Arundhati Roy on ‘Walking with the Comrades’

From The Paris Review;

ArunArundhati Roy’s 1997 Booker Prize–winning debut novel, The God of Small Things, helped transform her into an overnight literary celebrity and something of a poster author for the boom in Indian writing. (Billboards across the country trumpeted her Booker victory.) She followed up the novel, however, with a stinging essay condemning India and Pakistan’s nuclear showdown, entitled “The End of Imagination,” and set off, as she’s said, “on a political journey which I never expected to embark on.” She was soon taking up the pen on a range of issues—big dam projects that were displacing communities, India’s occupation of Kashmir, political corruption, and Hindu extremism. Suddenly, she was seen in a very different light at home: a voice of conscience, perhaps, but also a shrill and uncomfortable reminder of what lurked behind India’s democracy. But perhaps nothing quite prepared her for the virulent response to her March 2010 cover story for the Indian newsweekly Outlook, an inside report from the jungle camps where Maoist insurgents (and tribal villagers) were locked in a deadly and drawn-out battle with government forces over mineral-rich land. “Here in the forests of Dantewada [in central India],” she writes, “a battle rages for the soul of India.” That article forms the centerpiece of her new collection, Walking with the Comrades, from Penguin Books; while Kashmir: The Case for Freedom, out now from Verso, also includes pieces by Roy as well as Tariq Ali, Pankaj Mishra, and others. She’ll be making two rare appearances in New York next month, at the CUNY Graduate Center on November 9 and the Asia Society on November 11. I recently spoke with her by phone in Delhi.

Tell me about the reaction in India to your article “Walking with the Comrades.” I know it caused quite a stir and, as you say, landed in the flight path of a whole slew of debates, on both the left and the right.

Whenever my essays are collected into a book what is missing is the atmosphere in the country at the time when the original pieces were published. These essays came at a time when the government had announced Operation Green Hunt, calling on paramilitary forces to go into the jungle and very openly branding all resistance—not just the guerrillas, but really all across the board—as Maoist. They were picking up people by using laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Special Securities Act, in which thinking an antigovernment thought is a almost a criminal offense. So when I went into the forest, my idea was that nobody really knew what was going on in there. These places were choked off; there was a siege on reporting. But what was real and what was not? I wanted to go in and deepen the story, to make it more human.

More here.