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The Overrated ‘The God of Small Things’

Chanchal Kumar

I was hooked to The God of Small Things from the first sentence. As I continued to read the novel, I was drawn deeper into the lives of the protagonists, with their spatial, ancestral house in Ayemenem, the characters Ammu, Chako, Baby Kochamma, Estha and Rahel. In fact, I didn’t even own the paperback which could be bought at even the flea-book markets around the country. I started reading it on my smartphone. And was drawn deeper into the haunting narrative that Arundhati Roy built in it.

Later, when I shifted to University of Delhi for my graduation in English literature, such was my obsession with the novel and Arundhati Roy that I researched, watched, and read everything I could find on her. From her film “In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones (1989)” to her essay on the Pokhran nuclear tests, titled “The End of Imagination (1998)”, to her support to the agitation against the building of big dams which displaced people from their lands, as well as commentary on world politics, covering more than a dozen non-fiction books. The reader can, in a way, assume that I was one of the biggest fans of Roy.

I would, however, be jolted from my word-drunken slumber when Round Table India first started publishing their discontent about her (and Navayana’s) introduction to Babasaheb’s “Annihilation of Caste”, about which, how, she later tried to explain, she had “took the trouble to read Ambedkar”. Perhaps Navayana and she wanted to cash in on the Dr Ambedkar – M. K. Gandhi debate, perhaps they thought since Roy was already a celebrity author cum activist, having won the Booker Prize for her novel in the year 1997 and the National Award for her feature film, they could do anything that pleased them without a thought to the repercussions their actions would have.

When The Shared Mirror Publishing House (associated with RTI) published Hatred in the Belly in 2016, however, it was clear that Arundhati and S. Anand (the co-founder of Navayana publishing house) were in shallow waters. Maybe they underestimated Ambedkarites, and believed that their caste dominance will sustain unabated in the coming days too.

It’s now in mainstream literary society what made Roy’s introduction to The Annihilation of Caste problematic, with the publication (and the discourse that ensued) of Hatred in the Belly. However, I want to draw the attention of the reader back to the award-winning The God of Small Things. 

The question I want to pose is, behind all the undoubtable literary flourish and romanticisation: Was it really important for Velutha, the only Dalit character (apart from his crudely, insensitively portrayed twin brother Urumban, who is also a caricature of the unfortunate, disabled Dalit person) to be killed so graphically and in disturbing, almost Bollywoodesque way? How long will Dalit lives only be sketched by savarna artists in colours that reek of tragedy? While Estha and Rahel have each other’s (incestuous) bond, who will care for Urumban now that Velutha has suffered a grisly death? The answer perhaps lies in this essay I wrote some time back: that “Hindooism” is a menace to everything under the sun, as well as in other works that are available for reading in the Round Table India website. 

Her tepid second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness which I did not bother to read, assuming it to have another mainstream Bollywood-style savarna gaze, but upon discussion from a close friend, now know to be off-mark where she seems to have lost her earlier world-building gifts. If I may offer an advice to Ms Roy, she should, in her next (non)/fictional work, attempt to pull her head out of the self-obsessed world she has built for herself and think about the lives of those human beings who have as much a right to exist as she. 

She should also find the inspiration to read more of the savarna arch-nemesis Dr Ambedkar, although being a boomer, I don’t know how successful she will be. I leave her with a poem by Eunice De Souza (one of the few savarna poets I go back to) who wrote, I paraphrase, even if a person is neither an artist, writer or poet, they still have to succeed in creating a life for themselves.


Chanchal Kumar is from Jharkhand and currently lives in Delhi, India. His poems have previously appeared and awarded in The Sunflower Collective, Hamilton Stone Review, Welter Journal, Name and None, Young Poets Network, UK including others. Recently, his poems were translated to Bengali by Harakiri Journal. He is pursuing M.Phil at University of Delhi.

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