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Arundhati Roy and The God of Small Things

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Arundhati Roy and The God of Small Things

Brief Biography

Suzanna Arundhati Roy was born on the 24th November 1961, the child of an unhappy marriage between a Syrian Christian woman from Kerala and a Bengali Hindu tea planter. Arundhati spent her childhood years in Aymanam. There, her mother, Mary Roy (later a well-known social activist) ran an informal school named Corpus Christi where Arundhati developed her literary and intellectual abilities unconstrained by the set rules of formal education. (Simmons, 2002)

Roy ran away from home when she was 17, lived in a squatters' colony in Delhi, acted, taught aerobics, and studied architecture at the Delhi School of Architecture. She married a fellow architecture student, Gerard Da Cunha. Their marriage lasted four years.

The film director Pradeep Krishen saw her cycling down a street and offered her a small role in “Massey Saab,” which she accepted, after initial reservations, more out of curiosity than anything else. But they had barely got to know each other when she got a scholarship to go to Italy for eight months to study the restoration of monuments. While in Italy, she decided to become a writer. She linked up with Krishen, now her husband, and they planned a 26 episode television epic for Doordarshan called “The Banyan Tree.” The independent production company ITV advanced the money. Unfortunately, they had only shot enough footage for three or four episodes when ITV scrapped the serial. Krished and Roy later married. The two wrote several screenplays, but have now abandoned the Delhi film world and retreated to a small town in the jungle, on the edge of a national park in south-central India. (Simmons, 2002)

The Creation of The God of Small Things

Roy has said that the inspiration for the book was not an idea or a character but an image - "the image of this sky blue Plymouth stuck at the railroad crossing with the twins inside and this Marxist procession raging around it." This image begins the work, and becomes powerful metaphor for the different forces that act upon the lives of the Kochamma family. (Simmons, 2002)

Interestingly, the novel didn't have a title until the very last minute. Even though the characters in the end must put their faith in fragility and stick to the small things, a seemingly clear reference to the title, The God of Small Things as a title came after the story was created, not before. (Simmons, 2002)

Roy maintains that the story is not autobiographical, although she admits that it was very much influenced by her upbringing. While the facts and events that occur in the story are fictional, Roy says that it is the emotional texture of the book and the feelings which are real. She maintains that she cannot write unless inspired, and thus could never be commissioned to write anything. The fact that her writing does come from the heart surely contributed to the deep emotionality presented in her book. (Simmons, 2002)

Fascinatingly, it was Roy’s experience at Architecture school that influenced her writing style. The book is designed, according to Roy, like one would design a building, in the sense the writing of it did not start at the beginning and end at the end. She started somewhere and add color and texture there and then move on to somewhere very different and then move again, like designing an intricately balanced structure. (Simmons, 2002)

Roy does not believe in revising or rewriting, and, shockingly enough, The God of Small Things did not really receive either. Only two pages of the whole book were ever rewritten. While the story itself took a long time to piece together and arrange, she spent no time revising it or her language. This style of writing was influenced by her mother, who, when Roy was a young child, gave her a book called Free Writing. She was encouraged to write fearlessly, and that is how she wrote her own book many years later. (Simmons, 2002)

The God of Small Things is written in English, as it is, somewhat oddly, the common language used throughout India. Roy said she had no choice in the matter, as English is the language of newspapers, universities, and employment. For Roy, the way words and paragraphs fall on the page matters as well - the graphic design of the language. This explains why the words and thoughts of Estha and Rahel (the two protagonists) were so playful on the page... Words were broken apart, and then sometimes fused together. "Later" became "Lay. Ter." "An owl" became "A Nowl". "Sour metal smell" became "sourmetalsmell". (Simmons, 2002)

The way the plot and structure of the story revealed itself was very important to Roy. While she did not pay much attention to her language use (never revising or rewriting), she took a lot of care in designing the structure of the story, because for me. The book is not about what happened but about how what happened affected people.

One of the most important things about the structure is that in some way the structure of the book ambushes the story. It tells a different story from the story the book is telling. In the first chapter she more or less tells the story, but the novel ends in the middle of the story, and it ends with Ammu and Velutha (the mother of the two protagonists and her Untouchable lover) making love and it ends on the word 'tomorrow'. While, because the reader has read the rest of the story, and knows that what tomorrow brings is terrible (the death of Velutha), the fact that the book ends there is to say that even though it's terrible it's wonderful that it happened at all. (Simmons, 2002)
The Controversy over The God of Small Things

There are many facets to the controversy surrounding The God of Small Things. While it was accused of being famous only for being anti-Communist, it was primarily the inter-caste affair in The God Of Small Things that landed Roy in court facing obscenity charges.

In June of 1997 Sabu Thomas, a lawyer, filed a public interest petition alleging that the novel was obscene and likely to corrupt or deprave the minds of readers. He wanted the final chapter removed, in which there is a lyrical description of a sexual act between two people of different castes. Incidentally, other seemingly obscene content in the book, including pedophilia and incest, went unnoticed by this lawyer. Clearly, the sexual content itself is not the issue (especially in a country where copies of the Kama Sutra are available from street vendors), but the intercaste relationship. The controversy was as much political as it was moral, and proves that fifty years after Gandhi coined the term Harijan ('children of God') the Hindu caste system is still an important issue. (Simmons, 2002)

Boston Globe, online edition, 5 August 1997

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