The Shape of the Beast | by Arundhati Roy

by Sep 19, 2011Book Reviews, Special Features

beastThe Shape of the Beast is our world laid bare by a mind that has consistently and unhesitatingly engaged with its changing realities and often anticipated the way things have moved in the last decade.

In the fourteen interviews collected here, conducted between January 2001 and March 2008, Arundhati Roy examines the nature of state and corporate power as it has emerged during this period, and the shape that resistance movements are taking. As she speaks about people displaced by dams and industry, the genocide in Gujurat, Maoist rebels, the war in Kashmir and the global War on Terror, she raises fundamental questions about democracy, justice and non-violent protest.

Unabashedly political, this is also a deeply personal collection that talks about the necessity of taking a stand and about the dilemma of guarding the private space necessary for writing in a world that demands urgent, unequivocal intervention.

And in her own words…..

‘Deep at the heart of the horror of what’s going on lies the caste system: this layered, horizontally divided society with no vertical bolts, no glue, no intermarriage, no social mingling: no human-humane-interaction that holds the layers together. So when the bottom half of society simply shears off and falls away, it happens silently. It doesn’t create the torsion, the upheaval, the blowout, the sheer structural damage that it might, had there been the equivalent of vertical bolts.’Scimitars in the Sun

‘My language, my style, is not something superficial, like a coat that I wear when I go out. My style is me – even when I’m at home. It’s the way I think. My style is my politics.’

‘Once you’ve seen certain things, you can’t un-see them, and saying nothing is as political an act as speaking out…There’s no innocence and there isn’t any sense in which any of us is perfect or not invested in the system. If I put money in a bank it’s going to fund the bombs and the dams. When I pay tax, I’m investing in projects I disagree with. I’m not a completely blameless person campaigning for the good of mankind. But from that un-pristine position, is it better to say nothing or to say something?’ The Colonization of Knowledge

‘I’m not rural, not urban, not completely “traditional” nor wholeheartedly “modern”. I grew up in a village. I saw rural India at work. And yet I had the advantage of having an education. It’s like being at the top of the bottom of the heap – without the blinkered single-mindedness of the completely oppressed nor the flabby self-indulgence of the well-to-do.’
‘Yet, just as inevitable as the journey that the powerful undertake is the journey undertaken by those who are engaged in the business of resisting power. Just as power has a physics, those of us who are opposed to power also have a physics. Sometimes I think the world is divided into those who have a comfortable relationship with power and those who have a naturally adversarial relationship with power.’ Terror and the Maddened King

‘The thing is, if you’re a writer. You’re not polling votes. I’m not here to tell stories that people want to hear. I’m not entering some popularity contest. I just say what I have to say, and the consequences are sometimes wonderful and sometimes not. But I’m not here to say what people want to hear.’

‘When people try to dismiss those who ask the big public questions as being emotional, it is a strategy to avoid debate. Why should we be scared of being angry? Why should we be scared of our feelings, if they’re based on facts? The whole framework of reason versus passion is ridiculous, because often passion is based on reason. Passion is not always unreasonable. Anger is based on reason. They’re not two different things. I feel it’s very important to defend that. To defend the space for feelings, for emotions, for passion.’ Development Nationalism

‘When people describe me as famous and rich and successful, it makes me feel queasy. Each of these words falls on my soul like an insult. They seem tinny and boring and shiny and uninteresting to me. It makes me feel unsuccessful because I never set out to be those things. And they make me uneasy. To be famous, rich and successful in this world is not an admirable thing. I’m suspicious of it all.’

‘It’s one thing to have a dictator who commits genocide. It’s another thing to have an elected government with officials who have been accused of actively abetting mass murder being re-elected. Because then, all of us must bear the shame of that. All of us must bear some responsibility for that. I don’t see that it’s all that different from the American public electing president after president who has killed and massacred and bombed people all over the world.’ Globalization of Dissent

‘If the chequebook won’t work, the cruise missile will. Hell hath no fury like a market scorned.’
‘The system of electoral democracy as it stands today is premised on a religious acceptance of the nation state, but the system of corporate globalization is not. The system of corporate globalization is premised on the fact that liquid capital can move through poor countries at an enormous scale, dictating the agendas, dictating economic policy in those countries by insinuating itself into those economies. Capital requires the coercive powers of the nation state to contain the revolt in the servants’ quarters. But it ensures that individual countries cannot stand up to the project of corporate globalization alone.’ Seize the Time

‘If every avenue of non-violent dissent is closed or mocked or bought off or broken, then by default you privilege violence. When all your respect and admiration and research and media coverage and the whole economy is based on war and violence, when violence is deified, on what grounds are you going to condemn terrorism?’

‘Freedom means mass murder now. In the US, it means fried potatoes (freedom fries). Liberation means invasion and occupation. When you hear the words ‘humanitarian aid’, it’s advisable to look around for induced starvation. We all know what collateral damage means. When the US invaded South Vietnam and bombed the countryside, killing thousands of people and forcing thousands to flee to cities where they were held in refugee camps, Samuel Huntingdon called this a process of “urbanisation”.’ The Outline of the Beast

‘It will be a bloody battle, this battle for the establishment and perpetuation of hegemony. The world is not a static place. It’s wild and unpredictable. The American Empire isn’t going to have all that easy a ride. The people of the world will not be lining the streets raining roses on the emperor.’

‘I think speaking out against the occupation is the bravest thing a soldier can do. I have always admired the US soldiers who spoke out against the Vietnam War. In fact, in places like India, when people get randomly racist and anti-American, I always ask them: When do you last remember Indian soldiers speaking out against a war, any war, in India?’ The War That Never Ends

‘If I were a US soldier, risking my life and sanity in the 100-plus-degree deserts of Iraq, I’d be asking some pretty serious questions of the CEOs of companies like Halliburton. How much do you earn? How much do I earn? What do you risk? What do I risk?

‘Why is it that every time a government goes to war, the only reasons offered are moral reasons? “To spread democracy, freedom, feminism, to rid the world of evil-doers.” Why is it that states expect morality of us, but we as individuals can’t debate an issue in moral terms?’ Independence Day Special

‘I saw a news report about two adivasi girls getting married to each other. And the whole village was saying: If that’s what they want, it’s fine. They had this ceremony, with all the rituals and customs, and they let them get married. That’s a moment of magic. It reveals their level of modernity, of their sophistication. Of their beauty’.

‘In India we are at the moment witnessing a sort of fusion between corporate capitalism and feudalism-it’s a deadly cocktail. We see it unfolding before our eyes. Sometimes it looks as though the result of all this will be a twisted implementation of the rural employment guarantee act. Half the population will become Naxalites and the other half will join the security forces. And what Bush said will come true. Everyone will have to choose whether they’re with “us” or with the “terrorists”. We will live in an elaborately administered tyranny.’ The Question of Violence

‘To expose things is quite different from being able to effectively resist things. I am more interested now in whether there are new strategies of resistance. The debate between strategies of violence and non-violence…’

‘When there is such a massive army presence I do not understand how anybody, any agency, can say that there are free and fair elections in Kashmir, regardless of how many people turn out or do not turn out to vote. Because when you have a permanent army presence you do not need to send people on the end of a bayonet to voting booths.’ I Hope Kashmir Will Be in All the Books I Write

‘I refused to accept the Sahitya Akademi Award. During the BJP regime I was convicted for contempt of court and sent to jail. During the Congress regime, I am being given an award. Though these seem different ways of dealing with the writer, to my mind they are both ways to neutralize a troublesome writer.’

‘I’d say our views paint us out of the small corner – the small, rich, glittering, influential corner. The corner with “the voice”. The corner that owns the guns and bombs and money and the media. I’d say our views cast us onto a vast, choppy, dark, dangerous ocean where most of the world’s people float precariously. And from having drifted there a while, I’d say the mood is turning ugly.’ There’s a Fury Building Up…

‘You take from the poor, subsidize the rich, and then call it the Free Market.’

‘People are fully aware that to take to arms is to call down upon yourself the myriad forms of the violence of the Indian state. The minute armed struggle becomes a strategy, your whole world shrinks and the colours fade to black and white. But when people decide to take that step because every other option has ended in despair, should we condemn them? We are living in times when to be ineffective is to support the status quo (which no doubt suits some of us). And being effective comes at a terrible price. I find it hard to condemn people who are prepared to pay that price.’ Choosing Our Weapons

‘I’ve always felt that it’s ironic that hunger strikes are used as a political weapon in a land where most people go hungry anyway.’

‘By most standards, I probably qualify for being an anti-national. I don’t have a nationalistic bone in my body. It’s just not my instinct. Yet it’s inconceivable for me to not be here, because it contains everything that I love.’ Ten Years On… 

Review by John Andrews

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