The Dichotomy of a Culture

In Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

“…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories, you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.

That is their mystery and their magic.”

This was an excerpt from one of my favorite reads…. A book that is the measure of loving and the subtraction of it. It carries the weight of a heavy soul… kept in a jar… tightly sealed… full of anguish, regrets, misplaced memories, and shattered kinship. You see glimpses of it through cracks in the surface left behind by the piercing eyes of one’s political, cultural, and historical predispositions.

The book is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

The book reads like a melancholic and secretive diary. A diary that you never bring out into the world; keeping it safely tucked away under a mattress or behind a mountain of personal belongings. A diary that is cradled too close to the heart, brutally and yet fervently expressive; the honesty of which even frightens you. It’s the flesh of the wound that runs the deepest and that bleeds on those blank pieces of paper; but in the end, it is bandaged by only you. This is it. The enormity of Arundhati Roy’s compass pointing us in so many glued-together directions. Having read this book three times, tucked between periods of days, weeks, months of staying away from a book that I, who am inclined to always pick up a new book because there’s always so much to read, go back to it every time for some sentimental and perceptive consolation. 

The thing about reading tragedy is that it becomes your own. Or that you claim that it is your own. How else would you feel it? The triumphs of loneliness, isolation, despair, and anger run deep into the well of your emotional tendencies. The characters are waiting for you to peel back their layers, upon a surface that makes up a story’s setting. The inadequacy of such a task is ironically what brings you closer to Arundhati Roy’s fiction. You read the words, maybe in whisper-quiet echoes. But you feel it pulsating in every muscle and their hollow spaces as if those very echoes mimic the speed and the color and the density of blood.

The book is set in Kerala, ingrained in its language; the dichotomy of a culture, of lives that were born too soon (or that shouldn’t have been born at all). The narration is restless with religious and political descriptions. Arundhati Roy has a unique way of defining these descriptions through her characters. The role of a mother, of a child, of a brother, a cousin, a lover, it’s in their history that one remembers the history of Kerala. If you’ve read the back cover of the book; the description hits the nail on the head. Amid the ruined, the forgotten, the misplaced – you won’t find a book this expansive in its depth and yet the characters live lives that feel quite the opposite.

It goes on for 340 pages; enough to contain decades and decades of survival. As a reader, you will diligently surrender to the writing style and tone of the book. It’s fast in its narration and yet you feel like it holds back time. Dropping an anchor in anyone who evaluates a book not only by its unpredictable structure but by its understanding of emotions – and their lyrical reminiscence.