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Why Arundhati Roy will never defend her novels

March 14, 2018 16:24 IST

'The claim to truth cannot be made by the writer, but must be felt by the reader. The whole thing to a novel is its fragility and openness to interpretation,' says the acclaimed author.

But she will defend her essays.

Arundhati Roy

Photograph: Courtesy Haymarket Books/Facebook

What gives Arundhati Roy utmost happiness? These days it is the Hindi and Urdu translations of her second novel.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness has already been translated into over 40 languages and its Hindi and Urdu versions will be out on April 20.

Praising the publisher for coming out with the translations of her novel in Hindi and Urdu simultaneously, Roy said considering the times "we are living in", it makes for a big statement.

Recalling a conversation with her Kashmiri friend who told her that her work was closer to an Urdu novel than an English one, Roy said, "The challenge is to write a novel in a language when you know it is imagined in many languages, which is what I did with my novel Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

 

Notably, this is the first time that the author has taken an active part in the translation of her book.

Roy, in June, will also deliver the WG Sebald annual lecture in the United Kingdom on literary translations.

Speaking at a session titled 'Waqt ki Aahat', Roy, who is often seen taking a firm stand on issues across the spectrum, said she would argue about her essays, but will never defend what she writes in her novel.

"The claim to truth cannot be made by the writer, but must be felt by the reader. The whole thing to a novel is its fragility and openness to interpretation," said the acclaimed author.

Roy said there are truths that only fiction can tell as everything is not evidential. In this context, she gave the example of Kashmir, saying "no human rights report" can give you the understanding of that place.

"Large part of my book is set in Kashmir and nothing of that could be told in a human rights report because the understanding of what happens with people when the air is seeded with terror, whatever negotiations that are made, there are no easy moralities to draw. So to paint a picture, you have to have fiction," she said.

Roy, for whom experimentation is key, said the idea behind writing The Ministry of Utmost Happiness was to explore what a novel can do.

Roy said she was clear that she did not want to write just another book. Because if that would have been the case, Roy said, she could have easily penned Sons of The God of Small things or The God of Small Things part 2.

The God of Small Things was Roy's first novel, which also won her the Booker prize in 1997. She came out with her second novel after a long hiatus of 20 years.

She said, "Ministry of [UtmostHappiness is no baby food. It is not a book that you will consume in 10 minutes and rush for a judgement and tell everybody what it is about.

"With this book, I am creating a universe and I'll walk you through it because I love you... you will get lost but you will find yourself."

Though elated with the soon-to-be-out translations of her novel in Hindi and Urdu, Roy rued that the certain things lose their real meaning in the process.

Names of plants, animal, birds are lost in translation as some of them don't have a name in Hindi or Urdu, she said.

"Gibbon langur nahi hai jaise Jaguar sher nahi hai [Gibbon is no langur, just as Jaguar is not a lion]," said Roy. "I am very particular about birds, plants, animals. But then we don't have their names in our languages. I don't know why the white folks have to came and name the plants, trees, birds and animals for us."

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