“And Arundhati Roy wrote a ravishing novel, The God of Small Things, that catapulted her into international stardom, perhaps so that when she stood to oppose dams and corporations and corruption and the destruction of the local, people would notice… Perhaps they opposed the ravaging of the earth so that poetry too would survive in the world.”
This beautiful passage is from Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark, and The Algebra of Infinite Justice is Arundhati Roy’s book of essays that opposes dams and corporations and corruption and the destruction of the local.
People did take notice, and many of them attacked her and accused her of all sorts of things for it. She was also criticized for not providing enough solutions by those who lost sight of the fact that before we can arrive at solutions, we have to take the first step and pinpoint the problems and ask the uncomfortable questions. This, she does. Courageously.
She asks about the necessity of nuclear weapons acquired in the name of “deterrence”, knowing that it is a matter that concerns humankind. “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 4,600 million years old. It could end in an afternoon.” On a relative scale, the same can be said of guns.
She aims questions at those who rail against the first world, but “actually pays to receive their gift-wrapped garbage”; she asks if corporate globalization is a mutant variety of colonialism; asks whether the building of dams are not “a brazen means of taking water, land and irrigation away from the poor and gifting it to the rich”; asks who and what has been sacrificed in the altar of “National Progress”; asks how Progress can be measured if we are not even aware of who has paid for it, referring to the millions of people and entire ecosystems displaced or extinguished by dams (a matter Filipino readers should not brush off — even our very own Gideon Lasco has called awareness to the environmental and sociocultural impacts of the Kaliwa Dam Project in the Philippines).
She asks everyone to be accountable: “Isn’t it true that there have been fearful episodes in human history where prudence and discretion would have just been euphemisms for pussilanimity? When caution was actually cowardice?”
“Fascism itself can only be turned away if all those who are outraged by it show a commitment to social justice that equals the intensity of their indignation. Are we ready… to rally not just on the streets, but at work and in schools and our homes, in every decision we take, and every choice we make?”
But I am most grateful for what resides with the difficult questions in that elegant mind of hers: “There is beauty yet in this brutal, damaged world of ours. Hidden, fierce, immense. Beauty that is uniquely ours and beauty that we have received with grace from others, enhanced, reinvented and made our own. We have to seek it out, nurture it, love it.”
“All we can do is to change its course by encouraging what we love instead of destroying what we don’t.”
“The only dream worth having… is to dream that you will live while you’re alive and die only when you’re dead…”
“Which means exactly what?”
“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never forget.
In truth, these are as difficult as the questions, but who says these are not solutions?