsuit based on allegations that the book was likely to corrupt or deprave the minds of its readers. On returning from giving readings all round the world, Arundhati Roy dismissed conjectures about her literary future, saying that she might never write a novel again. Indeed, instead of continuing in the same genre, she turned to writing political essays, some of which were about the building of the Indian atom-bomb and its perilous consequences, and others against the building of the Narmada dam. Her crusade against the latter was carried out not only in print but also in person, as she joined demonstrations held by thousands of villagers dwelling in the area and labelled for transfer. This brought her not only a new court-case but also a sentence of imprisonment. She passed the money sent her for the Booker Prize on to opponents of the Narmada dam.
She has taken part in symposiums about the distribution of the Earth’s water-resources, has written against the economic exploitation of natural resources to various ends, and has also written many articles against the war in Afghanistan, which she claims was encouraged by the imperialist ambitions of multinational concerns. These articles have appeared not only in India but also in the Guardian in England and in the Spiegel and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Germany. They are notable for being direct, courageous and passionate, for her naming names and for going beneath the surface of daily events. Her depth makes the articles fairly long but never at the expense of freshness.
Whatever Arundhati Roy may do in future, she will surely do what she feels is right and put the whole weight of her personality behind it.
Author: Beate Ursula Endriss
Suzanna Arundhati Roy was born on 24th November, 1961, as the daughter of Mary Roy, a Christian from Kerala, and a Hindu tea-planter from Bengal and grew up in Aymanam near Kottayam in Kerala, where her mother was the headmistress of a primary school. After finishing school at 16, she went to New Delhi, where she firstly lived in a slum and then began studying architecture. She married Gerard Da Cunha, but the marriage broke up after five years.
Arundhati Roy then worked at the National Institute of Urban Affairs in New Delhi, was chosen by the director Pradip Krishen for a small role in a film and decided during a stay of several months in Italy to become a writer. Together with Pradip Krishen, whom she married, she planned a 26-part television series, which proved to be too costly for completion. She wrote two film-scripts, “In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones” and “Electric Moon”, and various essays and finally in 1997 the best-selling novel “The God of Small Things”.
Since then she has written essays against the making of the Indian atomic bomb, against the Narmada dam, against the economic marketing of natural resources, against unscrupulous power-politics, and against the war in Afghanistan disguised as a terrorist-hunt. In her fight against the economic dominance of multinational concerns, against rigid schemes of thought and against the excesses of the USA, Arundhati Roy is willing to pit her personality, her skills and her energy. Hence her voice is heard not only in India but also in the USA and in Europe.
Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy
Penguin, Hamish Hamilton: New Delhi
The Shape of the Beast: Conversations with Arundhati Roy
Penguin, Viking: New Delhi
The Strange Case of the Attack on the Indian Parliament
Introduction to 13 December, a Reader. Penguin: New Delhi, New York
The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile
Conversation. South End Press: Cambridge
Public Power in the Age of Empire
Essays. Seven Stories Press: New York
The Ordinary Person´s Guide to Empire
Essays. Flamingo: London
Essays. South End Press: Cambridge
In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones
Screenplay. Penguin Books: New Delhi
The Algebra of Infinite Justice
Essays. Viking: New Delhi
Essays. South End Press: Cambridge
The Cost of Living
Essays. Modern Library: New York
Uniform Civil Code
Essays. Indian Social Institute: New Delhi
The God of Small Things
Novel. Flamingo: London
The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan
Essays. Assoc. Publ. House: New Delhi
1989 National Award for the Best Film-Script
1997 Brooker Prize for Fiction
2001 Big Prize of the World Academy in Paris
2004 Sydney Peace Prize
In January 2006 Arundhati Roy turned down the Sahitya Akademi Indian literary award due to her opposition to Indian government policies.
Article in the Guardian
Arundhati Roy faces arrest over Kashmir remark (Oct. 2010)