Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: Arundhati Roy

1. "Once Gudiya tried to tell her that Hijras had a special place of love and respect in Hindu mythology. She told Kulsoom Bi the story of how, when Lord Ram and his wife, Sita, and his younger brother Laxman were banished for fourteen years from their kingdom, the citizenry, who loved their king, had followed them, vowing to go wherever their king went. When they reached the outskirts of Ayodhya where the forest began, Ram turned to his people and said, 'I want all you men and women to go home and wait for me until I return.' Unable to disobey their king, the men and women returned home. Only the Hijras waited faithfully for him at the edge of the forest for the whole fourteen years, because he had forgotten to mention them. 

'So we are remembered as the forgotten ones?' Ustad Kulsoom Bi said, 'Wah! Wah!'"

2. "Fiercely competitive TV channels covered the story of the breaking city as 'Breaking News'. Nobody pointed out the irony. They unleashed their untrained, but excellent-looking, young reporters, who spread across the city like a rash, asking urgent, empty questions; they asked the poor what it was like to be poor, the hungry what it was like to be hungry, the homeless what it was like to be homeless. 'Bhai Sahib, yeh bataaie, aap ko kaisa lag raha hai...?' Tell me, brother, how does it feel to be ...? The TV channels never ran out of sponsorships for their live telecasts of despair. They never ran out of despair.

Experts aired their expert opinions for a fee: Somebody has to pay the price for Progress, they said expertly.

Begging was banned. Thousands of beggars were rounded up and held in stockades before being shipped out of the city in batches. Their contractors had to pay good money to ship them back in.

Father John-for-the-Weak sent out a letter saying that, according to police records, almost three thousand unidentified dead bodies (human) had been found on the city's streets last year. Nobody replied.

But the food shops were bursting with food. The bookshops were bursting with books. The shoe shops were bursting with shoes. And people (who counted as people) said to one another, 'You don't have to go abroad for shopping any more. Imported things are available here now. See, like Bombay is our New York, Delhi is our Washington and Kashmir is our Switzerland. It's like really like saala fantastic yaar.'"

3. "I long to return to Kabul, the city where I will probably die, in some hackeneyed, unheroic manner, perhaps while handing my Ambassador a file. BOOM. No more me. Twice they nearly got us; both times luck was on our side. After the second attack we received an anonymous letter in Pashtu (which I read as well as speak): Nun zamong bad qismati wa. Kho yaad lara che mong sirf yaw waar pa qismat gatta kawo. Ta ba da hamesha dapara khush qismata ve. That translates (more or less) as: Today we were unlucky. But remember we only have to be lucky once. You will need good luck all the time.

Something about those words rang a bell. I googled them. (That's a verb now, isn't it?) It was a close-to-verbatim translation of what the IRA said after Margaret Thatcher escaped their bomb attack on the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984. It's another kind of globalization, I suppose, this universal terrorspeak.

Every day in Kabul is a battle of wits and I am addicted."

4. "For a few days after the assassination, mobs led by her supporters and acolytes killed thousands of Sikhs in Delhi. Homes, shops, taxi stands with Sikh drivers, whole localities where Sikhs lived were burned to the ground. Plumes of black smoke climbed into the sky from the fires all over the city. From my window seat in a bus on a bright, beautiful day, I saw a mob lynch an old Sikh gentleman. They pulled off his turban, tore out his beard and necklaced him South Africa-style with a burning tyre while people stood around baying their encouragement. I hurried home and waited for the shock of what I had witnessed to hit me. Oddly, it never did. The only shock I felt was shock at my own equanimity. I was disgusted by the stupidity, the futility of it all, but somehow, I was not shocked. It could be that my familiarity with the gory history of the city I had grown up in had something to do with it. It was as though the Apparition whose presence we in India are all constantly and acutely aware of had suddenly surfaced, snarling, from the deep, and had behaved exactly as we expected it to. Once its appetite was sated it sank back into its subterranean lair and normality closed over it. Maddened killers retracted their fangs and returned to their daily chores – as clerks, tailors, plumbers, carpenters, shopkeepers – life went on as before. Normality in our part of the world is a bit like a boiled egg: its humdrum surface conceals at its heart a yolk of egregious violence. It is our constant anxiety about that violence, our memory of its past labours and our dread of its future manifestations, that lays down the rules for how a people as complex and as diverse as we are continue to coexist – continue to live together, tolerate each other and, from time to time, murder one another. As long as the centre holds, as long as the yolk doesn’t run, we’ll be fine. In moments of crisis it helps to take the long view."

5. "I decided to brazen it out and ask about Musa, where he was, whether they were still together, whether they planned to get married. She said, ‘I’m not marrying anybody.’ When I asked her why she felt that way, she said she wanted to be free to die irresponsibly, without notice and for no reason."

6. "If they hadn’t died of truck, they would have died of:

(a) Dengue fever
(b) The heat
(c) Beedi smoke
(d) Stone-dust

Or maybe not. Maybe they would have risen to become:
(a) Millionaires
(b) Supermodels
(c) Bureau chiefs

Did it matter that they were mashed into the grass they slept on? To whom did it matter? Did those to whom it mattered matter?

Dear Doctor,
We have been crushed. Is there a cure?
Biru, Jairam, Ram Kishore

Tilo smiled and closed her eyes.

Careless motherfuckers. Who asked them to get in the way of the truck?

She wondered how to un-know certain things, certain specific things that she knew but did not wish to know. How to un-know, for example, that when people died of stone-dust, their lungs refused to be cremated. Even after the rest of their bodies had turned to ash, two lung-shaped slabs of stone remained behind, unburned."

7. "‘Oh, we have ways of assessing the warmth of the welcome,’ Amrik Singh said. ‘We have our own thermometers.’

Maybe. But you have no understanding of the depths of Kashmiri duplicity, Musa thought but did not say. You have no idea how a people like us, who have survived a history and a geography such as ours, have learned to drive our pride underground. Duplicity is the only weapon we have. You don’t know how radiantly we smile when our hearts are broken. How ferociously we can turn on those we love while we graciously embrace those whom we despise. You have no idea how warmly we can welcome you when all we really want is for you to go away. Your thermometer is quite useless here."

8. "She had always loved that about him, the way he belonged so completely to a people whom he loved and laughed at, complained about and swore at, but never separated himself from. Maybe she loved it because she herself didn’t – couldn’t – think of anybody as ‘her people’."

9. "‘You don’t really know me. I’m a patriot. I get goosebumps when I see the national flag. I get so emotional I can’t think straight. I love flags and soldiers and all that marching around stuff. What’s the song?’

‘You’ll like it. I carried it through the curfew for you. It was written for us, for you and me. By a fellow called Las Kone, from my village. You’ll love it.’

‘I’m pretty sure I won’t.’

‘Come on. Give me a chance.’

Musa took out a CD from the pocket of his pheran and put it into the player. Within seconds of the opening chords of the guitar, Tilo’s eyes snapped open.

Trav’ling lady, stay awhile
until the night is over.
I’m just a station on your way,
I know I’m not your lover.

‘Leonard Cohen.’

‘Yes. Even he doesn’t know that he’s really a Kashmiri. Or that his real name is Las Kone …’

Well I lived with a child of snow
when I was a soldier,
and I fought every man for her
until the nights grew colder.

She used to wear her hair like you
except when she was sleeping,
and then she’d weave it on a loom
of smoke and gold and breathing.

And why are you so quiet now
standing there in the doorway?
You chose your journey long before
you came upon this highway.

‘How did he know?’

‘Las Kone knows everything.’"

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