Arundhati Roy says her new book comes from companionship

Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy

New Delhi: Author Arundhati Roy says although writers usually walk alone, most of the essays she has written rose from the heart of a crowd.

Each of the essays she has written, Roy says, took her on journeys deeper and deeper into worlds that enriched her understanding and complicated her view, of the times we live in.

The God of Small Things writer has now come out with My Seditious Heart, a collection of her non-fiction of a two-decade period when she devoted herself to the political essay as a way of opening up space for justice, rights and freedoms in an increasingly hostile environment.

She says as much as the fiction she writes comes from solitude, this book comes from companionship.

Soon after her first novel The God of Small Things won the 1997 Booker Prize, Roy was a frontrunner in the line-up of people who were chosen to personify the confident, new, market-friendly India that was finally taking its place at the high table.

It was flattering in a way, but deeply disturbing, too. As I watched people being pushed into penury, my book was selling millions of copies. My bank account was burgeoning. Money on that scale confused me. What did it really mean to be a writer in times such as these? she says.

As she thought about this, almost without meaning to, she began to write a long, bewildering, episodic, astonishingly violent story about the complicated waltz between corporate globalisation and medieval religious fundamentalism and the trail of destruction they were leaving in their wake. And of the remarkable people who had risen to resist them.

The backlash to almost every one of these essays when she first published them - in the form of police cases, legal notices, court appearances, and even a short jail sentence - was often so wearying that she would resolve never to write another.

But equally, almost every one of them - each a broken promise to myself - took me on journeys deeper and deeper into worlds that enriched my understanding, and complicated my view, of the times we live in. They opened doors for me to secret places where few are trusted, led me into the very heart of insurrections, into places of pain, rage and ferocious irreverence, she says.

Although writers usually walk alone, most of what I wrote rose from the heart of a crowd. It was never meant as neutral commentary, pretending to be observations of a bystander. It was just another stream that flowed into the quick, immense, rushing currents that I was writing about. My contribution to our collective refusal to obediently fade away, she adds.

The essays in this collection, published by Penguin Books imprint Hamish Hamilton, were written when a certain political space closed down, when a false consensus was being broadcast, when I could no longer endure the relentless propaganda and the sheer vicious bullying of vulnerable people by an increasingly corporatised media and its increasingly privatised commentators.

She says she wrote because she saw that what she needed to do would challenge her abilities as a writer.