7:16 | On That Note The crowd seems in a stupor after this answer, still trying to digest the plethora of images, emotions and issues thrown at them for deeper contemplation. Michelle begins to tap on the microphone, a sign to the audience to break out of their trance and applaud. Michelle thanks Roy for a fantastic, if depressing, presentation. Yes, perhaps some of the topic matter itself is depressing, but when you weigh that against the enormous sold out audience that has shown up to hear Roy's thoughts, a crowd drawn from what one audience member referred to as the beneficiaries of globalization, we think that perhaps that alone is enough to be optimistic about.
7:12 | What Can We Do? A resident of Bombay asks, with this gloomy outlook, what can we do? Roy says, "I'm actually optimistic. I believe that people will fight, will rise up, will fight for their rights. I'm not actually gloomy. I was much more gloomy when it seemed like people didn't understand--sometimes some of us see a little further into the future than others." On giving advice, Roy says, "I'm not really good at giving advice ... but anything that allows the furthering of a point of view that we can live together in a society that's less vicious--I'm not Mother Teresa, I don't believe in the politics of good intention--but the world needs, most importantly, clear minds that are not being manipulated."
7:07 | Self-Interest
An audience member feels that China, particularly those sitting in this very room on the 6th floor of Bund No. 5, have been beneficiaries of globalization and that it's done well for China. What then, does Roy feel will happen in India in five years? Roy responds first by saying that to suppose that we are all beneficiaries and that this means globalization has been a success, presupposes that all people act solely based on self-interest and don't have a broader interest or compassion for others. She then goes on to say that the further push towards development of SEZs (special economic zones), the factories and so forth that result, will necessitate the forced removal of people from their land. In other words, Roy seems to think that the continuing process of globalized economies and capitalism in India will have as much a negative impact on India as a positive impact, particularly for certain classes within India.
6:59 | Not Free from Attack An audience member, from India and obviously with a differing opinion than Ms. Roy's, asks if she actually did research into the incidents surrounding what happened at Gujarat (particularly in that it was politically supported) or if this was simply a work of fiction. The crowd seems shocked, but Roy responds with poise, saying that she did do an extensive amount of research and work on the subject and that it's obvious he has not read her piece. She says, "I guess it's easy to just stand there and ask insulting questions but perhaps you should do some homework before asking them." The crowd applauds in support.
**6:56 | "We can't all be pristine, we can't all be wearing loin clothes and eating goat cheese," says Roy. The previous presenter took a very optimistic view of India. Roy seems to feel that India still faces much darkness and anarchy, but at the same time she still comes across as an optimist in the sense that she is passionate about effecting change.
6:50 | Reflections on Genocide
One of Roy's latest essays was Listening to Grasshoppers, a reflection on the history of genocide in the world.
6:44 | The Enemy Is?
"It is for us to fashion the enemy. It's not as easy as in colonialism when it was, 'get the evil white man out,'" she says. This is an interesting statement. Though, of course, the danger is that one looks only for external enemies and ignores the enemies within. "I believe that the time of good politics has past. People are up against something huge. Maybe they won't win, maybe they'll be annihilated. I don't know. But I do know what side I'm on."
6:41 | Cultural Export or Import? "The major funding for Bollywood comes from abroad, not India. We used to have cinema halls where the cheap seats would be five rupis and it was for everyone. Now we have these mega cinemas with marble toilets ... the tickets are so expensive. So the films are tailored for those people," says Roy. "The middle and upper classes have succeeded and they have their own culture and media and increasingly there's no language that connects them to the [rest of the country]." She continues to say that there is a section of the population that is being left behind and will soon be forgotten.
6:26 | We Have Bollywood But ... "How does the government view you? You're allowed to say what you want to say and you do say it. Obviously there's a delicate, complex relationship there," says Mishra. "Can you explain a bit about this?" Says Roy, "I think the particularly dangerous this is when you start to go after particular corporations or particular things." At the time (2001), begins Roy, "there was a much cruder way to take care of people like me. For example, in a place called Gujarat Muslims were killed, women were gang raped, burnt alive ... and the police supported this and the chief minister was openly supportive of this ... all the killers were caught on camera boasting about how they'd killed people, raped women, the police chief praised them ... and this was all broadcast on television and they still won the election. What does it say about a democracy where the actions of this Hindu fascist movement is tolerated, even approved of?" These are ways to try to deal with people they think are troublesome, "but it would be a big deal to come out and go after someone like me," she says. Roy seems to feel that she's benefited in some respect from her success because it makes it more difficult to come after her without a clear and direct cause unrelated to her activism, such as being a supporter of the Maoist movement or something more subversive.
6:20 | We Have to Fight for Our Rights Because No One Else Will "It was literally like I slit my wrists and wrote in blood. No more political essays," she says. "No more, I don't want to do this anymore, someone else can do this. I just want to sit down and write." Right around the time that I said this, around 2001, there was a ludicrously stupid attack on the Indian parliament. The result of the attack was that the government moved soldiers to the border with Pakistan, claiming that the terrorists "looked like Pakistanis." There was a mock trial, some were sentenced, some let off, one was sentenced to death. The man who was sentenced to death, Mohammad Afzal was sentenced not due to evidence that he was actually a terrorist, but rather to satisfy the collective consciousness. "I had actually studied the whole case closely, just to know about it. And a week before he was hanged, I realized that I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't come out and say something. This is just some orgy, some blood thirsty hunt. This is ridiculous for a country that calls itself a democracy."
6:15 | A Glossary of Hollow Terms Creating language and dialogue often diminishes its meaning--wars on terrorism, fighting wars for freedom and democracy for example. She says these words then have no meaning anymore and part of what she does is try to take these words back, and give them meaning again. Roy seems to feel that language is being subverted to suit the needs of those trying to exert their will upon others, the language of freedom being twisted to justify the opposite.
6:11 | Instinctually Mishra asks Roy what she thinks the origin of her interest / knowledge / instincts are in terms of her political perspectives. She says that her politics since the time of writing The God of Small Things has not changed. Having grown up in India in between communities (her parents both from different cultural / religious groups) she says, "You start questioning things right from there." She continues, "No matter how much you study development, statistics, and facts doesn't really help." In fact, Roy feels that knowledge, or rather education in these matters can be equally detrimental as some of the most damaging institutions are those involved in development (the World Bank, IMF, etc.); therefore, it is instinct and experience rather than education that properly informs.
6:09 | The Dam is the Thing Roy says that big dam projects seem a microcosm of how the world works. Power and redistribution of power (usually right back to the powerful), politics, displacement, development, desperation, poverty, international relations, estuaries and nature. "This continues to inform much of my perceptions today," she says.
6:02 | Competing for Air Time In her reading, Roy touches on the fact that at the time India's successful nuclear tests were making headlines, so too was Viagra. India's newfound status, hailed as "no longer being a eunuch" by some Indian officials, as well as endowing India with "superior strength and potency" was competing with Viagra for headlines and the language being used "often confused the two," says Roy.
5:58 | The Beginning of a New India Begins with a Booker Prize "The winning of the Booker Prize by an Indian mattered more to people than what the book was about itself," says Roy. When this was announced it was the time when India emerged as not only an economic power but a nuclear power as well. Roy describes the sentiment as "fear of the black bomb" or "fear of the brown bomb" saying that it was alright for the Europeans and Americans and Asians to have nuclear power but not alright for brown people. Roy says it was a defining moment for herself as a writer.
5:51 | Author / Activist Mishra asks Roy what she thinks about being called an author / activist. "It seems to suggest that it isn't the business of writers to look deeply into the society they live in. It reduces what a writer is as well as an activist, suggesting they're somewhat unidimensional," says Roy.
5:50 | Finally Underway With a full house we're finally underway. Michelle introduces Pankaj Mishra and Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things, to the audience. The format seems to be Mishra interviewing Roy.
5:00 | The Storm Before the Calm
They started letting people in ahead of schedule as the queue got longer and longer. It's half an hour "till curtain" and the room is already more packed than it has been for several of the previous sessions. One of the M staff tells us, "It's a little oversold." "Standing room only, then?" we ask. Pretty much. Luckily, we've already staked out our usual spot at the back corner (near the wall socket for easy access electrical power). The buzz in the room is one of anticipation. We think this one's going to be good.
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I think this city is full of opportunity, excitement, intrigue and challenge on many levels. As many things in life, it is what you make of it.
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