Arundhati Roy is one of my all time favorite writers and when I saw this book in the latest arrivals section, I couldn’t resist from buying it immediately. I had to pay a premium of 170 rupees over the price offered on flipkart.com. But, it was totally worth it.
We are constantly bombarded with news of various acts of violence committed by various insurgents in certain areas of India. I found it hard to understand why ordinary people would find it necessary to take up arms, sacrifice their peace, families, familiar lifestyles and commit such heinous acts of violence. I looked for information and understanding in the newspapers. Even The Hindu which I respect for being impartial and relatively more rigorous couldn’t fill in all the details. It regularly reports their crimes. But, very rarely their motivation.
How can tribals and poor, peaceful people who have been around for so long and used to a relatively settled lifestyle get enamored by Marxist or Maoist ideas to such an extent that they dump everything that they and their ancestors believed in and suddenly set out to engage in an armed insurrection that they hope will overthrow the Indian state and eventually lead to the promised people’s state? Is the Indian state really battling an evil and potent force out to destroy it? Or is it waging war against it’s own people to deny them their freedoms? Are the maoists a bunch of crazy misfits who came into being out of nothing and who have no support among the tribals? Or are they part of the people and merely a face of our society? If that is true what sense does it make to try and destroy them using military power?
One question that has always bugged me is why revolutionary ideas never take root in educated, developed and prosperous societies that have struck a balance within themselves and with their environment. Why is it that communism, despite being considered as an intellectual ideology find so little real support among the better off people. It always takes root in disturbed societies that are facing the pressures of extremes of class oppression and exploitation. Doesn’t that indicate that the tribals may really be suffering from some form of oppression and/or exploitation which makes them vulnerable to revolutionary ideologies?
Arundhati Roy in this book describes her experiences with members of these movements and tries to provide answers to the above questions and more. It is written in an extremely passionate and imaginative manner and has that feminine touch that evokes such vivid imagery and powerful metaphors. It has the ability to touch you and make you feel what she is feeling. After reading the book, I am sure that I fell in love with her for a while. Despite that, the book does not compromise on reason and rationality and is a sort of running debate. After reading it, I was deeply troubled and confused because it made me rethink everything I knew about democracy and communism. I was battling each page of the book in my mind because it took me an effort to see things in the new light and try and accept them.
What happens to people on the fringes and outside the system in a system of rule of the majority, by the majority and for the majority? I never really considered that question and exactly how important that question is to the tribals. Arundhati Roy is no romantic revolutionary and has a complete and utter grasp of the downsides of communism and maoist ideas. This understanding is conveyed best by her statement that if the maoists were to come to power she would be the first person to be killed. She understands that and she is still able to identify with their feelings.
Her question is,”What alternative does the Indian state offer to to tribals?”.
Some time ago, I was deeply struck by the works of Daniel Quinn. Those same questions are raised again, but this time in a more potent and human voice. Not using maths and stupid graphs. Is ultimate sustainability possible in the Industrial era? Are we living a lie and digging our own graves? Are the tribals wrong in asking us to leave them and their forests alone? These are questions that I always try to suppress. But they again raised their ugly heads in my mind after reading this book.
She has a canny way of being bang on target with her predictions. She is almost like a prophet. I got a taste of her deep and personal understanding of things when I read her essay “The Algebra Of Infinite Justice”. Everything she said in it, eventually came to pass.
Sometimes I wonder… when will everything stop being so fucked up!?