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In defence of Arundhati Roy

columns Updated: May 21, 2011 19:29 IST
Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh
Hindustan Times
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I do not know Arundhati Roy well as I have met her briefly a couple of times. But I have unbounded admiration for her. She is good-looking, animated, unconventional, a gifted writer, gutsy and a champion of lost causes. I am by no means her only admirer; she has millions of them in India and abroad. I am not wrong in believing that she is the best known Indian woman in western democratic nations and regarded as the leading voice of dissent in democratic India. To penalise her will further enhance her reputation abroad and bring India a bad name.

At the moment there are two issues in which she has taken a stand which our government finds embarrassing. One is compulsory acquisition of land belonging to Tribals for development projects and Kashmir. I am in partial agreement with her on both issues. We have to acquire land for development projects provided the people ousted are given adequate compensation and

priority in getting jobs in the project. This has not been the case in many projects. So Roy has every right to voice her protest. What she says about Kashmir only applies to the Valley of the Jhelum and not to Jammu & Ladakh. Both she and Geelani must realise that it is too small and landlocked to become a sovereign, independent state. Moreover, it is entirely dependent on India for its livelihood. It can have a Governor of its own choice as it has sits own Chief Minister. Geelani, Mirwaiz and Mohammed Mufti speak for a minority of its people; they can, and do, upset the normal tenor of life by calling hartals, pelting stones on the police and creating chaos. The Hindu-Sikh minority does not feel secure with them. Thousands of Pandits have been forced to flee from the Valley. If they come to power in a free and fair election, so will those who are still living there. If Roy re-thinks over the stand she has taken, she will be heard with more respect. But to charge her with sedition is about the silliest thing to do.

The Year's Good Reading

In the past I was able to read between 30-40 books every year. This time I could read only 25. But some of them impressed me deeply. On top of my list is N.S. Madhavan's Litanies of Dutch Battery, translated from Malayalam to English by Rajesh Rajamohan (Penguin). It is an outstanding work of historical fiction which tells the story of the inhabitants of the Malabar coast from ancient times to the present; from the caste-ridden Hindu past dividing Namboodris and Ezhera toddy-tappers to Arab traders who brought Islam with them, built mosques and married local women whose children came to be known as Moplaha. A second influx comprising Portuguese, Dutch and English brought Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans and Syrian Christians. With the increase of means of communication Hindi films and songs of K.L. Sehgal came to Kerala and brought Keralites closer to Northern Indians. After Independence, it became the first State of India to elect a Communist regime, attain 100% literacy. It is a beautiful state, rich in its flora and fauna, inland waterways, which earned it the little of being 'God's own Country'. I only wish its title of the book was more comprehensible than it is.

The second on my list is Fatima Bhutto's Songs of Blood and Sword (Penguin-Viking). It is blood-soaked tale of three Bhuttos: Zulfiqar Ali, who was hanged by Zia-ul Haq, his daughter Benazir, assassinated for reasons unknown by unknown assassins, and the cold-blooded murder of Fatima's father, close to the entrance of his house in Karachi. Not many people will agree with Fatima's assessment of why these were deprived of their lives but all readers will concede that it is beautifully written in lyrical prose.

The third is Granta 112 (Penguin) devoted to present day Pakistani writers and poets, writing in English, edited by John Freeman. It is a collection of short stories, poems and articles. Plus an informative profile of the founding father of Pakistan, M.A. Jinnah. And finally, Budha Deb Bose's It Rained All Night (Penguin). Bose is a born storyteller. His theme in this novel is the pretensions of chastity of the Bengali middle-class Bhadralok and reality. I found it most absorbing.

Overheard

The following dialogue was overheard during a meeting of the Governing Body of Cricket tournaments.

Present Chairman to the ousted Chairman Lalit Modi: "I suggest you call it a day as all the best cricketers are with me."

Lalit Modi: "That may be so, but all the umpires are with me."

(Contributed by BT Modi, Bangalore)