Arundhati Roy and the politics of language Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • This essay argues that Arundhati Roy’s inclusion of numerous Indian vernacular words and phrases in her fiction is carefully calibrated to serve the author’s activist political agenda. This is true not only of her first novel, The God of Small Things, but also of the more recent Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Both feature a Bakhtinian or dialogic interplay of linguistic modes. The earlier work poses two languages against each other: Malayalam, the primary language of Kerala, and English, the medium of narration and the preferred tongue of the prominent Ipe family. The outcome of this contest highlights the Ipes’ imprisonment within a life-denying straitjacket of outworn prejudices and conventions. In The Ministry of Utmost Happiness the linguistic terrain broadens to include several tongues of the subcontinent, along with English. Roy gives special exposure to two: Urdu and Kashmiri, to reclaim them from the oppression both of them, along with their speakers, are undergoing at the hands of the dominant Hindi-speaking majority. Tilo, a pivotal character, is enthusiastically polyglot, a trait which accords with her more general adaptability and freedom from sectarian narrowness. The other central figure, the transgender Anjum, resembles Tilo in her resistance to strict definitions of her fluid selfhood, but must endure forms of verbal as well as physical violence. Like her first novel, but on a more capacious stage, Roy’s second aims at speaking multilingual truth to monolingual power.

publication date

  • October 24, 2019