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Reflection on The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Updated on June 1, 2015

The Art of Persuasion: Arundhati Roy

“In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn't. And yet you want to know again. That is their mystery and their magic. ...” (Pg 229) The mystery and magic that draws a reader into a story is the familiarity of it, the feeling that you are coming home. The God of Small things by Arundhati Roy is one such story.

Daughter of a Keralite Christain and a Bengali tea planter, Arundhati Roy grew up in the village of Ayemenem and rose above all expectations. Her life experiences are largely responsible for her writing style and her novel The God of Small Things is semi-autobiographical. Not only does she write persuasive fiction but she is also a keen activist and her work covers a broad spectrum of media.

“In those early amorphous years when memory had only just begun, when life was full of Beginnings and no Ends, and Everything was For Ever…..” (Pg 2). A direct quote from The God of small things captures the essence of childhood. Our childhood has a direct impact on the rest of our lives and you have to wonder, what was Arundhati Roy’s childhood like that she wrote such a morally challenging novel which transcends the barriers of time, age and race.

Set in Ayemenem, where old cultures and traditions are deep-rooted, it is a poignant love story about two people who find a love so real and so true but cannot share their discovery because of the scandal it would cause. For Veultha is an untouchable, and Ammu “loved by night the man her children loved by day”. You can feel the anguish as you see how women, children and the lower caste are treated in rural India. The narrow-minded people of Ayemenem are responsible for the humiliation and seclusion of a good woman, the separation of a twin brother and sister and the death of an innocent man.

The God of Small things looks at the big things “Love. Madness. Hope. Infinite Joy” (Pg 118) Written in the “ignorant child” perspective, their innocence emphasises the wrongs in the world that we have come to take for granted. The twins have a very special bond. When Estha is sexually abused by the orangedrinklemondrink man, it is Rahel who looks into his eyes and knows what happened though he never tells her. It is Rahel who years later watches Estha re-returned, washing his jeans with crumbly blue soap and what they part-take in is not love, but grief.

Arundhuti Roy’s writing is persuasive in the way it links events convincingly. The connections she draws between politics and the relationship between Ammu and Velutha and Estha and Rahel foreshadows the main conflict and the reader is rewarded at the end. She also has the rare ability to know when to stop. Here is an example of the heightening tension and urgency she creates by restricting vulgarity.

If he held her, he couldn’t kiss her. If he kissed her, he couldn’t see her. If he saw her, he couldn’t feel her. She could have touched his body lightly with her fingers, and felt his smooth skin turn to gooseflesh. She could have let her fingers stray to the base of his flat stomach. Carelessly, over those burnished chocolate ridges. And left patterned trails of bumpy gooseflesh on his body, like flat chalk on a blackboard, like a swathe of breeze in a paddy field, like jet streaks in a blue church sky. She could so easily have done that, but she didn’t. (Pg 215) The relationship between Ammu and Velutha symbolizes the underdog in India, literally, because untouchables come after the dogs. In that society, their love was doomed from the start.

At the end of the book, there are two love scenes in close proximity. The second is between Ammu and Velutha, the first between the twins. Hurting because of their immense suffering and guilt when they had wrongly condemned a man to death, they share it in the only way they know how; breaking the Love Laws. Their act of incest is not born of love or lust but immense grief and Roy captures the hurt and pain in the way that only she can.

The scene where Ammu and Velutha see each other without the scarf of history over their eyes is very memorable because Rahel and Estha are the midwives of her dream. It is her daughter who births their love and delivers it in a world full of tactile smiles and hidden laughter.There was once a love most chaste and pure and it is we who destroyed it. We let history repeat itself again and again and do nothing about it. And should our chance come again, to be the catalyst for change and abolition of old ideas– I am doubtless that once again we will do nothing about it. It is in this way that Arundhati Roy links her Fictional writing to her non-fiction. Whatever she writes has a purpose, to inform. To expose injustices and let us see reality without the appalling acceptance of poverty.

In that brief moment, Velutha looked up and saw things he hadn’t seen before. Simple things. For instance, he saw that Rahel’s mother was a woman. He saw that when he gave her gifts they no longer needed to be offered flat on the palms of his hands so that she wouldn’t have to touch him. He saw too that he was not necessarily the only giver of gifts. That she had gifts to give him too. History’s fiends returned to claim them. To rewrap them in its old scarred pelt and drag them back to where they really lived. Where the love laws lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much. (Pg 176)

As an activist, Roy is famous for her role in the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Perusing her cause to its end, she opened the eyes of people all over the world to the disparity between the classes and the adivasis who are displaced by the dams in their villages. The simplicity of her values and raw passion adds to her humanity. She fought for people who lost their homes because she understood their loss and the injustice of robbing 40 million people of water and giving it to 40 million other people. In her own words “Another world is not only possible, she's on the way and, on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully you can hear her breathe.”

She succeeds in amalgamating fiction and nonfiction to show the relationship between Power and Powerlessness. Through her writing you can see how Arundhati Roy has made a difference. It strikes a chord in each of us as she persuades us through the voice that shines through her words and makes us want to listen for another world.

Are you listening?

Reading by Arundhati Roy


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