By Sushil Kutty
Arundhati Roy’s first book God of Small Things won the Man Booker in 1997. Second book Ministry of Utmost Happiness made it to the list but sank in its own sea of utmost unhappiness. Not surprising. For, it is like “beyond the flyover, the city got less sure of itself.”
That’s a quotable quote from The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, in which “weevils learn to stand upright” and “dams light up cities”. Read Arundhati Roy if only for the quotes! But Arundhati falls off the writing block when she says Muslims ghettoized only in the last four years. Roy told that to the BBC when asked: “Has he (Modi) been as bad as you would have feared?”
“Yes,” replied Roy, “because today you’re looking at a situation where the Muslim community has been ghettoized. You’re looking at people being lynched on the streets. You’re looking at them pushed out of economic activity they participated in earlier, you know, meat shops, leather work, handicrafts (sic), all of this is under assault.”
Really? Maybe, Arundhati was speaking in the abstract, that Muslims have been forced to ghettoize in the mind. By the policies of the Modi Government. By the acts and utterances of rabid Hindus. But part of the reason for the ghettoized mind could be that Muslims have opted to live in ghettos from Partition on.
Maybe, from much earlier. From the Mughal and Sultanate days. But the Muslim ghettos of those times were elite-Muslim enclaves. Partition turned everything upside down. Muslims “left behind” got together in ghettos. Fortified in unity and the Muslim Personal Law. Integration into the mainstream was slow, a personal choice of Muslims who landed jobs outside of the ghetto. Ask the average Muslim and he will say Muslim ghettos are places of utmost happiness.
The reality is Muslim-ghettos are not a Modi/BJP-construct. Not even an RSS or Congress one. An exception could be the ghettos of Ahmedabad post-2002 riots. Those are real examples of neglect and fear.
But there are Muslim ghettos world-over – in London. Paris. Belgium. United States. Canada, too.
There are also the Muslim-dominated areas, different from ghettos. Malappuram and large tracts of Kozhikode and Kannur in Kerala. Jammu & Kashmir is Muslim-majority. In fact, that is Roy’s raison d’tere for J&K not being integral to India.
Kashmiri Pandits (KP) were driven out of the Valley where a wave of Wahabism and a virulent form of Islamism now threatens with guns and grenades. Arundhati Roy doesn’t mind that. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness has no files on the KP. Maybe, because the KP outdate the KM (Kashmiri Muslim) by centuries. Forgotten.
As for economic activity like “meat shops, leatherwork and handicraft under assault”, maybe, there is a difference of opinion on how to run them, not on who to run them. Some regulations governing these economic activities have been dropped. Illegal slaughterhouses in UP have been banned. Some trading practices regarding cattle have been tweaked. But the changes affect the Hindu cattle trader as well.
Arundhati Roy told the BBC that the India of today is a “terrifying place”. Yes, true to an extent. The run of cow vigilantism was “terrifying”. And “the rape of the little girl in Kashmir (Kathua is in Jammu)” with Hindus “marching in support of the rapists” is preposterous. But to say that “in India we are looking at the violence of a community trying to form itself into a nation, a Hindu nation, and somehow everyone else a second-class citizen” is too much to digest.
Violence of a community? That is so wrong. Millions upon millions of Hindus are going about trying to live their ornery lives. Lost in their smartphones. Pissed off by “call-drops”. Examination paper leaks. Cash shortages in the ATM. Some of them even pervert, raping minors and abetting suicide. But to say that the entire lot is out on the streets to cull up a nation – “a Hindu nation” – is right out of the book of the ministry of nonsense.
The “polarization” that supposedly pervades India is stark only in Arundhati’s head, where the “traffic of words seemed to have stopped believing in traffic lights” and the “result was incessant noise, a few bad crashes and eventually gridlock.” More prose from The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
Arundhati Roy like Priya Warrier winked. But Roy’s wink has left her blind-sided. She always sees only half the picture. She told the BBC, “One of the great irony (sic) is that people like myself are constantly accused of being anti-India or anti-national.” She said she loved the “place (India)” and was forced to fight for the “things that make the place beautiful… things that you love – the music, poetry, rivers and valleys, diversity, the people… ”
Roy once rode pillion to a 14-year-old Maoist to his jungle hideout in central India. She has been to Pakistan several times. She has never said “Kashmir is not an integral part of Pakistan.” So, you wonder for whom is Arundhati fighting for? To her accusation that the majority Indians are communal weevils who are learning to stand upright to carve up a Hindu nation, the answer, in her own prose is: “We have our troubles, our terrible moments, yes, but these are only aberration.”
Arundhati Roy should take time off and go watch Rajinikanth’s Kaala. It is about Dharawi, the largest human slum of Asia, a ghetto! But a ghetto of a different sprawl, intent, mix, happiness, unhappiness. (IPA Service)