« Desert Island Discs

Arundhati Roy

2017-03-26 | 🔗
Kirsty Young's castaway is the writer, Arundhati Roy. She won the Booker Prize for her first novel, The God Of Small Things, which has been translated into 40 languages and became the best-selling book ever by a non-expatriate Indian. After a gap of 20 years, her second novel will be published in June. Brought up in Kerala, her Syrian Christian mother left her marriage when her children were young and set up a small school where Arundhati and her brother were educated. Raised to be independent, aged 16, Arundhati left home to study architecture in Delhi before being introduced to the film world by her second husband. Since the publication of The God of Small Things in 1997, she has continued to write non-fiction, using her influence her to focus on tackling injustice. She has campaigned against India's nuclear programme, dam-building, globalisation, religious intolerance and the inequality of Indian society. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is the bbc hulu uncursed a young. Thank you for downloading this podcast of desert on discs from BBC radio for for rights reasons, the music choices of shorter than in the radio broadcasts for more information about the programme. Please visit bbc dotcom, dont uk slash radio for my customary this week. is the writer on daddy Roy, a booklet prize winning also she is confined in literary presence. issuing categorization to take her job description. At its word, a novel here, a policeman
I see there always rising yes, but defying the traditions and expectations of both the publishing world and her readership there's been a twenty year gap between her much loved and lauded debut novel, the god of small things and her latest fictional, offering in the decades between she has published, provoking work on poverty, globalization and oppression, making plenty cultural waves in homeland of india and the good few enemies along the way to she said of her most recent rising. I think, there's something beautiful on direct and clear sighted about pamphlet eating when it's well done. It slows down the gauntlet and infuriates the comfortable classes, apart from everything else, it's great fun to watch them lose their coup. So welcome after publishing that debut novel. Two decades ago, it solves six million copies the encouragement for you to keep on doing the same thing and to sell
more and more novels must have been huge. How did you resist? Well, I I do no, whether that's a myth. You know that, after all, people can only put pressure on you. If you accept that pressure, you know, but I wasn't ever the person who who wanted to become assembly line writer, you know also things changed very, dramatically in india around that time. When I won the book a prize and I was on the our of every magazine, not the united states.
in it, but I was sort of being marketed as this new product of the global india and then suddenly the government did these nuclear tests and for me I realized that, because I was at that point embraced by the establishment not saying something was ass. Political are saying something and I wrote this ethic condemning the tests and at that point the fairy princess was kicked off. Rapid has telling them you know, but I write things because sometimes I just can't not frightened them for what about that? Given the diverse nature of your rising? What's the starting point for you can stay put pinned to pay I'm sure it's not that I'm sure it's a keeper, but what's the story-
when on the lines who paper as well said mixture, but you know there's a big difference in the way my body fields were number I think fiction and when I'm writing political stuff, you know fiction it's it's less a book Dana sit auto, sedimentary rocks. You know tat less and less and less its mysterious and needs of today and you know that you have to wait for it is said: dot some, never in a hurry and am very secretive about it. While I'm writing sometimes I don't even know if I'm writing or just concentrating on the folks in the are coming out there. You know, but when I have done nonfiction the thing is I never set out to do You know, and each time I le right uneasy, I get into so much trouble. I promise that I won't do it again:
then, even though I m trying to tell myself to shut up, it becomes much easier to write. It then not treated. and so in the way, I've. Twenty years of ass, it is, I never meant to write you, so you What, when you write something you have to spend a few days filtering out the fury and you dont do things to be deliberately provocative. So how do you filtered out your fury? Well, first, I write it in and then it's like this cliff of anger. and I put in though pegs like a mountaineer would and I climbed up and then I take the pigs out, but I still don't managed to filter out enough of it for most people, but why should I? You have to use all your skills, my nonfiction, I do use the arsenal of affection writer. I mean, I believe fiction is truth. You know so fiction, not me,
up? This is a very multi layered list that you given us today and let's turn to it now and that employ tell me about your first track. What are we gonna hewn implies. There's been a choice, it's been a choice because you made me choose, but how do I get my divide? Every single beetle song. They play my and all the time and are the beatles have meant everything to me. I mean shorter during my panties them I've done it retraining. I love the music
in Sweden. We the beatles, while Guitar gently weeps tell me: I'm daddy roy delhi delhi's your home, yet and we know the gap between the rich and in india is enormous. You yourself described it as an obsession. what what is the starkist representation of it. That you see was in your city. Well, I studied alchemy. Children from then to now I've spoken about. How does it
the tea and a non city and the city has institutions, it does housing, it has markets, it has transport and then the non citizens live in the cracks between these institutions. They have no foothold in the city that no homes, they have nothing. I mean, as I said rather crudely, they even shit on top of the sewage system, leaving the sewage system using there's. You know, so that's how it is and, of course, outside the city. You know the devil patients, as you know, two hundred and fifty thousand farmers if kill themselves, could then debt. So for me, as a writer, it's impossible to just push you glittering career as a fiction writer and just ignore all this. You know before me. The fiction, too, must be informed by this. By cost I mean which
country in the world has more than a million people who make a living carrying other people shit on their heads. This is what the caste system is in. India is, let's have some music and dirty boy. Tell me about your second. What we're gonna do not, oh, I think we're going to hear a song which breaks my heart. It's a song called Highly hello, its, I think, the first song that I remember my mother singing and I grew up in this little billy in kerala, call I'm an aim, which is the village in which the god of small things are said. And my mother had done, of course committed the great boss to see by marrying outside this very traditional community called assyrian christians that she belonged to end. She had married a bengali, hindu and then divorced him and come back to this village,
where she was not wanted with her two children who were even less wanted, and she was obviously very headstrong, very beautiful woman and I think when I was even three years old, I might have been a writer then because it was hard to be that young and to understand Why and adults who was harsh review was being harsh because our own heart was broken. You know children should understand those things, but writer children probably do and she used to sing the song and I'd. I listened to it and think this woman, zalm, she's, beautiful and she's young men and it's over in terms of love, and even today it it harms me when I think about it, but we don't walk away from harm,
is a song don't ask me so
highly high Lou performed, thereby martin tailors spitters have jangling chosen for memories of your mother. When you were just a little girl and as your boy, you important dedicated your novel, the god of small things to your mother, mary and interests. I think we might be able to spend an entire programme talking simply about her, because what when I read of her only makes her sons more fascinating. Just tell me She was like as a mother when you were very young well, No, she was. raging, because she felicity was the child of a very abusive father and a pretty weak mother with failing eyesight, who played the violin beautifully and was told that she was concert class and has been broken ireland, because how can she be allowed to do that? And then she married my dad, who I never met until I was very much older in my time
decided tat. He was just a mysterious figure and he was a t plantation manager when she met him. Yes, he was, but I think chiefly he was drinking a lot. You know end and she she just a loud. She was very ill all the time she had asked ma and she didn't have any right to go. So she was living in my grand those house and every used to just tell us why? Don't you get out? This is not your house that you have no right to be here. And so I spent all my time just on the river and with people who used to fish in united grew up. While I knew every beetle and insect and blade of grass, so she was harsh and she was bitter and she beautiful and she was tender. I suppose when somebody up tat the only, but she would take it out on with me and my brother. So there was a lot of a lot of anger against us and she would
what sort of things you know you? like millstones around my neck and all that and yet than she would embrace us, do and love us. So it was, it was good because you never knew what was coming at you. You know, which is very unsettling, I suppose, but maybe there what made me a writer I'm in my mother broke me and made me in woke me and made me, and she soon does. I think she's a fund, mental force in me in all kinds of ways you have said previously to you know one of the many things written and set about your mother that to have seen a woman who never needed a man is a wonderful thing. Yeah I do mean it doesn't never needed a man but, like I grew up without the presence of the father who's gonna. Look after you, I just didn't, have
So in a way you know I love men, because I don't accept bush. it from them. You know, and so I once in kerala had very funny occasion, my mother and I went to meeting where they were talking about. dowry and my mother was yelling about. You know why shouldn t accept dowry- and I said why don't you just give you a daughter, whatever you want to give them. Why do linked to marriage so there the woman with lots of diamond during said, you know what that will make our daughters very bold and bold girls can never have a happy marriage cited by. I was brought up to be bold and I've had several happy marriage a black hole, He really it's time for someone music and tell me about your third. What are we gonna hear now? Oh, if, if you just called my mother now and played this should start singing it back to you said this is a song
called old man river by Paul groups in, and I heard it as I was good, on this basis, river and you'd. Think about this. The mississippi you know, and I ve never been there yet, but I will get their one day. and composed fighter
can and oscar hammerstein, that was pole, robes and, of course, singing old man. River at tell me aren't that he Roy, but the beginnings of your writings, interesting that its very beginnings or are situated in a sort of protest. The first little jesse you ever route was, I hate, miss mitten. It was smith, oh yeah, right, miss mitten, wasn't You know my mother finally left my father. And didn't have any way to go. So she she went to this little cottage. In a highly station called booty belonged to her father s, father had died and was gone, but there was an australian missionary. There were a lot of missionaries there and miss mitten was an australian missionary who used to teach me- and I was five years old and in class one and every day. She would tell me that she could see satan in my eyes and I still have that book- my mother kept it. It was the first thing I wrote. I hate me smitten and when
I see her. I see rags and I think, on nicaragua torn and didn't smitten read it smitten might not have read it, but miss mitten once asked me brother, minuets, six and I was five or less, and she told us that we had to collect mushrooms for her and she told us rich were the right ones and which, with it- long ones and we deliberately picked all the wrong ones. We didn't know that he was so little anyway. She she had mushrooms and then she had fits and had to go to hospital, and we were very scared, but fortunately she survived. I don't know if this has anything to do with why your mother founded her own school, but she went ahead and did that and you are one of the first of just seven pupils, you and your brother at what sort of pupil where you will use diligent. Ah, I don't think I'd use that word, but I was
guinea pig girl. She would use teachers to experiment on me before she allowed them to teach the other three so it was pretty unorthodox and education in line with the school. Tell me about your next piece of music, then are an daddy. What are we gonna? He went on you, you force yeah, that's going to be Ruby tuesday so I grew up in this town and he was made very clear to me at all points, as I was growing up, that I was just not going to be accepted there, but it was even to me to me that I did not want to be accepted there and for me it was close to having a bag put on my head and to look you gotta small supply of oxygen and that's about it suggests. Dreamt of leaving in many ways it wasn't just because of the town it was also. Of course, there was a lot of conflict between
my mother and me, and there were these two songs wonders leaving home and then does Ruby tuesday, which somehow told me that you knew cash. Your dreams before this If we don't get caught in this maya dreams, my life, hi the room
students, tuesday and for you, and that he would do the message was in the music. You say that when you were sixteen, you decided that you had to get away. I've seen a photograph of you. I think it is correct. previous eu you were, will you had a cigarette, You might think, very cool. It looks very sin and you looks like you sort of were slightly ruling how do I didn't feel well on fire jaws dropped, as you have done try. I had already got into architecture school, which was a wild place. You know, no rules, no girl, hardly any girls you listed there wasn't a separate two hostile or whatever so remember. Some rather creepy uncouth came to the campus and he saw these peoples. Smoking door, boys and girls lying around and he said. Aren't you going out of bed, and you- and I said, no, we don't have any bones, he says: can I
you wouldn't I should we don't have one shit. Oh, when do you have to come home at night, and I said we don't have to suggest got killed off to tell everybody in the small town the news, the girls gone bad, but I have the girl gone, but had the good and bad. I think the girl had come good shoes, psych, ok, guys! Thank you! Bye! Bye, I mean I That was very angry with me, but I was angry with her to have so long a moment ago you described your mother's. You said very headstrong, very beautiful and I cannot help thinking. The apple has not fallen fashions the treaty having because you are very well known also people, probably know what you look like. What is worse me telling them. You are luminous lee beautiful and I can only imagine that as a young woman, you got a lot of attention, not true, not true,
because you must remember that I am not conventionally looking for winning india in or in fact I should say I was the worst thing that assyrian christian go could be us tin and act and clever. You like, I, will concentrate on dangerous here and I think I signalled trouble to most people and I think the school of architecture was agreed liberation because I just said: oh, I don't know need any of this anymore. You know, and I are just live on nothing but I'd be free, which is what I did you by the age of seventeen. You had. I mean I've read its attendant on undocumented mary germany, it was an official marriage. You did it There are many between the two of you that did you. Finally, do you were living together,
him, I didn't have any family by then you never went who know she. She didn't want to hear about me and I I just disappeared for years six: seven years there was absolutely no contact and in fact what happened was that after I finished architecture I went off to go out. I thought let me sell cake on the beach or something so me gerard my boyfriend. We went there and then I realized that I didn't like the gps. You know what was the problem: I'm not a drifter. I think I'm more like her. Let me light a fire here and let me get that pin down there as I walk past, you know just little bit of an agitated. So I came back to daily, Ask you more about that in a second, but for now we need to fit in the music, and it seems an absolutely perfect time to introduce your next to track. Telling you about this. It's janis joplin, her voice, along with billie holiday's to me, is absolute freedom of women.
the absolute refusal to be bottle lynn and euro squeak and be made to be what people want to be song. I knew it earlier in the more traditional way it is sung, but when I heard her singing it I thought: how will anyone ever thing the song in in the shut up
and that was generous. Joplin summit. Timely spoke earlier, aren't attaboy affair of the fight, but you'd said somebody. A public meeting you'd had lots of any happy man. it is in fact you ve only been married twice. We should be clear and tell me about how you came to meet the man who became your second husband. That's the filmmaker product, christian. Well. When I came back from magua, I actually left my first boyfriend, seeing no, I'm gonna be a writer and I
back to delhi and I was working in an a government office called the national institute of urban affairs and predicts wife used to work in that office, and he saw me and he was making a film at them at the time called massey sob and he asked me to act in this film that he was making the marriage was already. king down and I acted in his food and then I went off to italy on a scholarship and when I came back his wife, she had already left. You said just now that you know you'd finished your architecture training, but you had said to your boyfriend stood almost husband, I'm going to be a writer so had that been percolating away inside you rightly years well, when I was young, I didn't even think there was anything else I wouldn't be doing That was it, but it just went underground. You know when I had to
leave home and for years and years I had no ambitions. I just needed to some and I was alone, but I was on a life raft of friends and it was a haze of doping music end, and so, when you as yet, and if and when you married, you became a. U dont have children yourself, but you became the mother of two stepchildren. It's interesting to me that when you ve been talking about as we know, you you're you're activism, is such an important part of what your life has been. Until now. You ve said that not having children has helped you activism, and I wonder why that is to say I never use that word activism about myself before what would you have had kissed her right? I mean I, I keep seeing act too.
Soon. As a new word, you know. In the old days when writers used to write about the societies, they live demon transiently, they were not called activists. You know so that that activists to me are those people who stay in that place. Who are the architects of that struggle, whereas I'm a person who sometimes supports. Who shows up when it will help whose more involved in trying to write a world view. I feel that I am a risk taker to me. My writing and nothing. If I don't take that risk, so you have a responsibility only to yourself as somebody with a responsibility only to myself. Let's say that I'd say of a family, make you more selfish children make you more selfish. This way. Your love is wider You know because you're thinking about their specific and other Julia and other things- and you are not responsible for having devastated the lives of someone you
brought into the world by getting yourself into trouble? You and your husband as I understand it, live apart cordially when we have separated, but we have a lot of affection and love for each other. I still, let's fit in a little bit more of your music and ass. He boy tell me but this, what are we gonna get? This is a song by a musician from reduced on call. nor can it was spread. The pooh introduce me to his music. It's college had gay. I offer you my shoe it's this, about the coming of the monsoon and aids is bottle, but same bully mourned had kyoto, the rain is falling, that peacocks are calling, and this singing it's almost like a dead, its yearning for rain, but he sings it like a lover yearning for her love to come back and its haunting
just keep on. so much so that was a longer time. I I feel I probably mocked at the pronunciation there, but I did my best to learn. Does he right? I'm you ve been working little as a screenwriter, when you embarks on your first novel, the world knows it, of course, as the god of small things, it made your name around the world and it would go on to sell em right on my six million copies extraordinary, and
Since yesterday that when you published this first novel, I've read that you are granted complete control over the text and over the cover. First of all, is that true answer. Secondly, if it is to have an ass, did you manage to swing it as a first time novelist granted, I insisted you know what he was doing and grunting. Yes, I was just a stubborn thing. What I said was that look. If you have any suggestions, I'm happy to consider them, but that doesn't mean I'm gonna, listen and when they first asked me know anything about publishing, and they said what would you like from us- and I didn't know that I was supposed to say you know what tour with him. I just at complete design, control, no saudis nor tigers, nor, moreover, my cover you know so I dont want to come off, as is fully arrogant, personal things. No one can tell me anything because I am open to listening but
to make the final decision myself. Let's have some more music aren't as evil. I tell me what we're gonna get on your sentence. Oh now, gonna hear in classical. Music and it's a drug called chime- will harm sung by legendary sir the who is now no longer with us. His name is beams and Yoshi and as they say, the words are done. Mun done sub wooing, he by george, it's a song of sir rendered says my body, my wealth, my mind, everything I lay at your feet and that could be the feet of a lover or be divine being or it could be, a divine love. But it's a song of beautiful surrender
yeah, the yeah, there has been central. She singing china, my heart, but tell me on a dirty roy. As you explained it, there was appeared of six or seven years when you, you didn't see your family at all, and you certainly never spoke to your mother and you have been reunited over the years. What does she think of your work sent them? He has just yesterday she called me:
Said I'm reading sidney showed in every sentence. I read, I think my daughter rights better than that, but the fact is that a complement or an insult prevent about did ass. She called me answered. I went somewhere and somebody asked me if I would urge that the royal mother and I felt as the shed slapped me. So you never know for me she's such a cent, true person in my life and also when I was speaking at her school anniversary, tone was there? And I said, oh, I know you, people talk about how the character, in the god of small things whose who is my mother and you think it was a terrible thing for me- to have a character like that- have an affair within untouchable. Well, I think it's a great thing. I think all of you should when have affairs shouldn't what were the looks on the teachers faces using those have decided that you know there are three people
my mother me and my mother's brother, music, chalk in the book was also equally important influence in my life. I think they have just given up on the three of us daily. Whatever I dont lose, you will have had time to imagine this island. Then I'm gonna cost your way. I'd do I have heard you say you cope on it. Quite ok, newfound practical, but I may come. I stress sit. You tell me about your final piece of music manner, and that is why what we gonna? U we're? Gonna hear leonard coins winter lady and have chosen this the cause I love it and because it's in a beautiful way in my new book and its spirit, is there and also to waive travelling stay awhile to use over
this station on your way and no well. When so many
in the winter lady it's time now, and that is why, for me to give you the books, I give every castaway a copy of the bible and the complete works of shakespeare. You get one other book along with those. What's your book could be, I think, is going to be a hope against hope by nine days the mendel stamp, because it has a lot of secrets in it, which I haven't unearthed yet but secrets about love and endure ends and harshness and poetry. It's yours, you're allowed a luxury to a mango tree and my favorite is a mango called wrapped. All it's yours then, and
if you had to save just one single disk from the waves which one would it be. When I was sitting on the top branch of the mango tree, it would be been tangier, sheath, chinamen harsh, when it was time to surrender to the waves it's yours and that he really thank you very much for letting us here, you're desert island. Oh, thank you so much. I really enjoyed it
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Transcript generated on 2022-06-12.