by Noel Rooney
[ bookreviews ]
Arundhati Roy writes simply and beautifully about an ugly, complex world. she doesn't schematise to do this; instead the clarity of her writing is matched perfectly by the clarity of her thought - these essays are not hopeful homilies, but limpid, lucid expositions of a political mess.
The chimeric shadow of 9/11 hangs over these essays, whether they deal with Indian or international matters. Roy doesn't swallow the rhetoric of a changed world - much of the misery and hatred she describes is merely business as usual in the post-colonial soup - but she sees an America ironically liberated by the tragedy, its imperialism become explicit under the chilling aegis of cathartic revenge.
Empire and nation are the central themes of this book. The US empire's crusade against the muslim world adumbrates the steady rise of a Hindu chauvinism she quite rightly describes as incipient fascism, largely directed against India's 130 million muslims.
Corporate imperialism, at best triagist, at worst genocidal, is lubricated by those same sanctimonious chauvinists who peddle a purified nation while leaving the heirloom cupboard open for the visitors' convenience. Roy is excoriating in her condemnation of these colluding elites; their mendacious rhetoric and murderous insouciance are held unflinchingly in the light of ordinary poor people's modest and humane aspirations.
India's lability is palpable here, as is the fear which laces people's lives. In the west, the consequences of our actions are confined to liberal guilt and occasional exposure to terrorism, enough mainly to pump more hot air into our supercilious hubris, but not to interfere with business. In India the consequences are everywhere, from Bhopal to the Kashmir war zone, death and suffering on a scale intolerable in the west; ironically the very scale and frequency of the tragedy helps us to pathetically ignore it.
Roy charts this eviscerating and eminently avoidable chain of tragedy and hate with compassion and without fear. She names the beast that stalks our liberal nightmares in a clear, steady voice, and reminds us that we should do the same before the leviathan's slipstream drowns our voices too.