This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Bijaya Biswal. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Review: Arundhati Roy’s Latest Novel Lets Her Politics Overshadow Her Storytelling

More from Bijaya Biswal

Our personal is ferociously political.

We are adamant evolutionary miracles who tread under a cloudy sky that we have built on our own; of religions, revolutions and eternally flipping governments which we consensually grow in our wombs only to consider an unfair abortion for it when it starts growing teeth. We are mad scientists with aggressively masturbating brains who invented societies, only to realise it presumes the power to record, vandalise and chastise us for how far we ponder on the internet, for what we cook in the cauldrons of our kitchen, the hymns we know and the length of skin we show. In a way, we are, all of us, the illegitimate children of transient political set-ups, bandit queens and Guevaras and Thatchers in the Rye, our minds made of clay which media and politicians can easily stamp their fingerprints on. The difference between the height of ambitions of a woman raised in Saudi Arabia and another raised in Canada is purely the difference of respective politics, which breeds without our knowledge, in speech and wages, in the institution of marriages.

Arundhati Roy knows. She knows how poetry and politics build the very skeleton of mankind and safely outlive it, decaying into history, lessons, and irreversible regrets. Being the architect she is, she draws her own design of the world, like a laughing Buddha; the oscillation between communism and capitalism being her vicious cycle of life and demise, and anarchy being the ultimate salvation.

Sadly, anarchy is the one word with which I can describe her second book. And it feels nothing like salvation, but instead like an afterlife worse than life itself. A sinking afterglow of “The God Of Small Things”, which has died a Nietzschean death. It is an integrated but unassimilated reportage of modern India, a plate serving chewy titbits of factual fodder from all over, but not enough to curb hunger.

The lead characters are fleeting acquaintances with no intention of building intimacy with the reader; the story is patchy, recklessly digressing, like a cold sea studded with icebergs, but devoid of thrilling trade winds. Nothing sails in the plot, but the shipwreck is colossal. Anjum has a body which cannot be explained, lives in a graveyard still and unflinching like a lonely tree who has succumbed to its anchorage long ago, has the inspecting eyes of an activist but a heart that still beats in ashes after having survived the riots of Godhra in 2002. But Anjum is not pursued by Roy any further, does not flourish but also does not perish, and remains like a dead soul silently digging its own grave slipping out of the memory of the audience. Tilo is defined in haste and hindsight, almost in the peripheral vision of an unknown first-person narrator, and comes from the disputed land of cannons and calmness (Kashmir), at a time when dissent is curfewed and shot down in a timely fashion. There are others who are weeds in the garden of black roses – a Dalit masquerading as a Muslim; the neglected character of a daughter reduced only to the animals she keeps company of; an Adivasi freedom fighter; many important deaths and unnecessary ambassadors mentioned only to import global miseries (Iraq War, Afghanistan, 9/11).

The personal is intoxicated by the polemical and struggles for independence under the algebra of infinite injustice. Nothing leads to anything in the book. The incoherent tone heaves, sighs, leaks, and lets go; the literary devices act like doctors at times – but nothing manages to save the fractured poetry of a story diseased by dates and timelines.

The monotonous political commentary further amplifies into a distracting tinnitus because it often crosses the line which fiction never should. Clinging to sides. Abiding by opinions. Making a stubborn point. Modi is mentioned as Gujarat ka Lalla; Anna Hazare has been put to criticism and Kejriwal has been given a revealing disguise. The Murakami-like universality is lost within the confinement of regional circumstance, and since history is bound to repeat itself (in re-telling), the predictability is imminent. When the book stops having its own soul and is possessed by the author’s, the exorcistical mind of the reader unapologetically turns defensive against the devil in the details. “How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.” Maybe it is not so easy.

Roy is a fiction-minded magician who can describe cities like women and hearts like oceans. Roy is also an embodiment of philosophy and phenomenon. Maybe it is due to an incompatible tryst between these dual lives, that her novel suffers from a split-personality disorder; that it yields under the weight of the same conflict it desires to portray.

But remember, negative reviews are just failed expectations. They are heartbreaks, hiccups, and hopeful tongues desensitised to the taste of anything they aren’t looking for. Maybe, in the turbulent waves of this ministry, the boat of some reader will sail straight unto utmost happiness. Maybe in this carnival of shattered stories, at least somebody will be able to become everybody and everything.

For the uninitiated and demotivated, here is my favourite excerpt from the book:

At magic hour, when the sun is gone but the light has not, armies of flying foxes unhinge themselves from the Banyan trees in the old graveyard and drift across the city like smoke. When the bats leave, the crows come home. Not all the din of their homecoming fills the silence left by the sparrows that have gone missing, and the old white-backed vultures, custodians of the dead for more than a hundred million years, that have been wiped out. The vultures died of diclofenac poisoning. Diclofenac, cow aspirin, given to cattle as a muscle relaxant, to ease pain and increase the production of milk, works—worked—like nerve gas on white-backed vultures. Each chemically relaxed milk-producing cow or buffalo that died became poisoned vulture bait. As cattle turned into better dairy machines, as the city ate more ice cream, butterscotch-crunch, nutty-buddy and chocolate-chip, as it drank more mango milkshake, vultures’ necks began to droop as though they were tired and simply couldn’t stay awake. Silver beards of saliva dripped from their beaks, and one by one they tumbled off their branches, dead.

You must be to comment.

More from Bijaya Biswal

Similar Posts

By Godhuli Barat

By Gagandeep Singh

By Saras Jaiswal

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below