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Listening to Grasshoppers

by Arundhati Roy

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-60846-024-3
Publisher: Haymarket

Booker winner Roy (The Shape of the Beast: Conversations with Arundhati Roy, 2008, etc.) wields a potent pen in this collection of political essays, written between 2002 and 2008.

The author argues that religious fanaticism and rapacious development now threaten the future of India’s parliamentary democracy. “Fascism’s firm footprint has appeared in India,” she writes, noting that the country’s much-vaunted economic progress has dispossessed and displaced millions of people—through mining, dams and other projects—while a Hindu majority government persecutes and marginalizes Muslims and other minorities. Delving underneath the successes of the Indian economy that nationalist politicians call “India Shining,” Roy raises serious questions about government behaviors in many recent controversies. In several pieces on the 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament building, she calls for a government inquiry into the alleged police torturing of Mohammed Afzal, a Kashmiri who confessed to leading the attack and remains on death row. In “Democracy: Who’s She When She’s at Home?”, Roy accuses the Hindu-nationalist government in Gujarat of complicity in a 2002 massacre of 2,000 Muslims in supposed retaliation for the burning of a railway coach in which 58 Hindu pilgrims were killed. Other pieces protest “world nightmare incarnate” George W. Bush’s 2006 visit to Gandhi’s memorial in Rajghat; the use of antiterrorist laws to harass critics and protesters, most often poor or Muslim people, who are imprisoned without bail to await closed court proceedings; and the propensity of governments, in India and elsewhere, to deny genocides. Throughout, Roy seeks to tear down the upbeat image of emerging India—“The singing-dancing world of Bollywood’s permanent pelvic thrusts, of permanently privileged, permanently happy Indians waving the tricolor flag and Feeling Good”)—and she reveals a nation that treats many of its ordinary citizens with callousness and brutality. The author proves to be an artful and blistering polemicist fervently committed to the Indian masses.

These radical, powerful broadsides, written in the white heat of anger, leave little doubt that this celebrated novelist intends to continue her role as India’s fiercest agitator.