Basudeb profiles Suzanna Arundhati Roy and critiques her novel, The God of Small Things, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.
Suzanna Arundhati Roy (born on 24 November, 1961, in Shillong, Meghalaya, Winner of Booker Prize in 1997) is a novelist, non-fictional writer, social activist who advocates also different political issues of our country like India’s Nuclear Policy, Support for Kashmiri Secessionist Movement, Views on Narendra Modi, Sardar Sarovar Project, United States Foreign Policy, the American role in Afghanistan and many other National as well as International events. The present article aims at assessing Arundhati Roy as a novelist with reference to her national and international eye arresting The God of Small Things which may be considered semi-autobiographical in nature. It is often said that every autobiographer is a liar. So it must contain certain fictional elements. The question is whether the fictional elements exceeds the fact or vice versa. A close reading of the novel along with the study of her childhood days in Aymanam may lead one to find certain similarities between events in the novel and her childhood experiences.
The God of Small Things generates a marathon of debates among its readers, particularly debates on her reference to explicit sexuality in inter-caste relationship, and her reference to Comrade E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the then Chief Minister of Kerala and Comrade K.N. M. Pillai. Arundhati Roy presents him as a hypocrite person. Indeed E.M.S. was a simple person. Even persons belong to his opposite party could not accept her view. Namboodiripad was a simple man who led an unpretentious life.
But one aspect of this novel is that the character delineation in The God of Small Things there are some important woman characters who do not escape readers’ attention though in an interview the novelist says that there is no central character in her novel because all characters are in the centre.
The novel apparently is a riddle but a careful study reveals that there are four major women characters in the novel. With total disagreement with Arundhati Roy, those four woman characters are the protagonists in the novel. They are Ammu, Margaret, Rahel and Baby Kochamma. They are independent enough to take decisions in their lives. And they did so. It is not a fact that they are naïve to take decisions on their lives. But all have to suffer for no rhyme and reason. Who is responsible for their suffering? Is it the tyrannical society, their fate, their flippancy or anything else? Let us think of Ammu as a case in point.
Ammu is the daughter of Bennan Ipe who is an entomologist, who was the architect of all her sufferings in her childhood days. To Ammu’s father, any money spent on the education of daughter at the college level is ‘an unnecessary expense’. Then she gets an opportunity to visit Calcutta. Here she meets a young and handsome person. He proposes to Ammu. The man is an assistant manager of a tea estate in Assam. Ammu has no pretension but considering her position she gives her consent to marriage. The marriage does not last long. After marriage, it is found that the man is a loafer and a heavy drinker. He is an alcoholic. Finally, she has to return home to her father at Ayemenem with her two children. In the second phase of her life comes Velutha, three years junior to her. And this relationship also ends in a disaster.
Altogether Ammu takes three decisions in her life. Her first decision is to marry a wrong man. The second decision is her breaking the marriage with that manager of a tea estate and third is her link with Velutha and the ultimate end of her life. Are all her decisions stupid? She takes those decisions under certain situations. Velutha is physically strong and well built. He also loves Ammu’s children. Only the problem is that he belongs to the caste untouchable. And this problem is a social menace. So why does she suffer? In life, one needs to take some decisions. In this novel, Arundhati Roy presents these four woman characters. And it is very difficult for a person to decide which decision he or she should take and what not. Ammu takes a decision and all her decisions meet failures. The marriage between Margaret and Chacku is sexually incompatible. Joe who is sexually strong and aggressive dies in an accident. And the life of Baby Kochamma who is bold enough meets no success in her life. One important aspect of this novel is that the novelist delineates some woman characters who are committed and sincere about what they have wanted to do.
One of the important locales of the novel, The God Small Things, is that Aymenem and this place is mainly inhabited by marginal, sadistic fathers, lusty neurotic mothers, hypocrites, and people of vices, male chauvinist, and social parasites. This place is the heart of darkness in Kerala. And there is a contrast also of this dirty place in the novel.That is England. Only lights come through Margaret and Sophie. Throughout the novel, a kind of dingy atmosphere and social horror is portrayed. But the novel ends with an optimistic note. Readers get a strong message of a bright future. The novel concludes with the vivid depiction of love-making between Ammu and Velutha, though readers already know that the catastrophic end will unfold to their eyes next day. Arundhati Roy shows the photographic picture of a patriarchal family in one backward region of Kerala, though Arundhati Roy’s some set notions about politics and politicians and obsessions get revealed through this novel.
Photos from the Internet
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Basudeb Chakraborti is a retired professor of English and Faculty Dean, University of Kalyani. He founded the Department of English in Sikkim Central University (2013). He taught in the USA and India. He wrote more than 100 articles in different literary journals in India and abroad. Among his books, Thomas Hardy’s View of Happiness, Some Problems of Translation: A Study of Tagore’s Red Oleanders, Indian Partition Fiction in English and in English Translation, etc.