My troubled relationship with Arundhati Roy

It is a bit odd to discuss a person of letters and emotions from a scientific point of view. It may even seem unfair in most cases, but for Arundhati Roy.

Arundhati Roy has been able to reach a lot of thinking people across the globe due to a seemingly Reasonable Logic that she manages to conjure up in her essays.

To an average reader Roy surely sounds through and knowledgeable. She seems to have an inclination towards scientific ideas and nearly each of her famous essays has reference and relevance to some domain of Science and Technology. She also shows a preference to metaphorical statements related to natural world. She uses scientific facts and comes across saying just the right thing.

She, in a nutshell, is someone that nearly everyone finds agreeable. Mainly because she is nearly as smart or dumb as anyone on the street as far as scientific knowledge is concern.

This obviously doesn’t make her harmful or damaging to science in any way, as there won’t be too many astrophysicists or nuclear scientists reading her while pushing the frontiers of knowledge any further. But there are times when she irritates just enough that one needs to sit and point a few things out.

As rhetoric is her forte, it is difficult to deal with her by posing questions or stating facts. Most of her kind would question any answer and then go to question the question itself. So and so forth, till they find a publisher.

So only option left here is to show that she isn’t all that well versed with things that she seem to talk about in a very roundabout way.

In simple words, this is an attempt to point out the rot in the base and leave it to the reader to decide if Roy can be trusted with her opinions about things complex and complicated. Following is an attempt to take up passages from her Famous essays and read them some reason.

There can be no better place to start then the End. Here is Roy in the End of Imagination:

“The nuclear bomb is the most anti-democratic, anti-national, anti-human, outright evil thing that man has ever made. If you are religious, then remember that this bomb is Man’s challenge to God. It’s worded quite simply: We have the power to destroy everything that You have created.

If you’re not religious, then look at it this way. This world of ours is four thousand, six hundred million years old. It could end in an afternoon.”

Here we have Everything rolled in a nice little bunch. God, Physics, Life on Earth and Us. And how Right is sounds! But being slow witted like most people who read carefully, I will like to read this bit by bit.

Let me start with one simple request to Roy and anyone else who start screaming at the word “Nuclear”. Was it something that was NOT to be invented by dumb science? But can anyone please tell me how to get past understanding this stupid thing called MATTER that this idiotic world is made by Him, and overlook the massive forces that stare in your face?

I can’t think of a way past this. So I would just move on accepting the accusation of us rotten human beings having created damn Nukes.

With this admission, I also allow that Anti-democratic, Anti-national etc. qualities of Bomb are patentable ideas with sole copy-right assigned to Ms. Roy. So could be Religion, if she would care to make a legal draft acceptable to Patent office, preferably of US of A. But her claim declaring a capability of destroying what He has made, by whoever she represents under “We”, may need to be looked at.

Couple of simple things….

If you allow poor He to have made what you see around you, especially over you, into a night sky; all the nukes (about 20000 warheads in all) blasted on this speck of matter called earth aren’t really going to be noticed.

If a guy is sitting on Mars, you may need to send him a postcard to let him note that his City-bank account may not be operable henceforth. And, by God; it would seem like shock to him as he would still be able to see that dot in the night-sky that wouldn’t have changed much.

Obviously (as she has a better agent allowing her to call the shots); by “His creation”, she meant the Living World.

All the writers she must be reading would have said about “capability to obliterate this world many times over” and “Aftermath” and “Nuclear Winter”. It doesn’t surprise me that she is getting scared, As, I too feel just the same.

But…. With things like End of the world that He has created, I have my doubts.

This fragile world that Roy is born in, isn’t going to be much surprised if all 20000 nukes decide to make it happen. Gia, poor lady; will not even be shaken as she has been in the past with greater forces that have played on her surface.

And for the poor poor living things (Roy isn’t here, but you may imagine their pain and other nice things that she likes to talk of.)…. Surprise, surprise… They don’t plan to get obliterated as Roy would like them to.

Many life-forms would live and some mean disagreeable ones may even decide to make a living out of it. (Why does that remind me of Ms. Roy!!!??)

“OUR”(mean hers or His!!!??) world (that is may be as old as she wants it to be) isn’t really keen to end on one afternoon. (You don’t try telling me about environment as we/humans have inherited etc…. Point one, if we is humans; we/they are around since a few million years only… and two, this environment has never been a nice and stable place either) And nukes are big but His place is BIGGER. Damn MUCH BIGGER.


Why she makes me mad, I can’t really tell you. But, there are some people who envisage science as a way of thinking that human-mind possesses (or is allowed/gifted with.. whatever ideology you prefer) that is PURE. It is unemotional may be, but if you want familiar attributes to understand this, it is unforgiving, uncaring Truth.

So people who “write”/”think”/”communicate” Science, would look at what they say as not something that THEY ARE SAYING, BUT SOMETHING THAT IS. There are no arguments by People in Science. There is nothing to defend or fight for. We/humans have no way to change anything about how the world is.

People like Roy show complete disregard for all that I have stated above.

They talk of world and what makes it work with same familiarity that one can have to making of roomali roti (no gender issue here… I am just too bored to rephrase this line now) And the statements they make in ten minutes may take a million very brilliant people more than a million life-times of hard work to work out.

Please think about it.

That is where the End of Imagination may end. So let us now shift to something simpler, like wasps and figs.

You rarely read a Roy that doesn’t have strange creatures like wasps and figs. I feel that she is curious about natural world, and loves using this extra bit time and again to show her sensitivity / understanding.

I did read her last article in Nation till the point that she with a casual wave of her hand (oh.. I can see her do that!!!) summed up neatly all that I have ever wanted to know in this Life.

This is as true a line that I ever wrote. All I really want to know in This life is “Are fig wasps and figs the way they are today because of EVOLUTION?”

If I am told for sure (someone can ask Roy on my behalf) I would have an all explained picture of the world we live in. I would be able to have a world that has little need of God to run itself. I would reach a state of salvation.

Why would Wasps in their Figs matter so much to me?

Roy says:

“My husband’s writing a book on trees. He has a section on how figs are pollinated. Each fig only by its own specialized fig wasp. There are nearly a thousand different species of fig wasps, each a precise, exquisite synchrony, the product of millions of years of evolution.”

I know a guy called Richard Dawkins who has spent a life time trying to understand similar things and he, at the very end of a long book starts of like this:

“We have come a long way and are finally ready to return to the most difficult and complicated of all my stories, that of the fig.”

What is poor Dawkins doing over 271 pages of complex case building before this?

He is TRYING HARD to make you believe that the drama of figs and wasps is a product of Evolution.

Stupid guy, isn’t he? Should have asked Roy.

Now some more of God’s creatures. This time it is whispering marmots and blinking geckos.

No apologies this time from me. Some raw and plain writing. You may skip this because it gets very personal and very dirty. Mainly because it is about us, Human Beings… the Animals.

It seems a prime worry in one essay of Ms. Roy that “Will it be possible ever again to watch the slow, amazed blink of a newborn gecko in the sun, or whisper back to the marmot who has just whispered in your ear — without thinking of the World Trade Center and Afghanistan?”

Simple answer is YES, which most surprisingly hasn’t occurred to anyone I met till now. Noticing that I seem to have a genius (lost to humanity till now as no such question was ever posed before so large and gaping audience through various media in the entire known history of humanity), I owe an explanation to all those ignorant about the ways of marmots, geckos and most of all; Humans.

We as humanity at large should realize that life is a force that has seen worse and suffered unflinchingly without loosing its spirit. A mother Zebra on African plains would dance and prance with joy on feeling the first rain in air, even after having seen its new born torn apart by wild dogs. No self respecting gecko newborn is going to be happy being stared at with wet eyes of mushy worrier of the world, it would look for the nearest crack in the bark instead of giving an oh-so-slow-amazed-blink. And being the one more failure with the ways of marmot than metaphor, I assure you that marmots whispered at would be looking for a new address preferably behind a large rock.

So much so about the marmots and geckos that being very dumb don’t seem to agree with brilliant thinkers. So let us shift to Sharks now.

The shark in question is very aptly a hammer headed one. And she (why do most of us relate to Sharks as a “She”!) is a metaphorical one too.

To me, metaphors are very critical in information transfer as they are used to convey an idea Better by firing associations. In simple words, for someone knowing a great deal about cows would be able to describe ideas ranging from sunsets (hazy and red like feverish cow’s eye!!!) to geothermal energy production (would you want me to try this!!!). using his cow -based associations. Here, (to Me again!!!) the underlined notion is Better clarity of understanding in the field from where the explanatory part of metaphor is borrowed. I also understand that metaphors are used to bring an idea to a more-common ground, but this too; is reflective of greater clarity the referred-to part is to have. I feel that when ever a good writer uses metaphor, he knows what he is talking about; at least in the explanatory part of the metaphor.

So… A musing on metaphors; via hammer headed shark!!!!

Roy uses this line while trying to communicate about growth of India in recent times:

“We greaten like the maturing head of a hammer-headed shark with eyes looking in diametrically opposite directions.”

How would you read it? Simple… You all have a “general” picture of this strange shark that you can imagine growing bigger and bigger pushing both eyes to extreme ends of the hammer. This act makes you conclude that these eyes are pushed apart and thus (most obviously) they must be seeing in directions opposite to each other with no common field of vision. A nice way to talk of one body having two entirely opposite view (points). Wow, that is well written.

With this very original metaphor, a lot is conveyed about India. If you are in love with Ms. Roy, you may see a beautifully fitting picture of India growing into a state of contradiction during its growth or India harboring two view points and yet surviving just like the mighty shark. If you are doing PHD, you may love such lines!!! As one can find innumerable references and create number of working models generating more and more wisdom. In short, the use of metaphor means a lot and lot of unsaid things that can be “understood”. There is nothing objectionable here, isn’t it?

But walks in Me…. And what picture I get?

Hammer headed Sharks? …

The shark that possessing (possibly) LARGEST field of vision due to its eyes pushed apart.

The shark that could (possibly again) having most advance biomechanical sensor for sensing electrical waves generated by earth and life around it. (A rough estimate… Shark would “perceive” electrical signal that runs your heart from nine feet distance even in murky waters using this electrical “vision”.)

The shark that has the widest water column to “taste” for enhanced perception (As sharks are very good in detecting prey using smell).

So…Who are we talking about here? A creature that is One of the most efficient products of nature as far “Vision” is concerned. And that too, mainly because of the eyes that gets pushed apart during growth.

Where would one place Ms. Roy’s metaphor with reference to a REAL hammer headed shark?

Working and good, because most people relates to hammer headed shark the way she does.

Or stupid, be cause it shows a complete lack of understanding of the reference it uses.

Why not read this in a metaphoric way? Can’t we see here that Ms. Roy sounds very Right as long as we look at her write up in a simplistic way, But… Alas, a slightly more expert viewing and everything falls apart.

May be it is better left to the Experts, isn’t it so?

So what is this fuss all about? Roy has been writing what most of us liked reading and that should be it. Why take her apart just to prove that she hasn’t been right in some specifics?

The answer is simple. She needs to be looked at because she is Arundhati Roy. She is someone a lot of people believe to be talking sense. She is becoming greater than what she has written ABOUT. And this works in a very rotten way, as now people are going to find whatever she writes to be Right.

There must be a time in Human History when no human being knew the usefulness of stone as a “throwable” tool. And the first person to discover it can be said to have changed the course of History by his/her intellectual contribution. From then on, you and I and most of us rediscovered the same fact in our childhood. The way we “discovered” the throwability could be based on observation or teaching or original simulating ability our minds possess; but to term our discovery as intellectual contribution to humanity, it would have few takers regardless to the total originality of the idea for our own self.

If we look around today, we have so many people capable of lucid writing, each capable to communicate brilliantly or originally in one’s own unique way. With every post put up here, humanity is getting richer by a new observation, a new point of view or a new analysis; be it about Aardvark or Arundhati Roy. But critically speaking, each of us is rediscovering stone throwing for self.

When I reduce Roy’s analytic efforts to “war is Bad” or “Nukes are bad”, I am sure that it is a very simplistic and in its own way “unjust” review of someone’s very passionate contribution. But, my critique will stay valid mainly because the age we are living in is the age of (over) information. Most of us “know” the fact that stone throwing is invented or (to take a complicated example) how MNC’s operate in Third (or under-informed?) world countries.

If someone shows a better arm at stone throwing (along with showing a great passion in hitting the dog with it!!!), we will smile. (On being paid well, we may even produce a write-up showing the metaphorical relationship between the nature of ultimate Truth and parabola of the throw.) But we, surely; would not get fooled into finding it an original contribution to humanity.

Even when I write this, I feel that Roy herself would agree to what I say here. I don’t think she wanted to be what she is. She surely didn’t want to be read the way she is read today. I am sure that she wrote not to state truth, but she wrote to make us think.

Unpublished/able: 25/1/2005


I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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