Friday, March 26, 2010

Roy's fan and an evening at JNU

Just the mention of the name, Arundhati Roy, is enough for people to start thinking about the speaker as a 'pseudo'. So, if you think the writer is going to write and speak about his 'pseudo leader', then log out right now. Maybe come back next time. Some other 'entertaining' post will be waiting for you. But if you are here, then let me tell you I am not going to talk about her views and trying to defend them. I am a fan of Roy's writings and take that: even without reading "The God of Small Things".

Probably, I will never read that book, I will never meet Rahel, Estha or Kochamma. Maybe because that book is fiction from Roy. (for her opponents, even her non-fiction appears like her fiction) I am told, she is working on another fiction. I dont know whether i will read that or not. But the first thing I read was "The Greater Common Good" and I was swept away with the kind of astounding facts and figures she had projected about the Sardar Sarovar Dam, the Gujarat Canal system, the height of dam and the actual water that may or may not reach at whatever distances promised. And then came the worst: the displacement and the idea of 'sacrifice' that the other India will have to make. Constantly pondering over the way our system works, I couldn't sleep that night. That essay and the book 'The Algebra of Infinite Justice' were a complete eye-opener for me. somewhere around 2004. I still read it, and have read it several times now.

But why, this collection of essays? The answer is in one word: Conviction, my dear! Its almost I could see in her eyes when she was writing. The conviction with which she wrote, she gave the numbers, quoting all government, UN, World Bank reports and three days later, just outside the place i used to work in Baroda was a congregation held by Congress Party: "Gujarat wont have water, if the dam is not built'. I felt like jumping out of my office window and beat up the f**ing politician - black and blue. Quote him all those mind numbing numbers and make him read before people in the sabha. But hell, I can only sit, feel bad, feel disgusted and write. The worthless us. No good use for the country. My joint family from the mother's side comprising of 3 mamas and 4 mausis and the whole zoo, decided to go for a picnic at the Sardar Sarovar Dam. I argued, shouted, quoted in front of every single arguing family member in that bus during the whole journey from Sardar Sarovar to Baroda. So much did i shout that my father felt that I must be disrespecting my elders. But hell, why dont they open their eyes. Abre los Ojos Amigos. Kis bhasha mei tumhe samjaun?

And I remember saying this to one of my uncles: "tumhare drawing room ke beech mei se jab canal niklega na, tab pata chalega. Aur uss canal mei paani nahi aaya toh?" (You would only understand, when a water canal will pierce through your drawing room and assume it without any water) Because he defended by saying that in the course of development, someone will have to sacrifice. "They wont understand" I concluded when my throat got parched and the driver of our bus increased the volume of the songs that were playing on the woofer-speakers. Thus, I had to subject myself in the corner of a bus. The younger cousins didnt talk to me for a few days, they thought how can someone talk like that to our parents.

I take this opportunity to recall an incident that happened to me during my Delhi days. On one of our regular JNU visits esp the Ganga Dhaba, I discovered a poster in the corner, stuck between the political poster collage:It had written on it:

Chandrashekhar Memorial Lecture (to know more about Chandrashekharji and why Roy came to support, read here
Place: Lohit Mess
Time: 10 30 pm
Guest: Arundhati Roy.

What! Like a fan I calculated what day it was going to be and I made a reminder on my cell phone. I thought I will take all her books that I own and will ask for a signature or something. On the day, I asked all of my friends, but for some or the other reason, no one turned up and there I was alone in the JNU campus, waiting for the writer whom I admire so much.

The atmosphere at Lohit Mess was like some underground movement that was about to happen and the leader will come and announce the assassination of a top bureaucrat or a politician. Now JNU like every campus has a lot of student unions and groups affiliated to political parties. One such student political party is ABVP, they too had got to know about Roy's guest lecture. Now, it was obvious that they would be nasty to her but how remained to be seen. And what I was more keen on, was how is she going to retaliate to them. And this is the most important part from a fan's perspective: that someone whom you look upto also has to defend and defend fiercely so that your idea of being a follower gathers more strength. And well defend, she just didnt defend, she came dancing down the wicket and lofted the question that was put to her out of the stadium.

After a small conversation, Roy told that she was here only to show her support for the cause Chandrashekharji was fighting for. The ABVP guys now were just waiting to pounce with their questions. One of the more aggressive guys straight away asked Roy:
"you say, you support the poor and want everyone to read your essays and books, but look at your books they cost so much, how will a common man who cannot support himself will think of buying your books? you get all the royalty from your publishers, so you can think and keep writing".

For a moment I too was stumped. Like I agree with him, how would one buy her books if a Listening to Grasshoppers today costs 600/- or 599/- to be precise. And as they say the revolution will never happen from those whose hands and pockets are full. Roy, in her style, calmly replied:

"My dear friend, who says that to read my books and to read those mind numbing facts and figures, you have to pay so much?. Stand at any traffic signal in Delhi and I will show you where you can buy my books for 75 rupees and if you or one cannot afford that I will also show you so many places where you will rent the book and read and then return back in not more than 15 rupees."

I thought of applauding. But then I was sitting in the front row, if she would hear, she would notice and I dont know, where would I look then. I dropped my idea of getting the book signed from her. It would look like a mockery of the lecture and the purpose that she was here for. Then, during my student days I made sure that I would buy books from traffic signals till the time I start earning and buying one book per month.

Reading her at times, makes me feel so worthless of being in the world of bombay films and trying to be in pursuit of 'entertaining' people. And entertain whom, those who will pay 200/- bucks for the first opening weekend.
"boss! pehla weekend ka collection 11 crores. Paisa recover ho jaayega! bull crap!
"yeh film nahi chalegi"
"yeh aisi film banate kyun hai?"
"oh the editing was so crisp"
"what dialogues yaar!"
"mindblowing camera"**

"Abhi jiska khoon na khaula woh paani hai
Jo desh ke kaam na aaye woh bekaar jawaani hai..."

See, am back to referring film dialogues. Thats the only thing I can do. Throwing out useless trivia.
But one day I will join you Roy. Till then, keep inspiring.

For people who are in mood to read what changed my course of thinking while being in Guajrat. Here's the essay: The Greater Common Good.

The image is courtesy

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta


Janit said...

I have been a Roy fan all my life....she has that conviction in her non fiction that makes me believe her voice above all....but I have seen Gujarat after Narmada and Sardar Sarovar....if u see, meet and know everyone who has benefited - look at how the ground water levels are increasing in north gujarat, look at the Sabarmati riverfront developing at a furious pace....u will not stop loving Roy ... but realize that she isn't as true anymore.

hardik mehta said...

Janit. thanks for the comment. but dont u think that its the narmada water that is being transfered into the sabarmati. which leaves us with the question. to make sabarmati look beautiful, they are doing this - but aint the water meant for far flung villages or saurashtra, kutch etc?
reports say, the canals are still dry till there. and well stop loving Roy and me?. not possible in this janam..!!!

Tunia said...

good one, more than any thing I could see the pull that u are facing between what u do and what u read..

in case u want to read more, may be not roy, but others let me. I will send u copies of books and articles online.

i would suggest if u continue to read, and may be meet more people who work on the issue of Narmada Bachao Andolan and many other social movements. You should write this piece again, years later.

And then see how your perspective and your view point have changed or widened.


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