WE – A film featuring the words of Arundhati Roy

We is a fast-paced 64 minute documentary that covers the world politics of power, war, corporations, deception and exploitation. It visualizes the words of Arundhati Roy, specifically her famous Come September speech, where she spoke on such things as the war on terror, corporate globalization, justice and the growing civil unrest. It’s witty, moving, alarming and quite a lesson in modern history. We is almost in the style of a continuous music video. The music used sets the pace and serves as wonderful background for the words of Ms. Roy and images of humanity in the world we live all in today. We is a completely free documentary, created and released anonymously on the internet. Download at weroy.org/index.shtml.

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roy flagd

Arundathi Roy’s Come September speech.

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“Beyond Burkas and Botox: The Struggles of Feminism Nowadays” by Arundhati Roy in “Capitalism: A Ghost Story” (2014, Haymarket Books, Chicago)

turca-na-burca

Why do most “official” feminists and women’s organizations in India keep a safe distance between themselves and organizations like the 90.000-member Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sanghatan (Revolutionary Adivasi Women’s Association) that is fighting patriarchy in its own communities and displacement by mining corporations in the Dandakaranya forest? Why is it that the dispossession and eviction of millions of women from land that they owned and worked is not seen as a feminist problem?

In a country like India, a rapid radicalization of women took place in the 1960s and ’70s. Most radical, anticapitalist movements were located in the countryside, where patriarchy continued to rule the lives of women. Urban women activists who joined these movements (like the Naxalite movement) had been influenced and inspired by the Western feminist movement.

Many women activists were not willing to wait any longer for the “revolution” in order to end the daily oppression and discrimination in their lives, including from their own comrades. They wanted gender equality to be an absolute, urgent, and nonnegotiable part of the revolutionary process and not just a postrevolution promise.

Intelligent, angry, and disillusioned women began to move away and look for other means of support and sustenance. As a result, by the late 1980s, around the time when the Indian markets were opened up, the liberal feminist movement in India had become inordinately NGO-ized. Many of these NGOs have done seminal work on queer rights, domestic violence, AIDS, and the rights of sex workers.

But significantly, the liberal feminist movement  has not been at the forefront of challenging the New Economic Policies, even though women have been the greatest sufferers.

The NGO-ization of the women’s movement has also made Western liberal feminism (by virtue of its being the most funded brand) the standard-bearer of what constitutes feminism. The battles, as usual, have been played out on women’s bodies, extruding Botox at one end and burkas at the other.

When, as happened recently in France, an attempt is made to coerce women out of the burka rather than creating a situation in which a woman can choose what she wishes to do, it’s not about liberating her but about unclothing her. It becomes an act of humiliation and cultural imperialism. Coercing a woman out of her burka is as bad as coercing her into one. It’s not about the burka. It’s about the coercion.

Viewing gender in this way, shorn of social, political, and economic context, makes it an issue of identity, a battle of props and costumes. It’s what allowed the US government to use Western feminist liberal groups as moral cover when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Afghan women were (and are) in terrible trouble under the Taliban. But dropping daisy cutters on them was not going to solve the problem.

ARUNDHATI ROY.
Capitalism: A Ghost Story. Pg. 35-37.
Chicago: Haymarket Books. 2014.
Buy this book for U$15.

capitalism a ghost story

“From the poisoned rivers, barren wells, and clear-cut forests, to the hundreds of thousands of farmers who have committed suicide to escape punishing debt, to the hundreds of millions of people who live on less than two dollars a day, there are ghosts nearly everywhere you look in India. India is a nation of 1.2 billion, but the country’s 100 richest people own assets equivalent to one-fourth of India’s gross domestic product. Capitalism: A Ghost Story examines the dark side of democracy in contemporary India, and shows how the demands of globalized capitalism have subjugated billions of people to the highest and most intense forms of racism and exploitation.” – Haymarket

IMPERIAL DEMOCRACY: BUY ONE, GET ONE FREE (BY ARUNDHATI ROY, NEW YORK CITY, 2003)

Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy
(Buy One, Get One Free)
by Arundhati Roy
https://vimeo.com/97881169

Presented in New York City at The Riverside Church
May 13, 2003
Sponsored by the Center for Economic and Social Rights
Also published by Outlook India

Photograph Tom Pietrasik for the Guardian
In these times, when we have to race to keep abreast of the speed at which our freedoms are being snatched from us, and when few can afford the luxury of retreating from the streets for a while in order to return with an exquisite, fully formed political thesis replete with footnotes and references, what profound gift can I offer you tonight?

As we lurch from crisis to crisis, beamed directly into our brains by satellite TV, we have to think on our feet. On the move. We enter histories through the rubble of war. Ruined cities, parched fields, shrinking forests, and dying rivers are our archives. Craters left by daisy cutters, our libraries.

So what can I offer you tonight? Some uncomfortable thoughts about money, war, empire, racism, and democracy. Some worries that flit around my brain like a family of persistent moths that keep me awake at night.

Some of you will think it bad manners for a person like me, officially entered in the Big Book of Modern Nations as an “Indian citizen,” to come here and criticize the U.S. government. Speaking for myself, I’m no flag-waver, no patriot, and am fully aware that venality, brutality, and hypocrisy are imprinted on the leaden soul of every state. But when a country ceases to be merely a country and becomes an empire, then the scale of operations changes dramatically. So may I clarify that tonight I speak as a subject of the American Empire? I speak as a slave who presumes to criticize her king.

Since lectures must be called something, mine tonight is called: Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy (Buy One, Get One Free).

SS Vincennes (CG-49) is a U.S. Navy Ticonderoga class AEGIS guided missile cruiser well known for shooting down Iran Air Flight 655 in July 3, 1988 killing 290 innocent civilian from six nations including 66 children.

SS Vincennes (CG-49) is a U.S. Navy Ticonderoga class AEGIS guided missile cruiser well known for shooting down Iran Air Flight 655 in July 3, 1988 killing 290 innocent civilian from six nations including 66 children.

Way back in 1988, on the 3rd of July, the U.S.S. Vincennes, a missile cruiser stationed in the Persian Gulf, accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner and killed 290 civilian passengers. George Bush the First, who was at the time on his presidential campaign, was asked to comment on the incident. He said quite subtly, “I will never apologize for the United States. I don’t care what the facts are.”

I don’t care what the facts are. What a perfect maxim for the New American Empire. Perhaps a slight variation on the theme would be more apposite: The facts can be whatever we want them to be.

When the United States invaded Iraq, a New York Times/CBS News survey estimated that 42 percent of the American public believed that Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And an ABC News poll said that 55 percent of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein directly supported Al Qaida. None of this opinion is based on evidence (because there isn’t any). All of it is based on insinuation, auto-suggestion, and outright lies circulated by the U.S. corporate media, otherwise known as the “Free Press,” that hollow pillar on which contemporary American democracy rests.

Public support in the U.S. for the war against Iraq was founded on a multi-tiered edifice of falsehood and deceit, coordinated by the U.S. government and faithfully amplified by the corporate media.

mass deceptionApart from the invented links between Iraq and Al Qaida, we had the manufactured frenzy about Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. George Bush the Lesser went to the extent of saying it would be “suicidal” for the U.S. not to attack Iraq. We once again witnessed the paranoia that a starved, bombed, besieged country was about to annihilate almighty America. (Iraq was only the latest in a succession of countries – earlier there was Cuba, Nicaragua, Libya, Grenada, and Panama.) But this time it wasn’t just your ordinary brand of friendly neighborhood frenzy. It was Frenzy with a Purpose. It ushered in an old doctrine in a new bottle: the Doctrine of Pre-emptive Strike, a.k.a. The United States Can Do Whatever The Hell It Wants, And That’s Official.

The war against Iraq has been fought and won and no Weapons of Mass Destruction have been found. Not even a little one. Perhaps they’ll have to be planted before they’re discovered. And then, the more troublesome amongst us will need an explanation for why Saddam Hussein didn’t use them when his country was being invaded.

Of course, there’ll be no answers. True Believers will make do with those fuzzy TV reports about the discovery of a few barrels of banned chemicals in an old shed. There seems to be no consensus yet about whether they’re really chemicals, whether they’re actually banned and whether the vessels they’re contained in can technically be called barrels. (There were unconfirmed rumours that a teaspoonful of potassium permanganate and an old harmonica were found there too.)

Meanwhile, in passing, an ancient civilization has been casually decimated by a very recent, casually brutal nation.

Then there are those who say, so what if Iraq had no chemical and nuclear weapons? So what if there is no Al Qaida connection? So what if Osama bin Laden hates Saddam Hussein as much as he hates the United States? Bush the Lesser has said Saddam Hussein was a “Homicidal Dictator.” And so, the reasoning goes, Iraq needed a “regime change.”

Never mind that forty years ago, the CIA, under President John F. Kennedy, orchestrated a regime change in Baghdad. In 1963, after a successful coup, the Ba’ath party came to power in Iraq. Using lists provided by the CIA, the new Ba’ath regime systematically eliminated hundreds of doctors, teachers, lawyers, and political figures known to be leftists. An entire intellectual community was slaughtered. (The same technique was used to massacre hundreds of thousands of people in Indonesia and East Timor.) The young Saddam Hussein was said to have had a hand in supervising the bloodbath. In 1979, after factional infighting within the Ba’ath Party, Saddam Hussein became the President of Iraq. In April 1980, while he was massacring Shias, the U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinksi declared, “We see no fundamental incompatibility of interests between the United States and Iraq.” Washington and London overtly and covertly supported Saddam Hussein. They financed him, equipped him, armed him, and provided him with dual-use materials to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. They supported his worst excesses financially, materially, and morally. They supported the eight-year war against Iran and the 1988 gassing of Kurdish people in Halabja, crimes which 14 years later were re-heated and served up as reasons to justify invading Iraq. After the first Gulf War, the “Allies” fomented an uprising of Shias in Basra and then looked away while Saddam Hussein crushed the revolt and slaughtered thousands in an act of vengeful reprisal.

The point is, if Saddam Hussein was evil enough to merit the most elaborate, openly declared assassination attempt in history (the opening move of Operation Shock and Awe), then surely those who supported him ought at least to be tried for war crimes? Why aren’t the faces of U.S. and U.K. government officials on the infamous pack of cards of wanted men and women?

Because when it comes to Empire, facts don’t matter.

Yes, but all that’s in the past we’re told. Saddam Hussein is a monster who must be stopped now. And only the U.S. can stop him. It’s an effective technique, this use of the urgent morality of the present to obscure the diabolical sins of the past and the malevolent plans for the future. Indonesia, Panama, Nicaragua, Iraq, Afghanistan – the list goes on and on. Right now there are brutal regimes being groomed for the future – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, the Central Asian Republics.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft recently declared that U.S. freedoms are “not the grant of any government or document, but….our endowment from God.” (Why bother with the United Nations when God himself is on hand?)

So here we are, the people of the world, confronted with an Empire armed with a mandate from heaven (and, as added insurance, the most formidable arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in history). Here we are, confronted with an Empire that has conferred upon itself the right to go to war at will, and the right to deliver people from corrupting ideologies, from religious fundamentalists, dictators, sexism, and poverty by the age-old, tried-and-tested practice of extermination. Empire is on the move, and Democracy is its sly new war cry. Democracy, home-delivered to your doorstep by daisy cutters. Death is a small price for people to pay for the privilege of sampling this new product: Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy (bring to a boil, add oil, then bomb).

But then perhaps chinks, negroes, dinks, gooks, and wogs don’t really qualify as real people. Perhaps our deaths don’t qualify as real deaths. Our histories don’t qualify as history. They never have.

Life After SadamSpeaking of history, in these past months, while the world watched, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was broadcast on live TV. Like Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the regime of Saddam Hussein simply disappeared. This was followed by what analysts called a “power vacuum.” Cities that had been under siege, without food, water, and electricity for days, cities that had been bombed relentlessly, people who had been starved and systematically impoverished by the UN sanctions regime for more than a decade, were suddenly left with no semblance of urban administration. A seven-thousand-year-old civilization slid into anarchy. On live TV.

Vandals plundered shops, offices, hotels, and hospitals. American and British soldiers stood by and watched. They said they had no orders to act. In effect, they had orders to kill people, but not to protect them. Their priorities were clear. The safety and security of Iraqi people was not their business. The security of whatever little remained of Iraq’s infrastructure was not their business. But the security and safety of Iraq’s oil fields were. Of course they were. The oil fields were “secured” almost before the invasion began.

On CNN and BBC the scenes of the rampage were played and replayed. TV commentators, army and government spokespersons portrayed it as a “liberated people” venting their rage at a despotic regime. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: “It’s untidy. Freedom’s untidy and free people are free to commit crimes and make mistakes and do bad things.” Did anybody know that Donald Rumsfeld was an anarchist? I wonder – did he hold the same view during the riots in Los Angeles following the beating of Rodney King? Would he care to share his thesis about the Untidiness of Freedom with the two million people being held in U.S. prisons right now? (The world’s “freest” country has the highest number of prisoners in the world.) Would he discuss its merits with young African American men, 28 percent of whom will spend some part of their adult lives in jail? Could he explain why he serves under a president who oversaw 152 executions when he was governor of Texas?

Before the war on Iraq began, the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) sent the Pentagon a list of 16 crucial sites to protect. The National Museum was second on that list. Yet the Museum was not just looted, it was desecrated. It was a repository of an ancient cultural heritage. Iraq as we know it today was part of the river valley of Mesopotamia. The civilization that grew along the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates produced the world’s first writing, first calendar, first library, first city, and, yes, the world’s first democracy. King Hammurabi of Babylon was the first to codify laws governing the social life of citizens. It was a code in which abandoned women, prostitutes, slaves, and even animals had rights. The Hammurabi code is acknowledged not just as the birth of legality, but the beginning of an understanding of the concept of social justice. The U.S. government could not have chosen a more inappropriate land in which to stage its illegal war and display its grotesque disregard for justice.

At a Pentagon briefing during the days of looting, Secretary Rumsfeld, Prince of Darkness, turned on his media cohorts who had served him so loyally through the war. “The images you are seeing on television, you are seeing over and over and over, and it’s the same picture, of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it twenty times and you say, ‘My god, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?'”

Laughter rippled through the press room. Would it be alright for the poor of Harlem to loot the Metropolitan Museum? Would it be greeted with similar mirth?

The last building on the ORHA list of 16 sites to be protected was the Ministry of Oil. It was the only one that was given protection. Perhaps the occupying army thought that in Muslim countries lists are read upside down?

Television tells us that Iraq has been “liberated” and that Afghanistan is well on its way to becoming a paradise for women-thanks to Bush and Blair, the 21st century’s leading feminists. In reality, Iraq’s infrastructure has been destroyed. Its people brought to the brink of starvation. Its food stocks depleted. And its cities devastated by a complete administrative breakdown. Iraq is being ushered in the direction of a civil war between Shias and Sunnis. Meanwhile, Afghanistan has lapsed back into the pre-Taliban era of anarchy, and its territory has been carved up into fiefdoms by hostile warlords.

Undaunted by all this, on the 2nd of May Bush the Lesser launched his 2004 campaign hoping to be finally elected U.S. President. In what probably constitutes the shortest flight in history, a military jet landed on an aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, which was so close to shore that, according to the Associated Press, administration officials acknowledged “positioning the massive ship to provide the best TV angle for Bush’s speech, with the sea as his background instead of the San Diego coastline.” President Bush, who never served his term in the military, emerged from the cockpit in fancy dress – a U.S. military bomber jacket, combat boots, flying goggles, helmet. Waving to his cheering troops, he officially proclaimed victory over Iraq. He was careful to say that it was “just one victory in a war on terror … [which] still goes on.”

It was important to avoid making a straightforward victory announcement, because under the Geneva Convention a victorious army is bound by the legal obligations of an occupying force, a responsibility that the Bush administration does not want to burden itself with. Also, closer to the 2004 elections, in order to woo wavering voters, another victory in the “War on Terror” might become necessary. Syria is being fattened for the kill.

It was Herman Goering, that old Nazi, who said, “People can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.… All you have to do is tell them they’re being attacked and denounce the pacifists for a lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

He’s right. It’s dead easy. That’s what the Bush regime banks on. The distinction between election campaigns and war, between democracy and oligarchy, seems to be closing fast.

The only caveat in these campaign wars is that U.S. lives must not be lost. It shakes voter confidence. But the problem of U.S. soldiers being killed in combat has been licked. More or less.

At a media briefing before Operation Shock and Awe was unleashed, General Tommy Franks announced, “This campaign will be like no other in history.” Maybe he’s right.

I’m no military historian, but when was the last time a war was fought like this?

After using the “good offices” of UN diplomacy (economic sanctions and weapons inspections) to ensure that Iraq was brought to its knees, its people starved, half a million children dead, its infrastructure severely damaged, after making sure that most of its weapons had been destroyed, in an act of cowardice that must surely be unrivalled in history, the “Coalition of the Willing” (better known as the Coalition of the Bullied and Bought) – sent in an invading army!

Operation Iraqi Freedom? I don’t think so. It was more like Operation Let’s Run a Race, but First Let Me Break Your Knees.

As soon as the war began, the governments of France, Germany, and Russia, which refused to allow a final resolution legitimizing the war to be passed in the UN Security Council, fell over each other to say how much they wanted the United States to win. President Jacques Chirac offered French airspace to the Anglo-American air force. U.S. military bases in Germany were open for business. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer publicly hoped for the “rapid collapse” of the Saddam Hussein regime. Vladimir Putin publicly hoped for the same. These are governments that colluded in the enforced disarming of Iraq before their dastardly rush to take the side of those who attacked it. Apart from hoping to share the spoils, they hoped Empire would honor their pre-war oil contracts with Iraq. Only the very naïve could expect old Imperialists to behave otherwise.

Leaving aside the cheap thrills and the lofty moral speeches made in the UN during the run up to the war, eventually, at the moment of crisis, the unity of Western governments – despite the opposition from the majority of their people – was overwhelming.

When the Turkish government temporarily bowed to the views of 90 percent of its population, and turned down the U.S. government’s offer of billions of dollars of blood money for the use of Turkish soil, it was accused of lacking “democratic principles.” According to a Gallup International poll, in no European country was support for a war carried out “unilaterally by America and its allies” higher than 11 percent. But the governments of England, Italy, Spain, Hungary, and other countries of Eastern Europe were praised for disregarding the views of the majority of their people and supporting the illegal invasion. That, presumably, was fully in keeping with democratic principles. What’s it called? New Democracy? (Like Britain’s New Labour?)

6

Protests against war in Iraq erupted around the world in March of 2003.

In stark contrast to the venality displayed by their governments, on the 15th of February, weeks before the invasion, in the most spectacular display of public morality the world has ever seen, more than 10 million people marched against the war on 5 continents. Many of you, I’m sure, were among them. They – we – were disregarded with utter disdain. When asked to react to the anti-war demonstrations, President Bush said, “It’s like deciding, well, I’m going to decide policy based upon a focus group. The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security, in this case the security of the people.”Democracy, the modern world’s holy cow, is in crisis. And the crisis is a profound one. Every kind of outrage is being committed in the name of democracy. It has become little more than a hollow word, a pretty shell, emptied of all content or meaning. It can be whatever you want it to be. Democracy is the Free World’s whore, willing to dress up, dress down, willing to satisfy a whole range of taste, available to be used and abused at will.

Until quite recently, right up to the 1980’s, democracy did seem as though it might actually succeed in delivering a degree of real social justice.

But modern democracies have been around for long enough for neo-liberal capitalists to learn how to subvert them. They have mastered the technique of infiltrating the instruments of democracy – the “independent” judiciary, the “free” press, the parliament – and molding 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.

To fully comprehend the extent to which Democracy is under siege, it might be an idea to look at what goes on in some of our contemporary democracies. The World’s Largest: India, (which I have written about at some length and therefore will not speak about tonight). The World’s Most Interesting: South Africa. The world’s most powerful: the U.S.A. And, most instructive of all, the plans that are being made to usher in the world’s newest: Iraq.

In South Africa, after 300 years of brutal domination of the black majority by a white minority through colonialism and apartheid, a non-racial, multi-party democracy came to power in 1994. It was a phenomenal achievement. Within two years of coming to power, the African National Congress had genuflected with no caveats to the Market God. Its massive program of structural adjustment, privatization, and liberalization has only increased the hideous disparities between the rich and the poor. More than a million people have lost their jobs. The corporatization of basic services – electricity, water, and housing-has meant that 10 million South Africans, almost a quarter of the population, have been disconnected from water and electricity. 2 million have been evicted from their homes.

Meanwhile, a small white minority that has been historically privileged by centuries of brutal exploitation is more secure than ever before. They continue to control the land, the farms, the factories, and the abundant natural resources of that country. For them the transition from apartheid to neo-liberalism barely disturbed the grass. It’s apartheid with a clean conscience. And it goes by the name of Democracy.

Democracy has become Empire’s euphemism for neo-liberal capitalism.

In countries of the first world, too, the machinery of democracy has been effectively subverted. Politicians, media barons, judges, powerful corporate lobbies, and government officials are imbricated in an elaborate underhand configuration that completely undermines the lateral arrangement of checks and balances between the constitution, courts of law, parliament, the administration and, perhaps most important of all, the independent media that form the structural basis of a parliamentary democracy. Increasingly, the imbrication is neither subtle nor elaborate.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, for instance, has a controlling interest in major Italian newspapers, magazines, television channels, and publishing houses. The Financial Times reported that he controls about 90 percent of Italy’s TV viewership. Recently, during a trial on bribery charges, while insisting he was the only person who could save Italy from the left, he said, “How much longer do I have to keep living this life of sacrifices?” That bodes ill for the remaining 10 percent of Italy’s TV viewership. What price Free Speech? Free Speech for whom?

In the United States, the arrangement is more complex. Clear Channel Worldwide Incorporated is the largest radio station owner in the country. It runs more than 1,200 channels, which together account for 9 percent of the market. Its CEO contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Bush’s election campaign. When hundreds of thousands of American citizens took to the streets to protest against the war on Iraq, Clear Channel organized pro-war patriotic “Rallies for America” across the country. It used its radio stations to advertise the events and then sent correspondents to cover them as though they were breaking news. The era of manufacturing consent has given way to the era of manufacturing news. Soon media newsrooms will drop the pretense, and start hiring theatre directors instead of journalists.

As America’s show business gets more and more violent and war-like, and America’s wars get more and more like show business, some interesting cross-overs are taking place. The designer who built the 250,000 dollar set in Qatar from which General Tommy Franks stage-managed news coverage of Operation Shock and Awe also built sets for Disney, MGM, and “Good Morning America.”

It is a cruel irony that the U.S., which has the most ardent, vociferous defenders of the idea of Free Speech, and (until recently) the most elaborate legislation to protect it, has so circumscribed the space in which that freedom can be expressed. In a strange, convoluted way, the sound and fury that accompanies the legal and conceptual defense of Free Speech in America serves to mask the process of the rapid erosion of the possibilities of actually exercising that freedom.

The news and entertainment industry in the U.S. is for the most part controlled by a few major corporations – AOL-Time Warner, Disney, Viacom, News Corporation. Each of these corporations owns and controls TV stations, film studios, record companies, and publishing ventures. Effectively, the exits are sealed.

America’s media empire is controlled by a tiny coterie of people. Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Michael Powell, the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, has proposed even further deregulation of the communication industry, which will lead to even greater consolidation.

So here it is – the World’s Greatest Democracy, led by a man who was not legally elected. America’s Supreme Court gifted him his job. What price have American people paid for this spurious presidency?

Art by Shepard Fairey

Art by Shepard Fairey

In the three years of George Bush the Lesser’s term, the American economy has lost more than two million jobs. Outlandish military expenses, corporate welfare, and tax giveaways to the rich have created a financial crisis for the U.S. educational system. According to a survey by the National Council of State Legislatures, U.S. states cut 49 billion dollars in public services, health, welfare benefits, and education in 2002. They plan to cut another 25.7 billion dollars this year. That makes a total of 75 billion dollars. Bush’s initial budget request to Congress to finance the war in Iraq was 80 billion dollars.

So who’s paying for the war? America’s poor. Its students, its unemployed, its single mothers, its hospital and home-care patients, its teachers, and health workers.

And who’s actually fighting the war?

Once again, America’s poor. The soldiers who are baking in Iraq’s desert sun are not the children of the rich. Only one of all the representatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate has a child fighting in Iraq. America’s “volunteer” army in fact depends on a poverty draft of poor whites, Blacks, Latinos, and Asians looking for a way to earn a living and get an education. Federal statistics show that African Americans make up 21 percent of the total armed forces and 29 percent of the U.S. army. They count for only 12 percent of the general population. It’s ironic, isn’t it – the disproportionately high representation of African Americans in the army and prison? Perhaps we should take a positive view, and look at this as affirmative action at its most effective. Nearly 4 million Americans (2 percent of the population) have lost the right to vote because of felony convictions. Of that number, 1.4 million are African Americans, which means that 13 percent of all voting-age Black people have been disenfranchised.

For African Americans there’s also affirmative action in death. A study by the economist Amartya Sen shows that African Americans as a group have a lower life expectancy than people born in China, in the Indian State of Kerala (where I come from), Sri Lanka, or Costa Rica. Bangladeshi men have a better chance of making it to the age of forty than African American men from here in Harlem.

This year, on what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 74th birthday, President Bush denounced the University of Michigan’s affirmative action program favouring Blacks and Latinos. He called it “divisive,” “unfair,” and “unconstitutional.” The successful effort to keep Blacks off the voting rolls in the State of Florida in order that George Bush be elected was of course neither unfair nor unconstitutional. I don’t suppose affirmative action for White Boys From Yale ever is.

So we know who’s paying for the war. We know who’s fighting it. But who will benefit from it? Who is homing in on the reconstruction contracts estimated to be worth up to one hundred billon dollars? Could it be America’s poor and unemployed and sick? Could it be America’s single mothers? Or America’s Black and Latino minorities?

Operation Iraqi Freedom, George Bush assures us, is about returning Iraqi oil to the Iraqi people. That is, returning Iraqi oil to the Iraqi people via Corporate Multinationals. Like Bechtel, like Chevron, like Halliburton.

Once again, it is a small, tight circle that connects corporate, military, and government leadership to one another. The promiscuousness, the cross-pollination is outrageous.

Consider this: the Defense Policy Board is a government-appointed group that advises the Pentagon. Its members are appointed by the under secretary of defense and approved by Donald Rumsfeld. Its meetings are classified. No information is available for public scrutiny.

The Washington-based Center for Public Integrity found that 9 out of the 30 members of the Defense Policy Board are connected to companies that were awarded defense contracts worth 76 billion dollars between the years 2001 and 2002. One of them, Jack Sheehan, a retired Marine Corps general, is a senior vice president at Bechtel, the giant international engineering outfit. Riley Bechtel, the company chairman, is on the President’s Export Council. Former Secretary of State George Shultz, who is also on the Board of Directors of the Bechtel Group, is the chairman of the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. When asked by the New York Times whether he was concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest, he said, “I don’t know that Bechtel would particularly benefit from it. But if there’s work to be done, Bechtel is the type of company that could do it.”

Bechtel has been awarded a 680 million dollar reconstruction contract in Iraq. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Bechtel contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican campaign efforts.

Arcing across this subterfuge, dwarfing it by the sheer magnitude of its malevolence, is America’s anti-terrorism legislation. The U.S.A. Patriot Act, passed in October 2001, has become the blueprint for similar anti-terrorism bills in countries across the world. It was passed in the House of Representatives by a majority vote of 337 to 79. According to the New York Times, “Many lawmakers said it had been impossible to truly debate or even read the legislation.”

The Patriot Act ushers in an era of systemic automated surveillance. It gives the government the authority to monitor phones and computers and spy on people in ways that would have seemed completely unacceptable a few years ago. It gives the FBI the power to seize all of the circulation, purchasing, and other records of library users and bookstore customers on the suspicion that they are part of a terrorist network. It blurs the boundaries between speech and criminal activity creating the space to construe acts of civil disobedience as violating the law.

Already hundreds of people are being held indefinitely as “unlawful combatants.” (In India, the number is in the thousands. In Israel, 5,000 Palestinians are now being detained.) Non-citizens, of course, have no rights at all. They can simply be “disappeared” like the people of Chile under Washington’s old ally, General Pinochet. More than 1,000 people, many of them Muslim or of Middle Eastern origin, have been detained, some without access to legal representatives.

Apart from paying the actual economic costs of war, American people are paying for these wars of “liberation” with their own freedoms. For the ordinary American, the price of “New Democracy” in other countries is the death of real democracy at home.

Meanwhile, Iraq is being groomed for “liberation.” (Or did they mean “liberalization” all along?) The Wall Street Journal reports that “the Bush administration has drafted sweeping plans to remake Iraq’s economy in the U.S. image.”

Iraq’s constitution is being redrafted. Its trade laws, tax laws, and intellectual property laws rewritten in order to turn it into an American-style capitalist economy.

The United States Agency for International Development has invited U.S. companies to bid for contracts that range between road building, water systems, text book distribution, and cell phone networks.

Soon after Bush the Second announced that he wanted American farmers to feed the world, Dan Amstutz, a former senior executive of Cargill, the biggest grain exporter in the world, was put in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq. Kevin Watkins, Oxfam’s policy director, said, “Putting Dan Amstutz in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq is like putting Saddam Hussein in the chair of a human rights commission.”

The two men who have been short-listed to run operations for managing Iraqi oil have worked with Shell, BP, and Fluor. Fluor is embroiled in a lawsuit by black South African workers who have accused the company of exploiting and brutalizing them during the apartheid era. Shell, of course, is well known for its devastation of the Ogoni tribal lands in Nigeria.

Tom Brokaw (one of America’s best-known TV anchors) was inadvertently succinct about the process. “One of the things we don’t want to do,” he said, “is to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq because in a few days we’re going to own that country.”

Now that the ownership deeds are being settled, Iraq is ready for New Democracy.

So, as Lenin used to ask: What Is To Be Done?

Well…

We might as well accept the fact that there is no conventional military force that can successfully challenge the American war machine. Terrorist strikes only give the U.S. Government an opportunity that it is eagerly awaiting to further tighten its stranglehold. Within days of an attack you can bet that Patriot II would be passed. To argue against U.S. military aggression by saying that it will increase the possibilities of terrorist strikes is futile. It’s like threatening Brer Rabbit that you’ll throw him into the bramble bush. Any one who has read the documents written by The Project for the New American Century can attest to that. The government’s suppression of the Congressional committee report on September 11th, which found that there was intelligence warning of the strikes that was ignored, also attests to the fact that, for all their posturing, the terrorists and the Bush regime might as well be working as a team. They both hold people responsible for the actions of their governments. They both believe in the doctrine of collective guilt and collective punishment. Their actions benefit each other greatly.

The U.S. government has already displayed in no uncertain terms the range and extent of its capability for paranoid aggression. In human psychology, paranoid aggression is usually an indicator of nervous insecurity. It could be argued that it’s no different in the case of the psychology of nations. Empire is paranoid because it has a soft underbelly.

Its “homeland” may be defended by border patrols and nuclear weapons, but its economy is strung out across the globe. Its economic outposts are exposed and vulnerable. Already the Internet is buzzing with elaborate lists of American and British government products and companies that should be boycotted. Apart from the usual targets – Coke, Pepsi, McDonalds – government agencies like USAID, the British DFID, British and American banks, Arthur Andersen, Merrill Lynch, and American Express could find themselves under siege. These lists are being honed and refined by activists across the world. They could become a practical guide that directs the amorphous but growing fury in the world. Suddenly, the “inevitability” of the project of Corporate Globalization is beginning to seem more than a little evitable.

It would be naïve to imagine that we can directly confront Empire. Our strategy must be to isolate Empire’s working parts and disable them one by one. No target is too small. No victory too insignificant. We could reverse the idea of the economic sanctions imposed on poor countries by Empire and its Allies. We could impose a regime of Peoples’ Sanctions on every corporate house that has been awarded with a contract in postwar Iraq, just as activists in this country and around the world targeted institutions of apartheid. Each one of them should be named, exposed, and boycotted. Forced out of business. That could be our response to the Shock and Awe campaign. It would be a great beginning.

Another urgent challenge is to expose the corporate media for the boardroom bulletin that it really is. We need to create a universe of alternative information. We need to support independent media like Democracy Now!, Alternative Radio, and South End Press.

The battle to reclaim democracy is going to be a difficult one. Our freedoms were not granted to us by any governments. They were wrested from them by us. And once we surrender them, the battle to retrieve them is called a revolution. It is a battle that must range across continents and countries. It must not acknowledge national boundaries but, if it is to succeed, it has to begin here. In America. The only institution more powerful than the U.S. government is American civil society. The rest of us are subjects of slave nations. We are by no means powerless, but you have the power of proximity. You have access to the Imperial Palace and the Emperor’s chambers. Empire’s conquests are being carried out in your name, and you have the right to refuse. You could refuse to fight. Refuse to move those missiles from the warehouse to the dock. Refuse to wave that flag. Refuse the victory parade.

You have a rich tradition of resistance. You need only read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States to remind yourself of this.

Hundreds of thousands of you have survived the relentless propaganda you have been subjected to, and are actively fighting your own government. In the ultra-patriotic climate that prevails in the United States, that’s as brave as any Iraqi or Afghan or Palestinian fighting for his or her homeland.

If you join the battle, not in your hundreds of thousands, but in your millions, you will be greeted joyously by the rest of the world. And you will see how beautiful it is to be gentle instead of brutal, safe instead of scared. Befriended instead of isolated. Loved instead of hated.

I hate to disagree with your president. Yours is by no means a great nation. But you could be a great people.

History is giving you the chance.

Seize the time.

ARUNDATHI ROY

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WATCH ON VIMEO (INCLUDES DEBATE WITH HOWARD ZINN)

What I learned from Noam Chomsky: Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush are both Terrorists! (by Arundathi Roy)

Noam Chomsky at Home

dscf-barundhati-broy-bone-bof-bmy-bbest-bshots-bat-bthe-bbook-brelease-bof-kochu-bkariyangalude-bponnu-btamburan-304763551“The one fact that shocked me was that Noam Chomsky had searched mainstream U.S. media for 22 years for a single reference to American aggression in South Vietnam, and had found none. (…) I’m still taken aback at the extent of indoctrination and propaganda in the United States. It is as if people there are being reared in a sort of altered reality, like broiler chickens or pigs in a pen. (…) Reading Chomsky gave me an idea of how unfree the free world is, really. How uninformed. How indoctrinated.

There was a poignant moment in an old interview by Chomsky when he talked about being a 15 year old boy when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He said that there wasn’t a single person with whom he could share his outrage. And that struck me as a most extreme form of loneliness. It was a loneliness which evidently nurtured a mind that was not willing to align itself with any ideology.”

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“If you look at the logic underlaying an act of terrorism and the logic underlaying a retaliatory war against terrorism, they are the same. Both terrorists and governments make ordinary people pay for the actions of their governments. Osama Bin Laden is making people pay for the actions of the U.S. State, wheter it’s in Saudi Arabia, Palestine, or Afghanistan. The U.S. government is making the people of Iraq pay for the actions of Saddam Hussein. The people of Afghanistan pay for the crimes of the Taliban. The logic is the same.

Osama Bin Laden and George Bush are both terrorists. They are both building international networks that perpetrate terror and devastate people’s lives. Bush, with the Pentagon, the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank. Osama Bin Laden with Al Qaeda. The difference is that nobody elected Bin Laden. Bush was elected (in a manner of speaking), so U.S. citizens are more responsible for his actions than Iraqis are for the actions of Saddam Hussein or Afghan for the Taliban. And yet hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have been killed, either by economic sanctions or cruise missiles, and we’re told that this deaths are the result of “just wars” If there is such a thing as a just war, who is to decide what is just and what is not? Whose God is going to decide that?

ARUNDHATI ROY, The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile. South End Press, 2004. Pg. 60.
tumblr_lq2urqHNnJ1qfqspio1_1280Art by Shepard Fairey

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manufacturing consent

BROKEN REPUBLIC (Penguin Books, 2011) – The “World’s Biggest Democracy” according to Arundathi Roy

DSC05338DSC05331DSC05332DSC05333Photos from Arundhati Roy’s Broken Republic

INDIA: THE WORLD’S BIGGEST DEMOCRACY? By E.C. Moraes @ Awestruck Wanderer 

AA1998: while we were reaching the end of the 20th century, India was testing nuclear weapons. The civilization which gave to the world masters of wisdom such as Gandhi and Sidarta Gautama, Ambedkar and Tagore, was very un-wisely on the brink of war.  It was like a reawakening of the politics of the Cold War, in which both the U.S. and the Soviet Union had atom bombs at their disposal, with both India and its next-door-neighbour Pakistan with weapons of mass destruction pointing at one another. The scars of Partition still imprinted in memory. Sad news, indeed. It’s as if, instead of learning from History (Hiroshima and Nagasaki: “the horror, the horror!”), some governments just won’t let go of this very lousy idea of messing with nuclear warfare – a situation so brilliantly mocked by Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove.

One of India’s greatest writers, Booker-Prize winning novelist Arundhati Roy, instead of writing a follow-up for The God of Small Things (1997) – widely considered a masterpiece of contemporary literature – felt she had to devote herself to write about the political reality of her nation’s turmoil. She accused India’s government of dangerously throwing fuel to a fire of nationalist pride with the Hindu H-Bomb. “When you have dispossession and disempowerment on this scale as a result of corporate globalization”, she told David Barsamian, “the anger that it creates can be channeled in bizarre and dangerous ways. India’s nuclear testes were conduced to shore up people’s flagging self-esteem. India is still flinching from the cultural insult of British colonialism, still looking for its identity.” (The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile, p. 37) Nuclear warfare on the hands of India and Pakistan was certainly no reason to celebrate, argued Arundhati Roy, who feared the worst might end up happening  -she finished one of her articles with apocalyptic imagery: “This world of our is 4.600 million years old. It could end in an afternoon.” (read The End of Imagination at Outlook Magazine)

broken-republic-arundhati-roy1Arundhati Roy’s political essays also denounce fiercely the Human Rights abuses in Kashmir, where India’s army imposes its rule with the colossal force of half-a-million soldiers (the largest military occupation in the world), crushing with violence all the demands of independence made by Kashmiris. Opposing the recent wave of celebration of India’s “economic miracle” and skyrocketing GDP, Arundhati Roy states that we shouldn’t be fooled by the ideology marketed by “experts in economics”. One shouldn’t measure the success of a nation by the number of new billionaires it produces each year. And wealth going into the pockets of large corporations and their politicians should never be confused with Common Wealth or Social Justice. She argues that India is a fake democracy, a society still deeply hierarchical, clinging to its rigid Caste System, with obscene rates of deaths by starvation and mass suicides by empoverished peasants (since 1997, it’s estimated that 200.000 of them have killed themselves, often by drinking Monsanto’s pesticides). Arundathi Roys, in her BBC interview, stated that no less than 800 million people in India live on less than 20 rupees a day (which means: 30 cents of a dollar).

According to Roy, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, India aligned with the U.S.A. and the Indian state decided to open its gates to all the marvels of Free Market and “Development”. When the new century dawned, however, the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington were to be followed by a surge of islamophobia, fueled by the Yankees “War on Terror” that was beggining to plan its military invasions and bombings of Afheganistan. In India, this epidemic of islamophobia caused disaster, a re-awakening of communal violence, culminating in tragedy: in Gujarat, 2002, Muslims were massacred  by Hindu nationalists in a pogrom which killed at least 2.000 people and forced at least 150.000 out of their homes. Welcome to the “World’s Largest Democracy”.

Is Indian Capitalism working? If we look at growth rates and skyrocketing GDP, oh yes Sir! But let’s not get blinded by economists and their statistics: India is a country ravaged by famine: “836 million people of India live on less than 20 rupees a day, 1.500.000 malnourished children die every year before they reach their first birthday. Is this what is known as ‘enjoying the fruits of modern development’?” (ROY, Broken Republic, pg. 154).

The Indian State also has to deal with another kind of menace, the “inner enemy”, those dozens of thousands of Indians, called “Maoists” or “Naxalites”, who decided to insurrect in armed rebellion. They want nothing less than to overthrow the Indian State. “Right now in central India, the Maoists’ guerrilla army is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Suharan Africa”, writes Arundhati Roy (pg. 7).

In 2006, India’s prime minister described the Maoists as “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country”, a statement which Roy considers very exaggerated.  By magnifying in discourse the danger posed by the Maoist guerrilla, by painting in the media a portrait of them as cruel terrorists, the Indian government aims, argues Arundhati Roy, to justify its war measures against the poorest of its citizens. Quite honest in revealing the masters who he serves, the prime minister also told the Parliament in 2009: “If Left Wing extremism continues to flourish in important parts of our country which have tremendous natural resources of minerals and other precious things, that will certainly affect the climate for investment.” (B.R., pg. 3)

For a quick example of the “tremendous natural resources”, it’s enough to mention that “the bauxite deposits of Orissa alone is worth 2.27 trillion dollars (twice India’s gross domestic product)” (pg. 23). In order for the mining corporations to have access to this precious things, India needs to be turned into a Police State. It needs to wage war against the hungry, desperate and destitute people who live in this very “profitable” lands, against the people who revolt against being displaced, impoverished and opressed. To simply leave the bauxite in the mountains seems out of the question for the government and the industrialists, of course, who have eyes only for the money that can be made and not to the environmental damage and social havoc that such procedures of extraction will cause. The alliance between a neo-liberal state and its corporate friends leads to a situation in which military power and police repression are massively used to enforce the so-called Free Market. In order to clear the way for the corporations to extract their profits from India’s natural resources, genocide is seen as an acceptable means, if only you preach in the media that a terrorist threat to national security needs to be crushed.

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Comrade Kamla, member of the Maoist guerrillas.

“What are we to make of the fact that just around the time the prime minister began to call the Maoists the ‘single biggest internal security challenge’ (which was a signal that the government was getting ready to go after them) the share prices of many of the mining corporations in the region skyrocketed? The mining companies desperately need this war… To justify the militarization, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are that enemy. They are to corporate fundamentalists what the Muslims are to Hindu fundamentalists. (…) Here’s a maths question: if it takes 600.000 soldiers to hold down the tiny valley of Kashmir, how many will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?” (31-34)

Arundhati Roy speaks from experience: she went to witness first-hand what’s happening in the areas where India’s State and the Maoist guerrilla clash. She tells the tale in Walking With The Comrades, one astonishing feat of investigative journalist that proves how courageous Arundathi Roy really is. She puts herself in danger in order to see for herself what’s going on there, in order to be able to write truly about the battle for the “mineral-rich forests of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal – homeland to millions of India’s tribal people, dreamland to the corporate world.” (pg. 42) It seems to be a situation with many similarities with Mexico’s conflict in Chiapas, where the Zapatista’s armed insurrection confronts the Mexican State in its tendency to favour corporate plunder of indigenous lands.

“The antagonists in the forest are disparate and unequal in almost every way. On one side is a massive paramilitary force armed with the money, the firepower, the media, and the hubris of an emerging Superpower. On the other, ordinary villagers armed with traditional weapons, backed by a superbly organized, hugely motivated Maoist guerrilla fighting force with an extraordinary and violent history of armed rebellion.” (pg. 39)

India’s Constitution, adopted in 1950, “ratified colonial policy and made the state custodian of tribal homelands. Overnight, it turned the entire tribal population into squatters on their own land.” (pg. 43) Dispossessed of their right to livelihood and dignity, the tribal people became pawns in the Big Business game. “Each time it needed to displace a large population – for dams, irrigation projects, mines – it talked of ‘bringing tribals into the mainstream’ or of giving them ‘the fruits of modern development’. Of the tens of millions of internally displaced people (more than 30 million by big dams alone), refugees of India’s ‘progress’, the great majority are tribal people.” (pg.  43) Here we have an example of what Bruno Latour calls The Modernization Front. In India, The Modernization Front, in order to protect corporate interests (after all, corporations are vehicles of Progress…), won’t refrain from engaging in a war against its own people. A War that Arundhati Roy prefers to call by another name: Genocide.

ArundhatiIn the 10-hour drive she untertook through areas known to be “Maoist-infested”, she noted: “These are not careless words. ‘Infest/infestation’ implies disease/pests. Diseases must be cured. Pests must be exterminated. Maoists must be wiped out. In these creeping, innocuous ways the language of genocide has entered our vocabulary.” (pg. 45) She walks for hours and hours each day, along with the comrades, under the shining and vehement sun, carrying a backpack filled with essentials for jungle-survival – and when it comes the time for sleep, she doesn’t mind that much not having a roof over her head. Resting on a sleeping-bag on the forest floor, she celebrates her “star-spangled dormitory” (pg. 63): “It’s my private suite in a thousand-star hotel. (…) When I was a child growing up on the banks of the Meenachal River, I used to think the sound of crickets – which always started up at twilight – was the sound of stars revving up, getting ready to shine. I’m surprised at how much I love being here. There is nowhere else in the world I would rather be.” (pg. 57-60)

While she walks with the comrades, she knows some areas they’re crossing run the risk of going underwater because of Mega Dams. Since Independence, 3.300 big dams were built, and the amount of displaced is estimated in over 30 million people.

“The Bodhgat Dam will submerge the entire area that we have been walking in for days. All that forest, that history, those stories. More than a hundred villages. Is that the plan then? To drown people like rats, so that the integrated steel plant and the bauxite mine and aluminium refinery can have the river? (…) There was a time when believing that Big Dams were the ‘temples of Modern India’ was misguided, but perhaps understandable. But today, after all that has happened, and when we knoe all that we do, it has to be said that Big Dams are a crime against humanity.” (pg. 142-143)

 In the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army, 45% of its cadre are women. The so-called Maoists or Naxalites consist mainly of people from the lowest caste of India’s piramidal society: the Untouchables, the pariahs of India, those who are treated as human scums, crushed underneath a heavy weight of hierarchical machinery. When the Prime Minister said the Maoists were a grave security challenge, “the opposite was true”, argues Roy, who remembers that the rebels were being decimated in a Purification Hunt destined to “send the share-value of mining companies soaring” (pg. 80)

What it all boils down to is a clash between Corporate Capitalism, on the one side, and the majority of the population, on the other. In times where ideologies of Free Trade reign, the exploration of natural resources is made not in order to provide for the commonwealth of the whole of society, but for private profits gained through ecocidal and genocidal means.

“Allowing ‘market forces’ to mine resources ‘quickly and efficiently’ is what colonizers did to their colonies, what Spain and North America did to South America, what Europe did (and continues to do) in Africa. It’s what the Apartheid regime did in South Africa. What puppet dictators in small countries do to bleed their people. It’s a formula for growth and development, but for someone else. (…) Now that mining companies [in India] have polluted rivers, mined away state borders, wrecked ecosystems and unleashed civil war, the consequence of what the coven has set into motion is playing out like an ancient lament over ruined landscapes and the bodies of the poor.” (pg. 170)

slumdog_millionaire_xlg

“If the motion picture were an art form that involved the olfactory senses – in other words, if cinema smelled – then films like Slumdog Millionaire would not win Oscars. The stench of that kind of poverty wouldn’t blend with the aroma of warm popcorn.”  – Arundathi Roy

Arundathi Roy’s political thought is so intensely relevant nowadays because she is one of the fiercest critics of what goes by the name of “Democracy” nowadays. States that impose with authoritarian means – including military atrocities and police brutality – the policy of Free Market (which means: let’s protect the private interests of wealthy corporations and billionaires!), call themselves “democracies”. India is often called the world’s biggest democracy, and yet “the Indian State, in all its democratic glory, is willing to loot, starve, lay siege to, and now deploy the air-force in ‘self-defense’ against its poorest citizens.” (pg. 186) So we have to distinguish between Ideology / Propaganda (“India is a Democracy, a Fast-Growing Economy, with a State concerned in providing Security from terrorists”) from Reality (there are a lot of natural resources that corporations are eager to get a hold of… if only the people are thrown out of the way!).

The essential question to be asking is this: what about the future of the planet? If the current model of development continues, what will happen to mankind as we move towards a future that’s bound to be filled with ecological crisis and all the cataclysms ensuing from Climate Change? In India, there’s “several trillion dollars’ worth of bauxite, for example. And “there is no environmentally sustainable way of mining bauxite and processing it into aluminium. It’s a highly toxic process that most Western countries have exported out of their own environments. To produce 1 ton of aluminium, you need about 6 tons of bauxite, more than a 1000 tons of water and a massive amount of energy. For that amount of captive water and electricity, you need big dams, which, as we know, come with their own cycle of cataclysmic destruction. Last of all – the big question – what is the aluminium for? Where is it going? Aluminium is a principal ingredient in the weapons industry – for other countries’ weapons industries…” (p. 211)

Such is the suicidal logic of the Powers That Be, a situation so bleak that many of us are worrying about Mankind’s path: are we following a road that will lead to our own extinction? Does our future hold new horrendous explosions of Atom Bombs and civil wars?  Will Corporate Capitalism be allowed to proceed with its ecocidal practices and its obscene tendencies to concentrate wealth in a few hands (while millions die from hunger and curable diseases)? How to shift direction in order for us to slow down this process that has been turning Planet Earth into an Ecological Wreck? This is how Arundathi Roy finishes this deeply moving and concerning book, Broken Republic:

“Can we expect that an alternative to what looks like certain death for the planet will come from the imagination that has brought about this crisis in the first place? It seems unlikely. The alternative, if there is one, will emerge from the places and the people who have resisted the hegemonic impulse of capitalism and imperialism instead of being co-opted by it. Here in India, even in the midst of all the violence and greed, there is still hope. We still have a population that has not yet been completely colonized by that consumerist dream. We have a living tradition of those who have struggled for Gandhi’s vision of sustainability and self-reliance, for socialist ideas of egalitarianism and social justice. We have Ambedkar’s vision, which challenges the Gandhians as well as the socialists in serious ways. We have the most spectacular coalition of resistance movements, with their experience, understanding and vision. Most important of all, India has a surviving adivasi population of almost 100 million. They are the ones who still know the secrets of sustainable living.

The day capitaism is forced to tolerate non-capitalist societies in its midst and to acknowledge limits in its quest for domination, the day it is forced to recognize that its supply of raw material will not be endless, is the day when change will come. If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate-change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low down on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle every day to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers… It is necessary to concede some physical space for the survival of those who may look like the keepers of our past but may really be the guides to our future. To do this, we have to ask: Can you leave the water in the rivers, the trees in the forest? Can you leave the bauxite in the mountain? If they say they cannot, then perhaps they should stop preaching morality to the victims of their wars.” (pg. 214)

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DOWNLOAD ARUNDATHI ROY’S BOOKS (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!):

algebra

ALGEBRA OF INFINITE JUSTICE – DOWNLOAD

grass

LISTENING TO GRASSHOPPERS – DOWNLOAD

In Praise of Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things” – by Eduardo Carli de Moraes

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“She is one of the great writers and intellectuals of our time. I was thinking about what makes her a really great writer, a really great person, and a really great rebel: someone who listens more than she talks. Someone who goes to find where the silence is, and tries to understand why the silence is there. She is so precious and so rare. Like Charles Dickens, like Charlotte Brontë, like Virginia Woolf, like Victor Hugo, like all those wonderful writers who spoke for the people who had no voice. Arundhati Roy joins a long and proud list of people who care deeply, and who listen deeply, and who then speak fearlessly. This is our salvation, this kind of writer, this kind of person…” – ALICE WALKER , author of Pulitzer-Winning novel The Color Purple (filmed by Steven Spielberg)

I.  A SUNBEAM LENT TO US TOO BRIEFLY

ARUNDHATI ROYTo listen attentively, to care deeply, to speak fearlessly: these are some of the many virtues of our brave sister, Arundhati Roy. Even if she never writes another book of fiction, she already deserves a place in the history of English-language literature: The God Of Small Things, the winner of 1998’s Booker Prize Award, can be easily included in the Olympus of the 20th century’s true masterpieces in the realm of novels. Her story-telling talents are such that it’s hard not to get hooked on the tale she’s telling so compellingly: The God Of Small Things entrances with its language, seduces withs its humour, and then delivers, apart from a delicious verbal banquet, a blood-soaked tragedy.

She told BBC that she never meant to write a thriller, but her novel is filled with thrills, like a rollercoaster ride through Aymenem, Kerala, India, where Arundhati Roy grew-up. Perhaps it’s her own way of embarking on a Proustian recherche du temps perdu. Yet this book ain’t a memoir or an auto-biography, but something much more ambitious: an Indian tragedy, set to the background of a nation in turmoil. Bloody messy turmoil. We only need to remember what happened in Gujarat in 2002 – more than 1.000 Muslims butchered and murderer openly in the streets by Hindu fanatics, and more than 150.000 fleeing the scene of the pogroms as refugees – to have a glimpse of the turmoils of India. Who dawned to the 21st century on the brink of nuclear war with Pakistan, and who holds Kashmir hostage with the biggest military occupation in the word – this is a scary picture of India, which Arundathi Roy paints, and it rings so much true than the demagogues propaganda.

She belongs to a pantheon of writers capable of writing passionately, with words that a sensible reader feels at the same time as he deciphers them. While reading The God Of Small Things, I was frequently aware not only of an intellectual process going on in my head, the whole process of language-deciphering, but of something else, ringing with truthfulness and verve: Arundathi’s words were injected with feeling. These are sentences written to be felt rather than simply understood. In a prose so marvellous that I can only find something similar in writers, which I cherish a lot, such as Anton Tchekov, Katherine Mansfield, Heinrich Heine, Manoel de Barros…

And yet The God of Small Things, so often, seems to focus on banalities, on minute occurrences – for example, the funny description of the twins in their “delight with underwater farting”. Several times, it seems she’s jokingly playing with language like Lewis Carroll or James Joyce did so well. She evokes images – for example: a child been forced to eat spinach – that seem at first sight to be trivial chronicles of day-to-day life. But Arundhati Roy portrays this commonest matter of life as something dynamic, in perpetual motion, and that can undergo sudden changes. As if she is saying that the extraordinary is the most ordinary thing there is, yet not all among us can see it and realize it. The motto, running like an underground stream in her narrative, is this: “things can change in a day”. So we better be prepared.

 When you reach the last page of the book, and you look behind you, remembering the path you’ve traveled together with Arundhati, you can feel the wisdom of every minute detail to the general composition. It reminds me of an interesting piece of literary criticism written  by an excellent Artist-of-the-Word, Cioran: “No true art without a strong dose of banality. The constant employment of the unaccustomed readily wearies us, nothing being more unendurable than the uniformity of the exceptional.” (CIORAN, The Trouble With Being Born, p. 37) In other words: a work-of-art doesn’t necessarily need to be an overdose of extraordinary occurrences and events. The common fibre that weaves human life must be used to compose a portrait of human life as it is – and life undeniably includes in its bosom much minute trivialities and minor events without further consequence. Until it comes: the day that changes everything.

The genius of Arundathi Roy’s book lies in her hability to portray how the extraordinary disrupts the web of common life. Thus the leitmotiv in The God of Small Things – “things can change in a day”, which means: your whole life may be suddenly transformed. It may be thrown out of its usual tracks, like a derailed train bound to a blind-date with fate.

After reading this book, I also emerge from it like a diver rising up from the seas, where he saw and witnessed little fish behind devoured by big ones (just like in Radiohead’s song). Life as a frail flame that can be blow off by the wind. Life as quicksand where our feet can never quite stand in firm ground. Life as box-of-surprises (not necessarily gentle ones) . These are some of the feelings about life Arundathi’s novel  may evoke and provoke. When she describes injustices being done against the powerless, her words have the beauty and the courage of similar ones written by Simone Weil or Emma Goldman. It seems to me that Arundathi depicts the destructibility of life as something that’s part of its essence –  mortality is something no mortal can escape from – and yet Arundathi’s voice is far from depressing. Her words have an up-lifting effect, like an injection of enthusiasm shot right in the veins. It’s a voice filled with such compassion and boldness, and such lucid indignation and witty critique, that listening to her is a delight. Art can be empowering, it can communicate enthusiasm, it can teach a frame of consciousness, and it also certainly can act upon life – like Spinoza taught, it can become something we love because it enhances our vitality, adds vigor to our conatus.

20130628-gramsciThis book may be playful and filled with wit, but ain’t kitsch at all: there’s pedophilia and police brutality and class struggles ending up in bloody mess. There’s scenes to make a punk’s hairdo spike-up. There’s enough to make Chuck Norris cry. She extracts beauty from tragedy, from loss, from terrible grief, as if Arundathi was some sort of magic bee capacle of manufacturing sweet honey even from fly-trap plants. From brief sunbeams drowned out too soon. Elizabeth Bishop’s famous poem says that “the art of losing isn’t hard to master”; Arundhati Roy also paints a poignant portrait of loss, and also points out that even the most precious things can easily be lost (“things can change in a day…”). Like the fateful day in which Sophie Mol tried to cross a river on a little small-boat with her cousins, the twins Rahel and Estha. Touched by tragedy in childhood, the twins learn from life some lessons that are usually reserved for older people. The wisdom that dawns upon them, written in their flesh by death’s killings upon the living, is stated very cleverly by little Estha: “Anything can happen to anyone, so it’s better to be prepared.” The wisdom of keeping eyes opened to the possibility of the worst, and yet continuing the struggle to act in order to build something better, is something that, it seems to me, is one of the many virtues of Arundhati’s work. Maybe she agrees with Gramsci that we should keep burning two flames, simultaneously: pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

It’s always good news to discover that Humanity still holds among the living some people so wise and so courageous.

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II. HOLES IN THE UNIVERSE

In The God Of Small Things, I kept bumping into some re-occuring events, popping up several times in the narrative: the Holes in the Universe. No: this novelist isn’t venturing into the territories of astrophysics, nor trying to decipher the mystery of supermassive Black Holes. Arundhati Roy uses “holes in the universe” in order to portray the human mind’s experience of death: “Joe was dead now. Killed in a car crash. Dead as a doorknob. A Joe-shaped Hole in the Universe.” (p. 113)

Of course not only death can open these holes in the Universe, subjectively-perceived, and Arundathi knows it well. It’s so brilliant the way she is able to communicate a lot with a single word, when for example she writes “die-vorce”  (p. 124). This is no crass error of misspelling, and this is no mere typo that the publisher’s reviser didn’t detect: this, my friends, is poetry in action. Instead of writing the word as the dictionary demands (“divorce”), she subverts official language, and in this process links divorce with death. Both death and divorce (understood not only as the end-of-marriage, but as a sudden separation between affectively bonded humans) have the power to “open” these Holes in The Universe that The God Of Small Things so frequently talks about.

(She also uses, with equivalent brilliancy, the witty expression “die-able” (154), to convey the sense of “being able to die”, of being in a state of danger.)

The way she deals with Time in her narrative is also quite fascinating, and it works really well: instead of following a straight path in her story-telling, always going forward in linear time, she messes up with our coordinates. Like a brat willing to spread confusion in a world of bureaucrats and stock-market money-junkies, she sets the clocks to different times and steps back to laugh at how confused and lost in Time we really are. We, short-sighted short-term beings who are neither beasts nor prophets. She does not only take us on a ride through India – it’s also a ride through Time. For example: Ammu’s death occurs in the middle of the novel, at page 154 (out of 315), and yet Ammu is present in the very last chapter. She even says the very last word of the book (“Tomorrow”).

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“The church refused to bury Ammu. So Chacko hired a van to transport the body to the electric crematorium. He had her wrapped in a dirty bedsheet and laid out on a stretcher. Rahel thought she looked like a Roman Senator. (…)  It was odd driving through bright, busy streets with a dead Roman Senator on the floor of the van. (…) Outside the vans windows, people, like cut-out paper puppets, went on with their paper-puppet lives. Real life was inside the van. Where real death was.

The crematorium had the same rotten, rundown air of a railway station, except that it was deserted. No trains, no crowds. Nobody except beggars, derelicts and the police-custody dead are cremated there. People who died with nobody to lie at the back of them and talk to them. When Ammu’s turn came, (…) the steel door of the incinerator went up and the muted hum of the eternal fire became a red roaring. The heat lunged out at them like a famished beast. Then Rahel’s Ammu was fed to it. Her hair, her skin, her smile.

20 minutes: that’s how long Chacko and Rahel had to wait for the pink receipt that would entitle them to collect Ammu’s remains. Her ashes. The grit from her bones. The teeth from her smile. The whole of her crammed into a little clay pot. Receipt No. Q 498673.”

(pg. 154-155)

aroyrArundathi paints images of holes in the Universe that emerge and take the place where joy was once intensely present. She portrays beautifully some occurrences that are far from cute – including pedophilia; child-sized coffins; police brutality against people from the lower castes; several acts of violence (both verbal and physical). As if she was trying to paint a huge mural of a world – ours, the real one – where careless words are legion, and where sometimes death comes to claim life’s yet to be lived, or who had many fruitful years ahead of them. Untimely deaths. No one should live somewhere where infancy is normally considered as a very “die-able” age. And yet India, may I remind us, has the largest population of undernourished children in the planet. And the emergence of shopping malls and billionaires, of Bollywood movie-stars and triumphant stock markets, ain’t stopping neither the tragedy of massive deaths by famine, of children and adults alike, nor the tragedy of massive suicides of empoverished peasants, which sometimes end up killing themselves by drinking pesticides made by Monsanto…

algebraWithout resembling in any way a political pamphlet, the novel is in fact deeply political. I would strongly recommend to you Arundhati Roy’s books of essays, excellent and thought-provoking books such as Algebra of Infinite Justice and Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy. After reading them recently, I got the impression that, both in her fiction and non-fiction writings, she delivers a portrait of India as a country still suffering from the tragedies that ensue from the rigid social hierarchy of a Caste System.

Baby Kochamma, for example, feels very proudly that she is higher and nobler in society than those she calls “the sweeper class” (pg. 132). It seems to be one of the main intentions of The God of Small Things to give voice to the voiceless. To portray those who are so often killed without leaving behind them no portrait. No footprints in the sand’s shore. Those Power wants to thrown into Oblivion. Arundhati Roy, through the means of such a compelling story, communicates to the reader the lived experience of the lower castes, the toiling masses, and she makes us suffer together with those who suffer from the anathema and the stigma of being “Untouchables”, the pariahs of Indian society.

And some books, after we finish them, never quite leave us. They become part of us. We move on, but transformed by them. We have been taught to care more for the voiceless, for the powerless, for the wretched of the Earth; we have learned empathy towards small frail things such as ourselves. We now have been enriched by the new holes we now carry in our hearts: a Sophie-shaped hole in the Universe; a Velutha-shaped hole in the Cosmos; an Ammu-shaped hole in the Fabric of Life…

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III. THE LOVE LAWS (AND THE RISKS OF TRANSGRESSION)

It’s evident that Arundhati Roy is pretty well-read, and that she has learned a lot from the masters of the English Language: she evokes images and characters from Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, for example, and she inserts into her narrative verses from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Apart from the direct references to other books, she also can remind the reader of highly creative artists such as Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett or Julio Cortázar, especially because of her ability to invent a language of her own, a verbal landscape that’s quite unlike any I’ve ever read. Of course some of the scenes may remind us of other novels – for example: when Arundanthi described the minute details of the family business Paradise Pickles & Preserves (“Emperors of the Realm of Taste!”), I felt some resemblance to John Steinbeck’s marvellous narrative in The Winter of Our Discontent. And wild rivers, with dangerous secrets lurking below the surface of the waters, may also make some experienced reader reminisce the days spent surfing the pages of Moby Dick.

Of course a little boat, with three children in it, crossing a river in India, is quite different from Ahab’s vessel, in its epic journey in search of the giant white whale. But what I mean to point out is this: The God of Small Things is such a great book also because it can evoke in us past reading experiences, and good thrilling ones such as Herman Melville or Steinbeck wrote. Arundhati Roy’s work can “drown” us in a literary experience of aesthetic amazement. However, there’s  no l’art pour l’art here: this novel can teach us a lot about India, if we care to listen to the narrative’s details. When you least expect it, she writes, for example: “Some days Estha walked along the banks of the river that smelled of shit and pesticides bought with World Bank loans.” (p. 15) That’s how politics manifests itself in this novel: acting directly on the characters and their environment. Politics is something the flesh-and-blood, the pulsating heart, knows about by its effects on life.

There’s a mist of mystery surrounding the narrative that contributes a great deal to the thrilling sense of suspense of the book. He are told right from the beginning  about the tragic loss of Sophie Mol, but Arundhati takes her time in unveiling what happened to this English child visiting her cousins and aunts in India. Sophie and her mother came to India after experiencing trauma in England – the death of Joe – but unaware that they would be further traumatized rather than healed. After all this is India, a country filled with “public turmoils”, where “various kinds of despair competed for primacy”, “poised forever between the terror of war and the horror of peace”, and where “Worse Things kept happening” (20).

I see in The God of Small Things a tragedy set in India, a country where “caste issues are very deep-rooted” (263). People are “conditioned from birth”, says Comrade Pillai, to think and feel in accordance with the caste system – which is, of course, a system of stratification of social classes in which a lot of violent conflict keeps exploding (in his century, the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008 and the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 stand as examples). This Caste Segregation is the political background for a tale of forbidden love, and love loved in spite of laws forbidding it.

Ammu and Valutha are a bit like Romeo and Juliet, daring to love when the social landscape around them deems it a scandal. What an obscenity, to love someone outside of one’s caste! In Arundathi Roy’s novel, two persons from two castes who aren’t supposed to mix end up choosing the experience of forbidden love, even tough they know this could be their doom. When Ammu and Velutha join their bodies in the delights of wild love-making, there’s a big fear lurking inside them. There’s an anguished panic poisoning their delightfully forbidden love. This love, in the wildness of its force, tramples underfoot the taboos of caste. They will be punished, for certain, by their transgression. This love is risky business, and in daring it you gamble with your life.

Stanton_R&J CoverIt’s quite similar to what happens in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: the “clash” and conflicts that sets apart Capuletos and Montecchios, as you well remember, is the background for the forbidden love between Romeo and Juliet. They transgress the Laws of Segregation with their Union in Love. Tough brief, it’s a symbol of love’s power to demolish frontiers and unite what has been kept severed. Romeo and Juliet refuse the segregation imposed by their families, and by the social structure, and dare to love and unite amidst a conflict filled with bloody hate. I wouldn’t say that The God Of Small Things is inspired by Romeo and Juliet, but rather that Shakespare’s famous play deals with similar dilemmas.

Rahel and Estha, Ammu and Velutha, are characters which transgress the Love Laws, which lay down who should be loved, and how much, and according to what dogmas and rules. “…once again they broke the Love Laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.” (p. 311) Ammu and Velutha unite in the art of seeing the common, beyond differences, in the boundary-transcending light of a loving-eye. They transgress the Love Laws and then are crushed to an horrendous death. And yet the genius of Arundhati lies not only in the tragic grandeur she can convey in her story-telling, but also in the lush sensuality of her imagery. The sex scenes at the very end of the novel are the greatest example. Love-making description skyrockets to Shapespearean heights in these pages, and the beauty of them resembles the beauty in D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley or in Abdel Kechiche’s film Blue Is The Warmest Color… 

In Arundhati’s Roy, the tragedy of the lovers runs parallel with the children-in-the-boat subplot. An accident happens, the children’s boats hits some obstacle in the waters of the river, and then the fragile vessel throws into the water Rahel, Estha and Sophie.  “Just a quiet handing-over ceremony. A boat spilling its cargo. A river accepting the offering. One small life. A brief sunbeam.” (pg. 277) Velutha – the Romeo of the forbidden-love saga – now is claimed by another play, another saga: he’s to be a scape-goat, the one to be punished by the death of a child. Velutha, tender lover and hard-working man, an activist of the Marxist Party and a friend of maoists, ends up being beaten to death by the police. Beaten out of existence. To be buried in the Pauper’s Pit. And then one suddenly awakes to the fact: what impels Arundhati Roy to write is clearly indignation for the horrors and strifes that she describes. She suffers with these crushed lives because of her extraordinary capacity for empathy. An hability to have attentive antennas to listen to the voices of human diversity.

In recent years, amazing works-of-art also reflected upon false accusations and unjust punishments – Ian McEwan’s Atonement and the film The Hunt by Thomas Vinterberg are examples take occur to me. It would certainly be interesting to attempt a comparison of these works with The God of Small Things. My impression is that Arundhati Roy deals with matters of Crime and Punishment with such depth and intelligence as one can find only in the works of great masters such as Franz Kafka or Dostoiévski.

Alive, awake, alert. That’s what some books do for us: they kick-start our mind’s capacities to marvel and wonder. They expand our horizons by unveiling the magnitude (it’s huge) of all that we can’t understand. They enchant us with their language, until we wake up to what what we were previously unaware of. They tell stories that we feel that needed to be told. When he reach the last page, we feel that the book isn’t finished, it will reverberate and echo inside us, perhaps for years. We close this book and it’s possible we’ll be burdened by a grief similar to the one we feel when a loved-one dies. I surely carry now within me a Velutha-shaped hole in the Universe, a Sophie-shaped hole in Existence. And yet I feel enriched by these new holes, by these tales of transgressive love, by these human kaleidoscope flowing in Time on the Earth Woman’s bosomThe God Of Small Things is a fountain of life: drink it up with might, O you who thirst for Truth, Freedom, Justice, O you who grieve everyday by seeing them crushed!

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THE EARTH WOMAN (from “The God Of Small Things”, by Arundhati Roy)

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THE EARTH WOMAN
Arundhati Roy (1961 – )

1“We belong nowhere”, Chako said. “We sail unanchored on troubled seas. We may never be allowed ashore. Our sorrows will never be sad enough. Our joys never happy enough. Our dreams never big enough. Our lives never important enough. To matter.”

Then, to give the twins Estha and Rahel a sense of Historical Perspective, he told them about the Earth Woman. He made them imagine that the earth – 4600 million years old – was a 46-year-old woman. It had taken the whole of the Earth Woman’s life for the earth to become what it was. For the oceans to part. For the mountains to rise. The Earth Woman was 11 years old, Chacko said, when the first single-celled organisms appeared. The first animals, creatures like worms and jellyfish, appeared only when she was 40. She was over 45 – just 8 months ago – when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

“The whole of human civilization as we know it”, Chacko told the twins, “began only 2 hours ago in the Earth Woman’s life.”

It was an awe-inspiring and humbling thought, Chacko said, that the whole of contemporary history, the World War, the War of Dreams, the Man on the Moon, science, literature, philosophy, the pursuit of knowledge – was no more than a blink of the Earth Woman’s eye.

“And we, my dears, everything we are and ever will be are just a twinkle in her eye…”

 

ARUNDHATI ROY, The God Of Small Things (1997).
Harper Perennial.
Winner of the Booker Prize 1998.

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