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'The God of Small Things' lives on

By Rajgopal Nidamboor - posted Tuesday, 5 June 2007

When Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize-winning novel, The God of Small Things (GOST), was launched 10 years ago, it set the publishing industry abuzz - and, this was quite exceptional for a debutante novelist in Anglo-English writing.

That Roy was destined to chisel a work as splendid as GOST as a metaphor, or simile, is what dreams are made of, and fulfilled.

GOST mirrors Roy’s own genre of writing, yes: of originality, derived from within her psyche - the power of the intellect, of mind over matter, a renaissance of the perceptual thought process, and also a celebration of imagination. Or, if you prefer, call it a synthesis that sprouts naturally, based on Roy’s own maxims.


Whatever the argument, and critical appraisal of Roy’s first novel, one has to acknowledge her amazing repertoire of writing. Roy not only weaves a language that dislocates established rhythms with explicit delight, but she goes along her way with a rare flourish that is, quite simply, unmatched.

Language, of course, is only a part of Roy’s magical expression. But not just anybody could have spruced and polished her GOST. In fact, none of her editors touched a word. But then few writers have Roy’s magic, or talent. Yet, this also explains her fancy for using too many metaphors and similes, at the proverbial “drop of a phrase”, even when not required, or when her complexities become trapped in a quagmire of contextualised, even repetitive, alchemy of “hop, skip, and jump,” all through the novel.

The best part is that Roy is aware of her imagery, and allegorical resolutions. She’s, therefore, wary about her choice of words - words which are delicately knitted to fit into every slot, angle, frame, and character. Her characters have a definitive sense of belonging, within each frame, word for word. And, they are all trapped within the range of their own feelings and idiosyncrasies.

Roy also has a great sense of witticism - a potion of lethal mirth, to be precise. What’s more, her straight-line thinking works like a mop, absorbing misery.

GOST celebrates death, and just about every facet of life. The novel takes you on a riveting journey into the now, and beyond. In so doing, it emerges ever so beautifully - even distressingly. It is profound, and disdainful. It has tragic suffering, with more than an element of hope, love, or illicit love - something that is as compelling to its Kerala - India’s southern state - ethos as its literature, culture, and films.

What’s startlingly perceptive, in GOST, is Roy’s dekko vis-à-vis the unipolar tensions within the Syrian Christian community, juxtaposed by the radical Naxalite movement. Her surgical foray is more than exploratory. There is a definitive political underpinning, or a multifaceted undercurrent flowing through her roller-coaster narrative, with nature’s bounty, which is also a part of coastal Kerala’s alluring environ: one that gives the novel a natural umbrella of sensual flourish.


GOST evolves over just one day, and encompasses a few decades, back and forth. It examines how the little world of Ammu’s twins - Estha and Rahel - crumbles with the drowning of their cousin, Sophie Mol. It also wades through the process of shock, human tragedy, disappointment, frustration, depression, and acceptance. It illustrates dexterously how wreckages in family life distort perceptions, and lead to making forecasts out of (un)orthodox beliefs.

The non-conformist activist-writer that she is, Roy also brings out the high-handed, fragmental ways of regulatory brutality with great panache, and she has an “off the wall” sense of humour, even in the most serious, heartrending of situations. More so, when Velutha, who is falsely implicated in the tragic death of Sophie Mol, exists as a reduced vegetable, his life hanging on the edge … followed by final silence.

All the same, Roy’s sweeping generalisations are hardly warranted. Yet, they reflect the State: the state of a nation. In Roy’s mosaic she shows us the India of the unscrupulous politician - who’s also the unbridled hydra-headed monster of power.

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About the Author

Rajgopal Nidamboor is a Mumbai-based writer-editor, and author of Cricket Odyssey. His website is here

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