Azadi by Arundhati Roy – at her passionate best

Ashish Ghadiali in The Guardian:

Arundhati Roy’s literary career has been one of a kind. Thrust into the limelight of the global publishing industry back in 1997 when her debut novel, The God of Small Things, won an advance of half a million pounds and then the Booker prize, she might have gone on to become a household name of cosmopolitan novel writing in the way that Salman Rushdie and Kazuo Ishiguro had in the decades before. Instead, she steered clear of the form altogether for the next 20 years (until the 2017 publication of her follow-up novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness), devoting her attention and profile in the meantime to prose nonfiction that has energetically uncovered skeletons in the closet of India’s economic growth story: the nuclear arms race with Pakistan; the thousands of indigenous people displaced by the Narmada dam project; the Maoist insurrection across the country’s tribal heartlands; and the issue of Kashmir’s longstanding and brutal military occupation.

…In spite of what she describes in Azadi, her latest collection of essays, as an atmosphere of “continuous, unceasing threat”, Roy has refused to back down and this volume, which takes its title from the Urdu word for “freedom” – azadi is the chant of Kashmiri protesters against the Indian government – serves to keep the Kashmiri situation in the minds of her global readership. “What India has done in Kashmir over the last 30 years,” she writes in the essay The Silence Is the Loudest Sound, “is unforgivable. An estimated 70,000 people – civilians, militants and security forces – have been killed in the conflict. Thousands have been ‘disappeared’, and tens of thousands have passed through torture chambers that dot the valley like a network of small-scale Abu Ghraibs.” Azadi, which builds on the 1,000-page edition of Roy’s collected nonfiction, My Seditious Heart (published in 2019), consists of nine stand-alone essays, written between early 2018 and early 2020 and originally delivered either as lectures or long-form print pieces, often in Britain or the US. Roy writes repeatedly in response to Hindu fundamentalism’s new hegemony in India, exemplified by the second electoral victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

More here.