Arundhati Roy was born in 1959 in Shillong, India. She studied architecture in New Delhi and has worked as a film designer and screenplay writer in India. Roy is the author of the novel The God of Small Things, for which she received the 1997 Booker Prize. The novel has been translated into dozens of languages worldwide. She has written several non-fiction books, including The Cost of Living, Power Politics, War Talk, An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, and Public Power in the Age of Empire. Roy was featured in the BBC television documentary “Dam/age,” which is about the struggle against big dams in India. A collection of interviews with Arundhati Roy by David Barsamian was published as The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile.
Her latest book, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers, combines fierce conviction, deft political analysis, and beautiful writing. Examining the dark side of democracy in contemporary India, this series of essays looks closely at how religious bigotry, cultural nationalism, and neo-fascism simmer just under the surface of a country that projects itself as the world’s largest democracy. Roy writes of how Hindu nationalism and India’s neo-liberal economic reforms, which began their journey together in the early 1990s, are now turning India into a police state. Field Notes on Democracy also describes the systematic marginalization of religious and ethnic minorities and the massive scale of displacement and dispossession of the poor by predatory corporations. In addition, Roy offers a brilliant account of the August 2008 uprising of the people of Kashmir against India’s military occupation and an analysis of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Throughout the book, she tracks the fault lines that threaten to destroy India’s precarious democracy and send shockwaves through the region and beyond.
Roy is the recipient of the 2002 Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Prize. She lives in India.
Excerpt from Field Notes on Democracy (2009)From the essay, “Listening to Grasshoppers,” based on a lecture given to commemorate the first anniversary of the assassination of Hrant Dink, editor of the Turkish-Armenian paper Agos:
I wonder what thoughts would have gone through my head as I walked beside his coffin. Maybe I would have heard a reprise of the voice of Araxie Barsamian, mother of my friend David Barsamian, telling the story of what happened to her and her family. She was ten years old in 1915. She remembered the swarms of grasshoppers that arrived in her village, Dubne, which was north of the historic Armenian city of Dikranagert, now Diyarbakir. The village elders were alarmed, she said, because they knew in their bones that the grasshoppers were a bad omen. They were right; the end came in a few months, when the wheat in the fields was ready for harvesting…“When we left, my family was twenty-five in the family,” Araxie Barsamian says… All of them perished except Araxie. She was the lone survivor. This is, of course, a single testimony that comes from a history that is denied by the Turkish government, and many Turks as well…
The idea of extermination is in the air. And people believe that faced with extermination they have the right to fight back. Perhaps they’ve been listening to the grasshoppers.
Selected WorkField Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers (2009)The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile (2004)Public Power in the Age of Empire (2004)Power Politics (2002)The God of Small Things (1997)
LinksSalon interview, by Reena Jana
We. Featuring the words of Arundhati Roy