Desi Lit Links from the Literary Saloon; and a Short Rant Critique of Arundhati Roy

Literary Saloon has a number of posts relating to Indian literature up right now:

--Another James Laine book on Sivaji has been banned in Maharashtra. Apparently the offense this time is Laine's claim that Chhatrapati Sivaji was an "Oedipal rebel," which basically means he fought with his father. A pretty laughable reason to ban it, but then, there are never good reasons to ban books. (Stop the Maharashtra government before they ban again!)

--Neha Sharma has something in Asian Age, on the status of Hindi literature. Unfortunately, the link is already dead (though Lit Saloon has a couple of paragraphs quoted).

--The same Lit Saloon post also links to this story about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's presiding over the re-release of two books by Premchand. Interesting to hear the PM's thoughts on some works of literature...

--And Arundhati Roy has turned down a Sahitya Akademi award for best writing in English, for The Algebra of Infinite Justice.

Whoa. A shrill -- and dated -- tirade is the best piece of writing to have come out in English by an Indian citizen last year? And didn't she publish that essay four and a half years ago (and the accompanying book three years ago)? That she's turning them down serves them right; they could do a lot better.

I'm critical of the Indian and American governments for many things, but I'm so over Arundhati Roy. (Read the original essay from September 2001 at the Guardian.) Over the course of the essay, Roy says many things that are true, and that I agree with -- she certainly sees clearly where George W. Bush is going with "Operation Enduring Freedom," and presciently predicts the failure of a "war on terror" that, since the invasion of Iraq, has gone completely astray.

But Roy also makes some very paranoid generalizations in that essay, which I believe are unsupportable. Here is one of the worst:

But who is Osama bin Laden really? Let me rephrase that. What is Osama bin Laden? He's America's family secret. He is the American president's dark doppelganger. The savage twin of all that purports to be beautiful and civilised. He has been sculpted from the spare rib of a world laid to waste by America's foreign policy: its gunboat diplomacy, its nuclear arsenal, its vulgarly stated policy of "full-spectrum dominance", its chilling disregard for non-American lives, its barbarous military interventions, its support for despotic and dictatorial regimes, its merciless economic agenda that has munched through the economies of poor countries like a cloud of locusts. Its marauding multinationals who are taking over the air we breathe, the ground we stand on, the water we drink, the thoughts we think. Now that the family secret has been spilled, the twins are blurring into one another and gradually becoming interchangeable. (link)

She might have a point that the wrong of 9/11 is no worse than, for instance, the wrongs the U.S. has at times committed in the name of freedom or justice, or which have followed indirectly from its actions (as in, 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians since the beginning of the most recent war -- a war which didn't need to happen in the first place).

But I don't see the point in claiming that the two types of violence are "interchangeable," or that Osama Bin Laden is America's "family secret" and also its "doppleganger." No, he's not: they are separate evils, and merging them is sloppy thinking. And I don't see the point in bringing in multinational corporations -- their function is quite different from that of the U.S. military, even if some function as auxiliaries for military projects. But McDonald's and Microsoft are not the same as Halliburton, and the mere fact that all three have well-paid corporate executives does not make make them all evil.

I'm not that far from Roy on some issues of substance (at least in this particular essay; I do think many of her positions on other issues are absurd [see her comments last year on cell-phones in India, for instance]). But I'd rather describe things plainly, as they are, and without the breathless ramification of rhetoric that she seems to relish so much.