New Arundhati Roy book released: 45 sec protest fails to dampen Arundhati evening

TNN | May 21, 2011

NEW DELHI: They emerged suddenly shouting slogans – ‘Arundhati Roy murdabad’ and ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ – when the writer-activist was making a point on paid news. The three young men threw unsigned pamphlets on the stage and caused a 45-second interruption before being whisked away by police.
“I paid them to do that,” Roy joked, drawing laughter from a packed gathering at the Amphitheatre in the India Habitat Centreon Friday evening. It had been an engrossing conversation till then between Roy and economist Amit Bhaduri at the evening launch of her two books, Broken Republic and Walking with the Comrades. And it stayed that way despite the brief disruption.”The colonization of the land of the poor is at the heart of the unfolding civil war in the country,” said Roy. She applauded the resistance of the poorest people who have stood against the richest mining corporations in the world. Yet, the corporations and those who support them seem to be like “lazy predators” waiting for an opportune moment to strike. “We are facing the prospect of a militarized democracy, though that might sound as an oxymoron,” she said.Roy said the institutions that sustain democracy are being “hollowed out”. She recalled how as a child she stole carrots from her teacher’s garden. “I would then plant back the top. That’s what is happening today. We just retain the ritual of democracy,” she said.

Bhaduri offered a less pessimistic view. He said Indian democracy is something like “now you see it, now you don’t”. In other words, it was prevalent in some areas of our life, missing in others.

Roy also explained the need to sell her books to an elite audience that had no idea of the lives she wrote about, especially about the adivasis in Dantewada. Literature of this kind has been written in regional languages and is read by many in those back of beyond areas, she said. “This is the last train in the station,” she said.

The conversation was followed by a spunky performance by the agit-rock-reggae band, The Ska Vengers. In the heat and the humidity, they sang with enthusiasm about justice and corruption. They looked cool. And they made you feel optimistic.

——————————

The new book by Arundhati Roy, Published by Penguin in India:

Summary of Broken Republic: Three Essays

Mr Chidambaram’s War

‘The low, flat-topped hills of south Orissa have been home to the Dongria Kondh long before there was a country called India or a state called Orissa…’

Walking with the Comrades

‘The terse, typewritten note slipped under my door in a sealed envelope confirmed my appointment with “India’s single biggest internal security challenge”. I’d been waiting for months to hear from them…’

Trickledown Revolution

‘In the early morning hours of 2 July 2010, in the remote forests of Adilabad, the Andhra Pradesh State Police fired a bullet into the chest of a man called Cherukuri Rajkumar, known to his comrades as Azad…’

War has spread from the borders of India to the forests in the very heart of the country. Combining brilliant analysis and reportage by one of India’s iconic writers, Broken Republic examines the nature of progress and development in the emerging global superpower, and asks fundamental questions about modern civilization itself.

An excerpt from the Introduction:
On the shining flanks of New India, its poverty is a tableau of reflections
Broken Republic
Broken Republic
By By Arundhati Roy
Penguin | Rs 499

The minister says that for India’s sake people should leave their villages and move to the cities. He’s a Harvard man. He wants speed. And numbers. Five hundred million migrants, he thinks, would make a good business model.

Not everybody likes the idea of their cities filling up with the poor. A judge in Mumbai called slum-dwellers pickpockets of urban land. Another said, while ordering the bulldozing of unauthorised colonies, that people who couldn’t afford it shouldn’t live in cities.

When those who had been evicted went back to where they came from, they found their villages had disappeared under great dams and quarries. Their homes were occupied by hunger, and policemen. The forests were filling up with armed guerrillas. War had migrated too. From the edges of India, in Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, to its heart. So the people returned to the crowded city streets and pavements. They crammed into hovels on dusty construction sites, wondering which corner of this huge country was meant for them.

The minister said that migrants to cities were mostly criminals and “carried a kind of behaviour which is unacceptable to modern cities”. The middle class admired him for his forthrightness, for having the courage to call a spade a spade. The minister said he would set up more police stations, recruit more policemen and put more police vehicles on the road to improve law and order.

To make Delhi a world-class city for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, laws were passed that made the poor vanish, like laundry stains. Street vendors disappeared, rickshaw-pullers lost their licences, small shops and businesses were shut down. Beggars were rounded up, tried by mobile magistrates in mobile courts and dropped outside the city limits. The slums that remained were screened off, with vinyl billboards that said DELHIciously Yours.

New kinds of policemen patrolled the streets, better armed, better dressed and trained not to scratch their privates in public, no matter how grave the provocation. There were cameras everywhere, recording everything.

***

Two young criminals carrying a kind of behaviour which was unacceptable to modern cities escaped the police dragnet, and approached a woman sandwiched between her sunglasses and the leather seats of her shiny car at a traffic crossing. Shamelessly, they demanded money. The woman was rich and kind. The criminals’ heads were no higher than her car window. Their names were Rukmini and Kamli. Or maybe Mehrunissa and Shahbano. (Who cares?) The woman gave them money and some motherly advice. Ten rupees to Kamli (or Shahbano). “Share it,” she told them, and sped away when the lights changed.

Rukmini and Kamli (or Mehrunissa and Shahbano) tore into each other like gladiators, like lifers in a prison yard. Each sleek car that flashed past them, and almost crushed them, carried the reflection of their battle, their fight to the finish, on its shining door.

Eventually, both girls disappeared without a trace, like thousands of children do in Delhi. The Games were a success.

***

Two months later, on the sixty-second anniversary of India becoming a Republic, the armed forces showcased their new weapons at the Republic Day parade. Russian multi-barrel rocket launchers, combat aircraft, light helicopters and underwater weapons for the navy. The new T-90 battle tank was called Bhishma. (The older one was Arjun.) Varunastra was the name of the latest heavyweight torpedo, and Mareech was a decoy system to seduce incoming torpedoes. (Hanuman and Vajra are the names painted on the armoured vehicles that patrol Kashmir’s frozen streets.) That the names were drawn from Hindu epics was just a coincidence. If India is a Hindu nation, it’s only an accident.

Dare Devils from the Army’s Corps of Signals rode motorcycles in a rocket formation. Then they formed a cluster of flying birds and finally a human pyramid.

Overhead, Sukhoi fighter jets made a trishul, a trident in the sky. Each jet cost more than a billion rupees. Four billion then, for Shiva’s Trident.

The thrilled crowd turned its face up to the weak winter sun and applauded. High in the sky, the winking silver sides of the jets carried the reflection of Rukmini’s and Kamli’s (or Mehrunissa’s and Shahbano’s) fight to the death.

The army band played the national anthem. The President drew the pallu of her sari over her head and took the salute.


Introduction from Broken Republic by Arundhati Roy, Penguin, Rs 499

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