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November 29, 1997


EMS attacks literary content of Arundhati Roy's novel

Marxist leader E M S Namboodiripad has once again trained his guns on Arundhati Roy, this time for what he describes as the deviant sexuality in her Booker prize winning The God of Small Things.

In an article published in his diary in the Deshabhimani weekly and reprinted in the Communist Party of India-Marxist daily Deshabhimani today, the Marxist veteran, whose name figures in the novel, denounced the book as representing the literature of a decadent, bourgeois society.

Namboodiripad, who had already come down heavily on the novel for its "anti-Communist politics" said he was prompted to write again about the book following complaints from many friends that he had not touched upon the literary merits of the novel.

He said ''sexual anarchy'' was a major aspect of the literary imagery in the post- modern phase of Western literature and he was of the view that this was the main feature of the novel by Roy. One of the events in the novel is the sexual encounter between Ammu, a divorcee with two children, and Velutha, an untouchable who, incidentally is a card-carrying Communist.

Unknown to Ammu, the family makes a complaint to the police on false charges and, with the approval of the local party functionary, comrade K N M Pillai, Velutha is beaten up in the police station and dies during the ensuing torture.

Holding that the character Ammu was evidently modelled after the author's mother Mary Roy, Namboodiripad wrote that "the author has accused her own mother of indulging in deviant sexuality. Yet, Mary Roy takes pride in the "beautiful work" by her daughter. "Why is it so?" he asked.

This, he said, was because even intellectuals who did not have such deviant sexuality in their own lives enjoyed reading, telling and listening to stories of illicit sexual relations. What it meant was that illicit sexuality had become an inseparable part of bourgeois aesthetics.

Drawing a parallel between this Western concept and its Malayalam equivalent, Namboodiripad said a feudal version of this bourgeois aesthetics was reflected in the Venmani poetry of Malayalam literature which was once very popular in Kerala. Its latest petty bourgeois version, he wrote, was the Painkili literature that in recent years has been tickling the senses and exerted a bad influence on the younger generation.

He said if the Venmani poetry, which was sexually explicit and reflected the decadence of the feudal upper class, came up to entertain those at the helm of the feudal society, Painkili arose to entertain the young.

Namboodiripad felt the world bourgeois literature that gave inspiration to Roy was a veritable mirror on the cultural decadence of the bourgeois society. The world bourgeoisie caused damage in human society not only politically and economically but also morally, he felt.

Though the bourgeoisie gave shape to democracy and its higher form of socialism, in the present global context, it also was at the vanguard of the moral degradation of the society, he felt.

The main aim of the writers in this category, according to him, was to divert attention from the day-to-day problems that a majority of the people confronted. For this, they made use of deviant sexuality as a tool.

He wrote he had not earlier referred to this aspect of Roy's novel; he had only touched upon its anti-Communist politics. But this attitude was closely linked to the sexual anarchy he was discussing.

Namboodiripad said people everywhere were surging forward against capitalism, which was crumbling down the world over. The two most effective means to divert the people from this path were the Venmani-Painkili literary forms and anti-communist politics. The distinctive feature of The God of Small Things was that it contained both these elements.

He said though he was named in the novel, along with the character modelled after the author's mother, he had not been depicted as an epitome of deviant sexuality.

This was not out of kindness or consideration for him, he felt. Because, in the novelist's vision, sexual anarchy was not a social evil but the mark of a revolutionary spirit. ''I was not depicted as a person having such a revolutionary spirit,'' he said.

He said his main flaw, according to the novelist, was his Communism and the fact that he was twice chief minister of the state and even after relinquishing office continued to hold high positions in the party. Perhaps Roy thought that depicting him the way she did in the novel would help her to get a respectable position in the world bourgeois literature, he said.

''I am proud of my individuality as a Communist that Arundhati sees as a flaw and my lack of deviant sexuality that Arundhati sees as a matter of credit,'' he wrote.

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The god of small things comes bearing large gifts
'Arundhati did not write for money'
Booker for Arundhati
And the winner is...
'Ammu may have some similarities to me, but she is not Mary Roy'
'Why would anyone abroad be interested in the book? I am not very well educated. So it's not as though I am like Salman Rushdie or Vikram Seth'
Obscenity case slammed against Arundhati Roy
Now, it is EMS's turn to slam Arundhati Roy!

The New Masters
Architect of Stories
How Amazon readers reacted to the book
The Salon Interview
The Booker short-list
The Penelope Mortimer review
The Guardian reports

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