In November 2010, following a public speech she had made on the freedom struggle in Kashmir, a case of sedition was threatened against Roy. Several prominent members of the educated middle class in India spoke up on Roy’s behalf but a sizable section of this liberal set made it clear that their support of Roy was a support for the right to free speech, not for her views. What is it about Roy that so irks the Indian middle-class and elite? Is it the fact that she has no truck with the sober, scholarly, Brahmanical discourse of the respectable middle-of-the-road protectors of the status-quo? Her critics, among whom are some of my friends, are also serious people. But their objections appear hollow to me because they have never courted unpopularity. They air their opinions in op-eds, dine at the corporate table, are fêted on national TV, and collect followers on Twitter. They don’t have to face court orders. Naturally, I wanted to ask Roy whether she feels estranged from the people around her. She does, but also not. Her point is, which people? A bit melodramatically, I asked, “Are you lonely?” Roy’s wonderfully self-confident response: “If I were lonely, I’d be doing something else. But I’m not. I deploy my writing from the heart of the crowd.”
When I sat down for dinner with her I noticed the pile of papers on the far end of the wooden table. These were legal charges filed against Roy because of her statements against Indian state atrocities. Roy said to me, “These are our paper napkins these days.” What toll had these trials taken on her writing? Was her activism a source of a new political imagining or was her political experience one of loneliness and exile in her own land? What would be the shape of any new fiction she would write? These and other questions were on my mind when I began an exchange with Roy by email and then met with her twice at her home in Delhi in mid-January.
Guernica: Before we begin, can you give me an example of a stupid question you are asked at interviews?
Arundhati Roy: It is difficult to answer extremely stupid questions. Very, very, difficult. Stupidity defeats you in some way. Especially when time is at a premium. And sometimes these questions are themselves mischievous.
Guernica: Give me an example.
Arundhati Roy: “The Maoists are blowing up schools and killing children. Do you approve? Is it right to kill children?” Where do you start?