‘We are not going to be on their side’: Arundhati Roy

[Arundhati Roy’s portrait. Courtesy: Pritha Kejriwal, Kindle Magazine.]

Shahabuddin Ahmad
“Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds”, says Arundhati. In her opinion, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. Maybe many of us won’t be here to greet her, but on a quiet day, if I listen very carefully, I can hear her breathing. To call someone like me a writer-activist suggests that it’s not the job of a writer to write about the society in which they live. But it used to be our job. If we were to lose the ability to be emotional, if we were to lose the ability to be angry, to be outraged, we would be robots. Sometimes I think the world is divided into those who have a comfortable relationship with power and those who have a naturally adversarial relationship with power”.
Wednesday 6th March 2019. ‘The Daily Star’ and ‘The Prothom-Alo’ published on that date stories which had a lot of political, social, and judicial import. These were :—

  1. Khaleda Zia would be taken to the BSMMU for her treatment, a matter which has been controverted since she was sent to jail.
  2. Obaidul Kader, Minister for Roads and Highways, who fell sick the night before was being attended by all cardiologists at the BSMMU with utmost attention and care. Even for evacuating him to Singapore, an air ambulance came from Singapore and was kept stand by. Among others the President and the Prime minister, apart from party workers visited him in the hospital.
  3. As part of its ongoing eviction drive against encroachment and illegal establishments along the Buriganga River the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority knocked down 57 illegal structures. They have already demolished about 88 houses and establishments in two days and the drive would continue. These establishments were built there over the years when the matter was not dealt with such priority.
  4. The issue of conviction awarded to Jahalam—who is neither a political entity nor a bank defaulter, but had to serve jail-term for three years due to wrong reporting by the Anti-Corruption Commission—was highlighted. Even when the matter went to the High Court, it observed “what is the use of having a cat which can’t kill mice”.
  5. The Dhaka Universitystudents’ election which was being held after 28 years created dramatic situation regarding the fairness of the future politics.
    In the midst of all these goings-on Arundhati Roy, an international personality, because of her forceful opinion expressed through some of her publications including “The God of Small Things” came to Dhaka at the invitation of Shahidul Alam, a globally acclaimed photo journalist, to speak at the Chhobi Mela which was scheduled to be held at the Krishibid institute for which permission was initially accorded by the police but subsequently cancelled.
    She ‘however’ spoke before a largely attended receptive audience at the MIDAS centre. Roy spoke there for two hours and read from her own publication. The reaction of the Dhaka intelligentsia regarding the cancellation of the previous venue has been highly criticized by the intelligentsia of the capital city and this possibly compelled the DMP to give permission for the MIDAS centre.
    The Editor of The Daily Star, Mahfuz Anam and his team had taken an interview of Arundhati Roy when she said, “Whether we win or lose we are not going to be on their side”. In her latest book “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” she observes,
    “How to tell a shattered story?
    By slowly becoming everybody.
    By slowly becoming everything”
    Arundhati Roy dedicated her book “An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire”
    “To those who believe in resistance, who live
    Between hope and impatience and have learned the perils of being reasonable
    To those who understand enough to be afraid and
    Yet retain their fury”.
    In the same book her observation about modern democracy and what is actually practiced in the name of democracy has been mentioned:
    “But modern democracies have been around for long enough for neoliberal capitalist to learn how to subvert them. They have mastered the technique of infiltrating the instruments of democracy—independent judiciary, free press, parliament—and moulding them to their purpose”. The project of corporate globalization has cracked the code. Free elections, a free press and an independent judiciary mean little when the free market has reduced them to commodities on sale to the highest bidder”.
    Unanticipated episode
    A global literary icon known for her outspoken criticism of US foreign policy, human rights violations and injustice across the world, Arundhati Roy was supposed to be a welcome guest of honour in Dhaka.
    Regrettably unanticipated episodes tainted it.
    The event was reported to be held at the Krishibid Institute in Farmgate. But the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, in a sudden announcement, cancelled the permission due to “unavoidable circumstances” provoking indignation. Unexpectedly, after the change of venue to MIDAS Centre, much was done by the government to stop the discussion, organisers said. In spite of the uncertainty, artists, writers, journalists, students and citizens crowded the centre to hear the author of “The God of Small Things” and “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”. Hundreds of Arundhati fans registered for the Chhobi Mela session titled “Utmost everything, Arundhati Roy in conversation with Shahidul Alam”.
    The conversation between Arundhati and Shahidul, a Booker Prize Award winner and an award-winning photojournalist and social activist respectively, was about democracy, freedom of expression, human rights, nationalism, development, art, regional politics and the essays and books Arundhati has written over the last 20 years.
    Speaking out and doing the right thing
    In an interview entitled ‘The Role of the Writer’ with Louisiana Channel on 7 June 2018, she argued that “being a writer means daring to speak up and describe the world as you see it”.
    “Somehow, artists and writers have been led to believe that their place is in the marketplace, between bestseller lists, literature festivals and film festivals,” Arundhati said, while talking about how it is always important for writers and artists to speak out and do the right thing. She also spoke about the long history of writers, artists and poets facing obstacles from the authorities for speaking out the truth.
    Arundhati Roy’s father is from Barisal. While in Dhaka she expressed her desire to visit Lakutia, a village eight miles away from Barisal city. The global literary icon and celebrity could not make it. Why?
    Nothing has been reported either in the print or in the electronic media in this regard.
    [The writer is Editor of the Travel World.
    He may be reached a t—[email protected]]

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