Sunday, 7 February 2010

Listening to Grasshoppers – field notes on democracy
By Arundhati Roy
Hdbck. £14.99
Pubs Hamish Hamilton

If anyone truly deserves both Nobel Prizes - for Peace and Literature - it is Arundhati Roy. She is one of those very few people who campaign fearlessly and eloquently for human rights and at the same time possess a sharp and insightful understanding of Real-Politik, class forces and economic pressures. She also commands respect and admiration because she does not allow herself to become captive of any single political movement, pressure group or lobby; she is who she is.

Roy won the Booker Prize in 1997 for ‘God of Small Things’, which established her as a writer of consummate skill. In her non-fiction writing too, she manages to forge her language as a campaigning tool while at the same time maintaining its poetic magnitude. Her prose is a sobering antidote to the poisonous Orwellian newspeak that dominates elsewhere.

This collection of essays deals centrally with the catastrophe that is overwhelming India after its departure from the non-aligned movement, throwing itself into the arms of the US and neo-liberal economists. However, Roy shows how India’s problems are also the mirror image of our own decrepit system and how the issues facing the world today are indeed global and only to be solved globally, even if we can only act locally.

She highlights the dark side of Indian ‘democracy’ which the mainstream press ignores, whether the genocidal military campaign in Kashmir, the rabid anti-Islamic policies of the BJP or the persecution of the Maoist Naxalites. She shows how all the mainstream parties demonstrate cowardice when confronted with race, religious or caste discrimination, either by ducking the issues or joining the perpetrators.
While China is vilified as a totalitarian state, responsible for the Tiananmen Square killings, the ‘the world’s largest democracy’ is condoning the torture and murder of thousands each year. She reveals the hollowness of its claims of being a truly democratic state.
My only quibble is that as the essays in this collection have appeared elsewhere, there is a certain amount of repetition which takes the gloss of what are seminal and illuminating analyses.

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