One would suppose that I would have already read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy long time ago given that I am an avid reader. After all it has received Booker Prize for fiction in 1997.
Friends had warned me against reading the book as they found it boring and too slow. Who wants to read that kind of a book? So I had never picked it up. But until then I had neither read anything else written by Arundhati Roy nor was I interested in the social/political issues.
Having said that, I changed over time and began following current affairs. With this new interest I had developed, I looked for alternate reading sources which were far and few in India. Arundhati Roy presented herself as a vehement critic of the neo-imperialism, and published collections of essays such as Listening to Grasshoppers: Field notes on Democracy and others with a poetic, hard hitting style of writing. I found myself swept away in love with her. She was the testimony of freedom of speech. I was instantly under the influence of her rhythmic style of writing, using repetitive phrases to give an echo-like effect to drive the point home. For a woman in India to be like Arundhati Roy aka forthright and articulate takes a lot of courage.
She is a polarizing figure and there were those who claimed that it would do better if she brushed up her knowledge of history, thus implying that hence her opinions should not be taken very seriously. But every time I read her articles, she did not come across as someone who had became a patron of the marginalized people overnight. Then I started having second thoughts about my decision; how could I have not read the only book written by someone I admire so greatly? And so I did. My conviction was right. The book speaks volumes of her understanding of the political realities in India, possibly through first hand experiences. Clearly, she has seen a lot more than the critics give her credit for.
My imagination raced wild as she opened the book with these stunning lines… “May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun…”
She started the novel with the end, went all the way to the start and ended in the hot, sweaty, controversial and courageous middle (for which she was first sued and then case was dismissed). Summarizing the plot will take everything away from it, so I won’t. I can only offer some glimpses into the story. Highlight of the book is in the small things. Journey through life of the characters was natural and surreal. The melodic narrative shattered the invisible door between the reader, the author and the character; before I knew it I had transitioned from feeling for the character to becoming the character. Her lyrical style at once took control of my pace. Rhythm and repetition prevailed throughout the book as a way to emphasize the intensity of the emotions. Her unique use of grammar and punctuation was highly forceful in creating a reminiscent effect of personal experiences.
She has written several proses with a child’s imagination, at least like the one I had as a child and sometimes do even now where thoughts begin with a significant event, somehow trail off into utmost trivial but precise observations and then wander off into a recollection of something similar or exact opposite…a rollercoaster ride that makes you forget where it had all started from.
Arundhati Roy’s keen awareness of the highly complex and shameful social constructs of Indian society is reflected. To name a few – rampant unaddressed issue of pedophilia, prevailing caste issues, abuse of power by authorities like the police, social discrimination, betrayal on the grounds of higher morality, insults bore by divorced wives (not husbands) and the taboo affiliated with single mothers and their chastised children.
The story is full of suffering and its reality will stay with me forever. It reflects a great tragedy of Indian society. It is about the brave characters who dare to follow their heart and to stay free-spirited. It is about loss and longing. It is about the children whose inner quirky world is beyond the reach of the world and who see the world through an innocent lens. It is about injustice and hypocrisy. It is about love…Familial love, romantic love, unrequited love, forbidden love, desperate terrible poignant restless love (as someone put in their review).
It is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. I wept for long after finishing it.
“But what was there to say? Only that there were tears. Only that Quietness and Emptiness fitted together like stacked spoons. Only that there was a snuffling in the hollows at the base of a lovely throat. Only that a hard honey-colored shoulder had a semicircle of teethmarks on it. Only that they held each other close, long after it was over. Only that what they shared that night was not happiness, but hideous grief.
Only that once again they broke the Love Laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.”