The Works of Arundhati Roy (1961-)

Arundhati Roy achieved international fame in 1997 with her debut novel, The God of Small Things, which not only garnered large advances from publishers but also earned her the prestigious Booker Prize. She has also been an architect, a scriptwriter, an actress, and a journalist and is now well known as an essayist, a forceful speaker, a social activist, and a feminist. Her writings are published worldwide, and her speeches at international forums on important issues such as the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq, the environment, big dams, religious fanaticism, and nuclear weapons have made her an influential spokesperson for the world outside Europe and America. In the foreword to her 1989 screenplay, In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones (published in 2003), however, she explains that she has not "leapfrogged" from one profession to another: "Everything that I have done so far has been a process of refining a way of thinking, of seeing the world." Her clear and impassioned articulation of her vision is perhaps one of the reasons People Magazine named her in 1998 as one of the fifty most beautiful people in the world.


Roy was born on 24 November 1961 at Shillong, Meghalaya, India. She was christened Susanna Arundhati Roy, but she ultimately dropped her first name. Her mother, Mary Roy, is a Syrian Christian from Kerala who later became a social activist. Her father is a Bengali Hindu and was a tea planter who worked in the northeast of India. Mary Roy divorced her husband after having two children, Arundhati and her brother, Lalith. About her father, Roy has told Sunday Plus: "I don't know him. I've only seen him a couple of times, that's it." After the divorce, Mary Roy returned to her native village, Ayamanam, near Kottayam, Kerala, with her children. She fought and won a legal battle in the Indian Supreme Court that delivered a landmark judgment giving Christian women in Kerala the right to their parents' property.

Roy was educated at an informal school, Corpus Christi, set up by her mother. Later she spent a few years in a boarding school in Kerala. She moved to Delhi at sixteen and started leading a bohemian life. She lived in a hut in a slum in Ferozshah Kotla for some time and made a living by selling empty beer bottles and by teaching aerobics. She studied architecture in the Delhi School of Architecture but did not complete a degree. In her foreword to In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones, she writes that as a student of architecture, she saw that "there was a design behind the apparent chaos in the society in which we live." She realized that "in India we have citizens and 'non-citizens,' those who matter and those who don't." Her sojourn in the school of architecture made her "understand the endless conflict between power and powerlessness--the conflict that is the central preoccupation of much of my work now." The study of architecture made her observe the structure, design, and minute details of things other than buildings. Although she rates her teachers as "mediocre," her training in architecture was "invaluable," because she could apply the principles of her discipline to novels, screenplays, and essays.

While she was in the school of architecture she married a fellow student, Gerard De Cunha. Their marriage was not official, however, as it was not registered: there was a long queue in the registrar's office, and they did not have the time and patience to wait for their turn. They went to Goa to be flower children, and they made and sold cakes on the beach for seven months. But she eventually got tired of the tourists and of selling cakes. She left De Cunha after four years and returned to Delhi almost penniless; however, she soon got a job at the National Institute of Urban Affairs. Her dress and demeanor were distinctive: she wore shells on her ankles, smoked cigarettes by placing them vertically in a holder, and rode a rented red bicycle to work.

In 1984 the movie director Pradip Krishen spotted Roy and offered her a small role in his motion picture Massey Sahib (1985). The offer was conveyed through Krishen's then-wife, who worked in the same office as Roy. After a good deal of persuasion by her colleagues, Roy agreed to appear as Saila, whom she called (in a 1997 interview with Vir Sanghvi) "a tribal bimbo." Eventually, Roy and Krishen got married. She won a scholarship to go to Italy for eight months to study the restoration of monuments. During her stay in Italy she realized that she would like to be a writer. Between 1985 and 1987 Roy and her husband worked on a twenty-six-episode television epic titled "Bargad" (The Banyan Tree). It was set in Allahabad between 1921 and 1950. The aim of this serial was to depict India's freedom movement from the perspectives of five different characters from various professions who were all graduates of Muir Central College. The story line was written in opposition to the idea of India as depicted in either the sentiments of the Jewel-in-the-Crown school of absurd colonial nostalgia or the emotions associated with homegrown varieties of chest-thumping nationalism. Much to the disappointment of Roy and her colleagues, however, this ambitious project was given up after a few episodes as the production company, ITV, faced financial difficulties.

In 1987 Roy wrote The Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan: Causes, Consequences and India's Response. It signaled Roy's deepening interest in politics, current affairs, and journalism. Her next venture was the story and screenplay of In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones , written in 1988. The genesis of this work is interesting. At an informal gathering of friends at which Bhaskar Ghose, the director-general of Door Darshan (the Indian broadcasting service), was present, Roy wondered why moviemakers in India turned the cameras away from themselves and their milieu. This resistance to introspection and reluctance to focus on "fractured hybrid selves" puzzled her. Ghose encouraged her to write on such a theme and promised funds. The result was In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones, which Krishen directed. Although it was shown only once on national television, in a late-night slot, it became popular among the English-speaking urban Indian youth.

The setting is a school of architecture in 1974. The movie depicts the lives of dope-smoking, bell-bottom-wearing, vaguely idealistic final-year students who are about to submit their architectural theses. The main character is Anand Grover (or Annie), who is repeating his fifth-year examinations for the fourth time. He attributes his failure to his feud with the dean, Dr. Y. D. Billimoria, whose initials are said by students to stand for Yam Doot (messenger of the god of death). Annie's friends decide to lure the dean away with a fake phone call when Annie's turn to be examined comes. Also, they conspire to see that Annie's oral examination comes at the end of the day when all the examiners are tired and hungry. The students thus get the better of their dean and help Annie pass the examination.

In the movie, Roy plays the role of Radha, "a bright, brash and not so sweet thing." However, the main attraction of Roy's debut movie is the dialogue: she gives the language the status of a character. She attempts to reproduce English as students in Delhi University spoke it in the early 1970s. In her foreword, written in 2003, she describes this language as "an alloy melted down and then refashioned, soldered together with Hindi (occasionally even a little Punjabi) to suit our communication requirements." One reason for the success of the movie is its phonographic fidelity to the speech of contemporary Delhi youths. An example may be found in the coy young student Lekha's appeal to the dean: "Hai sir, I'm so confused pata nahi, kuch samajh mei nahi aa raha what to do?"

Looking at In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones in retrospect, Roy described it in her foreword as "lunatic fringe cinema." The script prefigures Roy's activism and is an early indication of her commitment to the underprivileged. In defending her architectural thesis, Radha tells the jury:

Every Indian city consists of a "City" and a "Non-City." And they are at war with one another. The city consists of a number of institutions, houses, officers, shops, roads, and sewage systems. . . . These institutions are designed by the architect-engineer. The non-citizen has no institutions. He lives and works in the gaps between institutions, he shits on top of the sewage system. So in this way he designs these institutions . . . these symbols, the architect-engineer is telling the non-citizen, "keep out," "stay out of here," "this does not belong to you". . . . It's a way of establishing territory.

In Roy's view, the architect stakes his or her territory by manipulating the built environment.


In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones won two awards given by the government of India. One of these was for the best screenplay, while the second one was for the best movie in languages other than those specified in Schedule VIII of the Indian Constitution. The latter award was presented at the National Film Festival in 1989. Roy's unconventional attire at the awards ceremony provoked the cabinet minister to say that he would prescribe a dress code for such functions thereafter.

Roy wrote the screenplay for Krishen's movie Electric Moon in 1992. It was telecast on Britain's Channel 4 but was not a success. She admitted later to Sanghvi that when she wrote it she did not know enough about motion pictures and was thus unable to introduce "a more anarchic quality" to it. This script is no longer available.

In 1994 Roy ventured into movie criticism by writing a scathing review of Shekhar Kapur's much-hyped movie Bandit Queen, released that year. The review, "The Great Indian Rape Trick I and II," appeared in Sunday (22 August and 3 September 1994). Kapur claimed that his movie was based on Mala Sen's book India's Bandit QueenThe Story of Phoolan Devi (1991), a biography of a famous gang leader and modern Robin Hood figure imprisoned in 1983. In her review, Roy charges Kapur with exploiting Devi and misrepresenting both her life and the cause she stood for. Roy points out that Kapur did not care to meet or talk to Devi and had not bothered to show his movie to her. Roy felt that Kapur was not fair to either Devi or Sen's book. Kapur's movie, Roy declares, "seriously jeopardized Phoolan Devi's life," because it shows her as a murderer, a charge that she had denied. Since the court had not yet given its verdict on her case, Roy argues, the movie should not have passed a judgment on it either. (Devi was released in 1994; she was elected to Parliament in 1996 and was assassinated in 2001.) This controversial review in which Roy defended Devi and pilloried the icons of the Hindi motion-picture industry drew a good deal of media attention. The review also involved her in court cases.

Roy then returned to writing a novel she had started some years earlier that was eventually titled The God of Small Things . She finished it in May 1996 and showed it to Pankaj Mishra, an author and editor at HarperCollins in India; he was so impressed that he sent it to British publishers for consideration, and within days Roy was receiving unprecedented offers for publication rights. She eventually chose HarperCollins in Britain and Random House in the United States. After the novel appeared, Roy went on a promotional tour that took her to seventy cities. The novel was translated into twenty-seven languages in the same period. The book sold half a million copies within a few months and was on the best-seller lists all over the world for a long time.

The God of Small Things is based on Roy's childhood experiences in Kerala, where major religions such as Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism coexist with ideologies such as Marxism. The inspiration for the novel was an image that came to her and that became the central scene of the novel: "the image of this sky blue Plymouth stuck at the railroad crossing with the twins [Rahel and Estha] inside and this Marxist procession raging around it."

The novel is set in the 1960s in the fictitious village of Ayemenem, near Kottayam in the southern state of Kerala. It deals with the decline of the Ipe family through three generations. The world of the Ipes, a Syrian Christian family, is a microcosm of the tensions, interfamily jealousies, conspiracies, and politics that are rife in Indian homes where a joint family system still prevails. Almost everyone in this novel has an unhappy married life and/or an unfulfilled love affair. Pappachi (Bennan Ipe) is an imperial entomologist in Delhi. He suffers from a sense of deprivation since he feels that his discovery of a moth was not given due recognition. He is a habitual wife beater. His wife, Mammachi (Soshamma), suffers silently but continues to respect him. Pappachi's sister, Baby Kochamma (Navomi Ipe), has been jilted in love. She lives in the same house but adopts the position of an old spinster who lays down the moral code for the family. At eighty-three, she "lives her life backwards." Pappachi and Mammachi have a son, Chacko, and a daughter, Ammu. Chacko goes to Cambridge, does not do well in his studies, and marries a British woman, Margaret. They have a daughter, Sophie Mol, but are soon divorced. Chacko returns home and takes charge of his mother's pickle business. Margaret marries a second time, but when her second husband dies, she visits Chacko with Sophie Mol. Denied the opportunity for higher education, Ammu goes to Calcutta, marries a tea planter in Assam against the wishes of her parents, and gives birth to twins, Estha (a boy) and Rahel (a girl).

Ammu then divorces her irresponsible husband and returns to her parental home. She falls in love with Velutha, an "untouchable" employee (with whom contact is forbidden because he is of a lower caste). They carry on their affair secretly for thirteen nights in an ancient house on a riverbank. Velutha has several skills that attract the twins to him. He also helps them out in many ways. He repairs an old boat in which the twins and their cousin, Sophie Mol, go for rides on the river; but on one of these rides, Sophie Mol is drowned. Just before that, the Ammu-Velutha liaison is discovered. Ammu is locked up at home, while Velutha is dismissed. The Communist Party, of which he is a member, stands on high moral ground and refuses to help him. Baby Kochamma twists facts to make it appear that Velutha had kidnapped the children as an act of revenge for his dismissal and was responsible for Sophie Mol's death. The twins are silenced and separated. The boy is sent back to his father in Calcutta, later returning to the village when his father migrates to Australia. Rahel studies architecture in Delhi, marries an American, migrates to the United States, divorces, and then returns to her ancestral village after sixteen years. Ammu is not allowed to make a statement before the police; Chacko expels her from the house at the instigation of Baby Kochamma, and she dies at the age of thirty-one as a destitute in a lodge. Thus the lives of almost all the characters are wrecked. The twins have incestuous relations; they also feel guilty for their role in allowing the innocent and good-natured Velutha to be beaten to death by the police.

While narrating the story of the fall of the house of the Ipes through Rahel, Roy also attacks the lack of humanity, understanding, and sympathy within the family. The other pillars of society such as the Church, the elected Communist government, the trade union, and the police establishment also come in for satiric comments. Lack of harmony at home and an unjust society are striking features of the events depicted in the novel.

The novel has definite autobiographical undertones. As Roy put it in a press interview at the British Council in New Delhi on 5 April 1997 (reported by Claire Scobie), "all fiction does spring from your experience, but it is also a melding of the imagination and your experience. It is the emotional texture of the book and the feelings which are real." She explained that writing a book is like designing an intricately balanced structure. There were no drafts, no rewriting of sentences, because "my thought and my writing are one thing." She said that although she titled her novel casually, she finds it to be appropriate since it conveys "how in these small events and in these small lives the world intrudes. And because of this, because of people being unprotected . . . the world and the social machine intrudes into the smallest, deepest core of their being and changes their life."

Her novel resembles the fiction of William Faulkner in its narrative technique of flashbacks and fast-forwards and its disregard for linear chronology. In its play on words and with language, it reminds one also of James Joyce's work, as she uses palindromes, alliteration, rhymes, coinages, split syllables, re-formed words, and unconventional capitalization. Her description of the lovemaking between Ammu and Velutha reminds one of passages in the work of D. H. Lawrence. (In fact, a lawsuit charging obscenity was filed in June 1997, primarily because the book depicted sex between members of different castes.) She has acknowledged her indebtedness to Salman Rushdie and his magic realism.

The novel received laudatory reviews. Writing in The New Yorker (23 and 30 June 1997), John Updike commented, "like a devotionally built temple, 'The God of Small Things' builds a massive interlocking structure of fine, intensely felt details. A rosary is held up to the light: 'Each greedy bead grabbed its share of sun.'" However, the Indian academic C. D. Narasimhaiah, in an editorial in The Literary Criterion (1997), faulted her because "the words don't mediate experience as she is busy peddling them." The Communists in Kerala expressed their disapproval of Roy's criticism of their party and her caricature of their leader, E. M. S. Namboodiripad. The picture of India as it emerges in Roy's novel is "a vast, violent, circling, driving, ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation."

The God of Small Things received the Booker Prize on 14 October 1997. This prize was instituted in 1968 to reward literary merit and raise the status of the writer in society. That year there were eighty-eight entries for the prize, although the jury reviewed an additional eighteen books. However, Roy's novel was a unanimous choice. That Roy got the Booker Prize is significant for South Asian writing in English in several ways. She was not educated abroad and had not lived overseas, unlike the previous winners from the region. She herself also pointed out that she was not a well-educated person. Indeed, she was the first Indian woman and the first nonexpatriate Indian to receive the Booker Prize. The chairperson of the jury, Gillian Beer, said of Roy's achievement: "With extraordinary linguistic inventiveness, Roy funnels the history of South India through the eyes of a seven-year-old twin. The story is fundamental as it is local: it is about love and death and yet tells the tale quite clearly."

After The God of Small Things, Roy shifted her attention to issues of public concern and has been writing well-researched, closely argued, and persuasive articles and essays that have been published in many Indian and European newspapers, including The GuardianLe Monde, and El Mundo. The first of these, The End of Imagination, was originally published in Outlook on 3 August 1998 and is based on a speech she gave at a seminar on Hiroshima Day in New Delhi. She attacks the conducting of nuclear tests and takes the Indian government to task for its enthusiastic support. She has basic objections to nuclear testing anywhere: "To me, it signifies dreadful things. The end of imagination. The end of freedom actually, because, after all, that's what freedom is. Choice." She warns that in the event of a nuclear war, "The very elements--the sky, the air, the land, the wind and water will turn against us. Their wrath will be terrible." She also taunts the right-wing Indian government that dreams of Hindu revival: "Coke is Western Culture, but the nuclear bomb is an old Indian tradition? There's no such thing as an Authentic India or a Real Indian. . . . There are, and can only be, visions of India, various ways of seeing it." Roy declares that the nuclear bomb is the "final act of betrayal of the Indian people," because it is far easier to make a bomb than to educate four hundred million illiterate Indians. She adds, "The nuclear bomb is the most anti-democratic, anti-national, anti-human, outright evil thing that man has ever made." In the euphoria generated in her country by India's joining an exclusive nuclear club, dissenting voices such as Roy's were hardly audible, and if they were heard, they had little influence on policy makers.

The next issue of public importance that Roy focused on was the building of huge dams in her country. India is the world's third largest dam builder. The pace of building dams accelerated greatly after India gained its independence in 1947, but Roy felt that projects were commissioned without considering the impact of the dams on the environment or people. She took the Sardar Sarovar Projects across the Narmada River in India as a case study. She spoke at the Hague in January 1999 at the World Water Forum. She also delivered the Nehru Memorial Lecture in 1999 at Cambridge University on big dams. In the same year she participated in the mass protest organized at Salgaon on the banks of the Narmada.

In The Greater Common Good , an essay published in 1999, she takes the Indian government, the World Bank, bureaucrats, and politicians to task for their insensitivity to the misery of millions of tribal people in the Narmada valley. She points out the enormous loss in terms of human suffering and the long-term adverse consequences of large dams. She broadens the issue of building dams to raise basic questions such as "Who owns the land? Who owns its rivers? Its forests? Its fish?" She regrets the fact that the large dams are touted as symbols of modern development and that their construction is justified on the grounds of the greater common good. She stresses that tribal people gather everything they need, such as food, fuel, fodder, rope, gum, tobacco, tooth powder, medicinal herbs, and housing materials, from the forest but are being driven away from rivers and forests by such projects. She points out that they now have become wage earners, getting a pittance for the work they do and having to use a hand pump instead of a river. Roy concludes: "Big dams are to a Nation's 'Development' what Nuclear Bombs are to its Military Arsenal. They're both weapons of mass destruction. Both Twentieth-Century emblems that mark a point in time when human intelligence has outstripped its own instinct for survival." Roy participated in protests along with thousands of other antidam activists and was arrested at Salgaon in March 1999. The End of Imagination and The Greater Common Good were republished together in October 1999 as The Cost of Living.

In Power Politics (2001) Roy focuses her attention on a huge power project in the state of Maharashtra constructed by Enron, a Houston-based energy company. She exposes the dangers of privatization of productive public assets such as power. Enron's deal with the Maharashtra government was highly profitable to itself, and the cost of power for consumers was consequently exorbitant. When the issue was raised, the U.S. government backed Enron, and the Maharashtra government continued to incur heavy losses on the project. (Enron itself eventually became bankrupt in the United States.) One interesting point that Roy makes while examining the complex political, commercial, and economic issues surrounding the Enron deal is the way language is "ritualistically slaughtered" at international forums by interested parties. She cites the example of an American panelist (at the World Water Forum in Holland in March 2000) who said: "God gave us the rivers, but he didn't put in the delivery systems. That's why we need private enterprise!" Roy believes that in such cases language is used "to mask intent" rather than to clarify goals. She states her case against privatization of such projects forcefully: "To snatch these [natural resources such as water] away and sell them away as stock to private companies is a process of barbaric dispossession on a scale that has no parallel in history."

Roy delivered the third annual Eqbal Ahmad Lecture at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, in February 2001. Her lecture, "The Ladies Have Feelings, So . . . ," discusses the roles of writers and artists in society. These people are expected "to worry the edges of the human imagination, to conjure beauty from the unexpected things"; yet, the prevailing notions of morality and values circumscribe their freedom. Roy argues that art, in whatever form it is practiced, imposes its own discipline on the artist. A writer cannot remain a mute witness to the social and political upheavals of the contemporary world. As a person she or he has to take a position on issues of grave importance and write about them. Roy pleads for keeping the "experts" away from public debates on matters that vitally affect the lives of common people.

In October 2001 Roy found a new topic in the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in the search for terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and members of his network, al-Qaeda. In The Algebra of Infinite Justice she expresses her opinion that the U.S. government's proclaimed intention of stamping out terrorism does not carry conviction, because the same government had been supporting "military and economic terrorism, insurgency, military dictatorship, religious bigotry, and unimaginable genocide outside America." She identifies terrorism as a symptom rather than a disease. She believes that terrorism is not confined to any single country but is global in scope. She blames the "marauding multinationals" of the United States as the source of all evil in the world. The title of the essay alludes to the code name "Operation Infinite Justice," which the U.S. military used to launch their mission in Afghanistan.

Roy also voiced her opposition to the U.S.-led war on Afghanistan in the essay "War Is Peace," first published in Outlook (29 October 2001). In language reminiscent of George Orwell 's prose, Roy underscores the absurdity of President George W. Bush's declaration "We are a peaceful nation" even as he was announcing the air strikes in Afghanistan. As she sees it, the issue in the Afghan war is not about "Good or Evil or Islam or Christianity as much as it is about space. About how to accommodate diversity, how to contain the impulse towards hegemony--every kind of hegemony, economic, military, linguistic, religious and cultural." She feels sorry for the American people whom, in her opinion, the American establishment, including the mass media, has drugged and who are kept in the dark about the real state of the world and the "meddlesomeness" of their own government.

When six essays on public issues were published in a single volume with the title The Algebra of Infinite Justice, Roy was honored by the Asian Human Rights Commission for her courage in speaking out. A few months later, in March 2002, she was jailed for a day and fined two thousand rupees for contempt of court. During a long, drawn-out court case on the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Project, Roy had criticized the government on this issue. Roy stated in her affidavit to the Supreme Court in this case that it is "disquieting on the part of the court to silence criticism and muzzle dissent, to harass and intimidate those who disagree with it." The court felt these remarks were "scandalizing [the court] and lowering its dignity." In sentencing her to jail for one day, the court said that it was "showing the magnanimity of law, by keeping in mind [that] the respondent is a woman." Roy came out of jail on 6 March 2002 and was unrepentant for her past comments on the court. She complained in a statement to the press on 7 March that the Supreme Court was endangering freedom of speech: "If even this right is denied, it would expose the country to the dangers of judicial tyranny."

On 3 May 2002 Roy published the article "Democracy and Religious Fascism" in CounterPunch. The immediate context was the March 2002 riots in Gujarat after the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party government allegedly encouraged its Hindu supporters to take revenge on the Muslims who were believed to have set fire to a train carrying Hindus at Godhra. Like most liberal-minded Indians, Roy criticized the fanatic elements in the ruling party for the riots in Gujarat.

The Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, invited Roy to speak on the first anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. In an address titled "Come September," she once again focuses on what she feels are the hypocrisy and contradictions of U.S. government policies. In her view, the American government indulged in the "cynical manipulation of people's grief" at the immense loss of 11 September in order to start the war on Iraq. She details the ignoble role of the United States in many South American countries and in Palestine. She examines the effects of U.S.-led corporate globalization, which she sees as one of the main causes for conflict and disharmony in the twenty-first century. She prophesies: "A world run by a handful of greedy bankers and CEOs who nobody elected can't possibly last." The Lannan Foundation awarded Roy its fourth annual Prize for Cultural Freedom, worth $350,000. She promptly donated the entire amount, splitting it among some fifty groups, institutions, movements, and individuals in India. The citation noted that the prize was given for "her precise and powerful writing highlighting her commitment to social, economic, and environmental justice."

Roy was the star speaker at the World Social Forum (WSF) at Porto Alegre, Brazil, on 25 January 2003. This organization, an important platform for alternative ideas and practices in the contemporary world, brings together groups upholding civil society from all over the world. This first meeting of the WSF was held to coincide with the World Economic Forum that was held in Davos, Switzerland. Roy spoke on the subject of "Confronting Empire." She declared that corporate globalization is the modern name for imperialism. The so-called free market undermines democracy; in a "globalized" world there is neither free speech nor free press. She stressed what she thinks to be the lies on which the war on Iraq is based. She declared, however, that one can confront the empire by laying siege to it. People can refuse to buy the ideas, history, weapons, and wars peddled by the multinationals. She ended the speech on an optimistic note: "Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."

On 13 May 2003 Roy spoke in New York City on "Instant Mix: Imperial Democracy." The Centre for Economic and Social Rights and the Lannan Foundation sponsored the event. On 31 May 2003 she gave a talk on "The Day of the Jackals" at the national antiwar teach-in in Washington, D.C. The thesis of these speeches is the indefensibility of the U.S. war on Iraq and the vise-like grip of American corporations on U.S. government policies. She also focused on the misery of war-ravaged Iraqis. She bemoaned the deliberate destruction of an ancient civilization by invoking the fate of Mesopotamia and Babylon.

Roy's next major engagement was a speech she delivered at the World Social Forum held in Mumbai (Bombay) in January 2004. In this speech, "Do Turkeys Enjoy Thanksgiving?" she dwelt on the entire range of her favorite themes: development projects displacing and dispossessing millions of people; religious bigotry; state-sponsored terrorism; U.S. hegemony; and corporate greed. At the end of her speech she made a stirring call for nonviolent resistance, in the manner of Mahatma Gandhi, to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. She suggested an action plan for such resistance. She concluded by saying, "We must consider ourselves at war."

In recognition of her championing of the rights of the deprived and the underprivileged, the Sydney Peace Foundation announced the award of the Sydney Peace Prize for 2004 to her. The jury's citation read: "Arundhati Roy has been recognized for her courage in campaigns for human rights and for her advocacy of non-violence, as expressed in her demands for justice for the poor, for the victims of communal violence, for the millions displaced by the Narmada dam projects and for her opposition to nuclear weapons." This citation epitomizes Roy's major concerns and methods as a social activist and notes her primary activities after she won the Booker Prize. In 2005 she was given the Sahitya Akademi Award for her 2001 essay collection, The Algebra of Infinite Justice.

Arundhati Roy believes that there is no essential difference between fiction and nonfiction. As far as she is concerned, they are two ways of telling stories; but she believes that writing nonfiction is more demanding. For her fiction as well as her nonfictional writings she has attracted many admirers across the world while continuing to be criticized by some people for her beliefs. Without a doubt Roy's only novel created a lot of critical interest, partly because of the hype associated with the Booker Prize. But its originality and the skills and passion with which it was written were appreciated by readers and critics all over the world. It can also be said that Roy has attained celebrity status as a champion of many issues of public importance. The thoroughness of her research, the clarity of her expression, the precision of her language, the conviction with which she articulates her views, and above all, the courage of her convictions, are remarkable. Nevertheless, the view of Ramachandra Guha, writing in The Hindu (26 November 2000), is representative of those who are critical of her stance: "Her essays are vain, shrill, unoriginal, oversimplified, hyperbolic and lacking any voices but her own." There can be little doubt, however, that she is supplementing the work of Noam Chomsky , Edward Said, and other dissenting intellectuals and that in The God of Small Things she has written one of the more original and captivating novels in English to come out of the Indian subcontinent.


From: Rao, E. Nageswara. "Arundhati Roy." South Asian Writers in English, edited by Fakrul Alam, Gale, 2006.


  • Further Reading

    From: "Arundhati Roy." Gale Literature: Contemporary Authors, Gale, 2018.



    • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 109, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
    • Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
    • Critical Studies of Arundhati Roy's "The God of Small Things," Atlantic Publishers & Distributors (New Delhi, India), 1999.
    • Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1997, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.


    • Atlantic, July-August, 2017, Parul Sehgal, "Arundhati Roy's Fascinating Mess: Being an Activist and an Artist Is Trickier Than It Sounds," p. 36.
    • Booklist, May 1, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of The God of Small Things, p. 1480; April 15, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of War Talk, p. 1433; October 15, 2011, Donna Seaman, review of Walking with the Comrades, p. 8; April 15, 2014, Donna Seaman, review of Capitalism: A Ghost Story, p. 4.
    • Christian Science Monitor, November 24, 1997, Merle Rubin, review of The God of Small Things, p. 11; July 18, 2017, review of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
    • Colorlines, December 22, 2004, C.S. Soong, review of An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire, p. 53.
    • Ecologist, September 1, 2000, "I Wish I Had the Guts to Shut Up," p. 29.
    • Economist, August 1, 2009, "Necessary, but Wrong; Arundhati Roy."
    • Entertainment Weekly, May 16, 1997, Suzanne Ruta, review of The God of Small Things, p. 109.
    • Financial Times, December 7, 2017, Nilanjana S. Roy, "Arundhati Roy: 'Always Try to Negotiate Freedom. The Royalties Are Peripheral.'"
    • Guardian (London, England), September 29, 2001, review of The Algebra of Infinite Justice, p. 1; November 30, 2002, Natasha Walter, review of The Algebra of Infinite Justice, p. 11; September 30, 2015, Nicholas Lezard, review of Capitalism; May 27, 2017, Decca Aitkenhead, "'Fiction Takes Its Time': Arundhati Roy on Why It Took 20 Years to Write Her Second Novel."
    • Herizons, spring, 2001, Subbalakshmi Subramanian, review of The Cost of Living, p. 33.
    • Hindustan Times, March 8, 2018, "Arundhati Roy, Meena Kandaswamy in the 2018 Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist."
    • Irish Times, June 24, 2017, John Boyne, "Arundhati Roy: 'It's a Hatred That Crosses the Line.'"
    • Journal of Contemporary Asia, May, 2003, Zaheer Baber, review of The Cost of Living, p. 284.
    • Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2009, review of Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers; September 1, 2011, review of Walking with the Comrades; March 1, 2014, review of Capitalism; April 15, 2017, review of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
    • Library Journal, April 15, 1997, Barbara Hoffert, review of The God of Small Things, p. 120; July, 1997, Eric Bryant, review of The God of Small Things, p. 102; October 15, 1999, Ravi Shenoy, review of The Cost of Living, p. 90; October 1, 2011, Ravi Shenoy, review of Walking with the Comrades, p. 93.
    • London Times, July 12, 2009, Tarquin Hall, review of Field Notes on Democracy.
    • Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 1, 1997, Richard Eder, "As the World Turns," p. 2.
    • Maclean's, October 27, 1997, "A Literary Queen," p. 64.
    • Mother Jones, January 1, 2002, Arlie Russell Hochschild, interview with Roy, p. 74.
    • Nation, September 29, 1997, Amitava Kumar, "Rushdie's Children," review of The God of Small Things, pp. 36; July 17, 2017, Ratik Asokan, "The Air We Breathe: A Conversation with Arundhati Roy."
    • National Review, February 7, 2000, Kanchan Limaye, review of The Cost of Living, p. 50.
    • New Internationalist, October, 2002, review of Power Politics, p. 31.
    • New Republic, December 29, 1997, James Wood, review of The God of Small Things, p. 32; April 29, 2002, Ian Buruma, review of Power Politics, p. 25.
    • New Statesman, June 27, 1997, Amanda Craig, "But What about This Year's Barbados Novel?," p. 49; April 30, 2001, Salil Tripathi, "The Goddess against Big Things," p. 22.
    • Newsweek, May 26, 1997, Laura Shapiro, "Disaster in a Lush Land," p. 76.
    • Newsweek International, March 18, 2002, interview with Roy, p. 94.
    • New Yorker, June 23, 1997, John Updike, "Mother Tongues," review of The God of Small Things, pp. 156-159.
    • New York Review of Books, August 14, 1997, Rosemary Dinnage, review of The God of Small Things, p. 16.
    • New York Times, June 3, 1997, Michiko Kakutani, review of The God of Small Things, p. B4; July 29, 1997, Elisabeth Bumiller, "A Novelist Begins with a Splash," p. B1; October 15, 1997, Sarah Lyall, "Indian's First Novel Wins Booker Prize in Britain," p. A4; January 12, 2000, Celia W. Dugger, "Author Seized," p. A6; August 7, 2001, Salman Rushdie, "A Foolish Dam and a Writer's Freedom," p. A19; November 3, 2001, Celia W. Dugger, "An Indian Novelist Turns Her Wrath on the U.S.," p. A3; March 7, 2002, "India Jails Novelist for Criticizing a Court Ruling," p. A4.
    • New York Times Book Review, May 25, 1997, Alice Truax, "A Silver Thimble in Her Fist," p. 5; November 25, 2001, Alex Abramovich, review of Power Politics, p. 28.
    • NWSA Journal, September 22, 2006, Stacy Bautista, review of The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile: Conversations with Arundhati Roy, An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire, and War Talk, p. 211.
    • Observer (London, England), November 17, 2002, review of The Algebra of Infinite Justice, p. 20.
    • People, July 14, 1997, Francine Prose, review of The God of Small Things, p. 30; November 3, 1997, Thomas Fields-Meyer, "No Small Thing: A Stunning Debut Novel Earns Arundhati Roy the Fruits of Stardom," p. 107.
    • Progressive, April 1, 2001, David Barsamian, interview with Roy.
    • Publishers Weekly, March 3, 1997, review of The God of Small Things, p. 62; September 20, 1999, review of The Cost of Living, p. 61; May 14, 2001, John F. Baker, "Roy's Indian Wars," p. 20; July 30, 2001, review of Power Politics, p. 72; September 19, 2011, review of Walking with the Comrades, p. 50; April 10, 2017, review of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, p. 48.
    • Reviewer's Bookwatch, March, 2005, Willis M. Buhle, review of An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire.
    • Sojourners, July-August 1, 2003, Judy Coode, review of War Talk, p. 57.
    • Sunday Times (London, England), July 12, 2009, Tarquin Hall, review of Field Notes on Democracy.
    • Time, April 14, 1997, Meenakshi Ganguly, review of The God of Small Things.
    • USA Today, June 22, 2017, Patty Rhule, "Arundhati Roy Aims High in The Ministry," p. 7B.
    • Vogue, October 1, 2002, Daphne Beal, "Portrait of a Renegade," p. 244; May 19, 2017, Daphne Beal, "20 Years after The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy on The Ministry of Utmost Happiness."
    • Washington Post Book World, October 20, 1997, Kenneth J. Cooper, "For India, No Small Thing: Native Daughter Arundhati Roy Wins Coveted Booker Prize," p. C1; December 17, 2011, Chandrahas Choudhury, review of Walking with the Comrades; May 31, 2017, Ron Charles, "From Arundhati Roy, a Tale."
    • Whole Earth, December 22, 2001, "India Will Not Behave," p. 78, Paul Hawken, review of Power Politics, p. 81.
    • World Literature Today, winter, 1998, Ramlal Agarwal, review of The God of Small Things, p. 208; June 22, 2002, James Gerein, review of Power Politics, p. 79; September 1, 2005, author profile, p. 70; January 1, 2004, Leslie Schenk, review of War Talk, p. 75; November-December, 2017, Amit R. Baishya, review of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, p. 71.
    • World Press Review, January 1, 1997, John Zubrzycki, review of The God of Small Things, p. 39.
    • World Watch, May 1, 2002, Curtis Runyan, review of Power Politics, p. 17.
    • Writer, November 1, 1998, Lewis Burke Frumkes, "A Conversation with Arundhati Roy," p. 23.