The Booker-winning Indian author casts an exacting eye over inequality, gender politics and imperialism
Sun 16 Jun
Arundhati Roy at the time of her protests against the building of the Sardar Sarovar Dam in the Narmada Valley in 1999. Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer
With its gold-striped spine, crimson endpapers and silky leaves, My Seditious Heart is a handsome edition of previously published essays by Booker-winning writer Arundhati Roy. Despite the stately presentation and the fact that some of the essays first appeared 20 years ago, these studies are trenchant, still relevant and frequently alarming. Roy reveals some hard truths about modern India and makes powerful analytical forays into American and British foreign policy, aid, imperialism and attitudes.
Roy’s India is one of extreme wealth and extreme poverty; opportunity and exploitation; cynicism and hypocrisy; ambition and greed; dynamism and thuggery. “India lives in several centuries at the same time. Somehow we manage to progress and regress simultaneously.” She describes emaciated workers toiling by candlelight through the night to lay broadband cable to accelerate the country’s digital revolution. The Greater Common Good looks at (futile) resistance to the Sardar Sarovar Dam in the Narmada valley, the forced displacement of local people and the slandering of activists as troublemakers. Another essay looks at uranium mining in Jadugoda, while in another piece Roy accompanies tribal anti-government fighters in the forests of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh.
Certain areas of interest emerge clearly. Roy covers the aggressive appropriation of tribal rural lands for mining and water projects, the expansion of nuclear weapons programmes, the privatisation and commercialisation of Indian services, the legacies and continuation of colonisation and imperialism in various forms, government corruption, American warmongering and national hypocrisy. The essays are also prescient in their early sensitivity to environmental damage and to indigenous rights.