January 29, 2011
Arundhati Roy: India's bold and brilliant daughter
From The Guardian:
Arundhati Roy will turn 50 this year. I hope to be excused of sexism (would one write this of a man?) when I say that she looks no more than 35 at most. Her vitality has always been striking. I remember her from one of her early visits to London as a slight, supple woman with an Indian cotton bag slung over her shoulder, and gleaming skin and hair that suggested yoga and aerobics, yoghurt and juice made from fresh limes. My wife had baked scones in her honour. Roy looked at the scones as though they might be deep-fried Mars bars, but eventually and daintily conceded to try one. In her bag was the manuscript of a first novel that was to make her famous and (by the standards of writers) rich, and though some of that future could have been predicted (the manuscript had caused a stir among publishers), no one could have foreseen the Booker prize and editions in 40 languages. What has happened since the success of The God of Small Things is even more surprising. Among Indian public intellectuals, a bright category that includes the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Roy is probably now her country's most globally famous polemicist, as both a writer and speaker. Her essays are published across the world – the Guardian published a recent one in five parts – and she can pack out a big venue in New York and still have a few thousand listening outside.
In India she draws even bigger crowds, and switches from English to Hindi. She tours extensively, and often to the kind of country towns and small cities that rarely see anyone so celebrated. Recently, she told me, 5,000 tribal people from 34 districts had gathered to hear her at Bhubaneswar in Orissa. Some had walked for days to get there; 40 had been arrested and charged with waging war against the state; two, she believed, had died in jail. "So it isn't like Jaipur," she said, referring to India's first and largest literary festival, just ended, where well-fed writers are flown in from London and New York and put up in reupholstered palaces.
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