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Arundhati Roy When the phone rang, Chacko didn't hear it for a long time. He was back at Oxford -- as he was several times a week. Always, it was the time before he fell in love, before Sophie Mol was born, before that dreaded event which changed his life forever. It must be bad news, he thought as he reached out to smother the sound. What else could it be at 3 in the morning? Was it about Rahel?

They had not said much to each other after Ammu died. Chacko knew Rahel held him responsible for what happened to her mother in that cold, miserable hotel room. And, of course, for the awful silence that now enveloped Estha's life. He had read in the Malayala Manorama that she was in London to pick up some award. He didn't see his niece often; she didn't like leaving Delhi, her husband, her children whom she never brought to Ayemenem.

"Chacko, it's me." She had stopped using uncle after she returned from the States. Chacko could not remember if she had called him uncle before that, after her mother died. He shivered at the resentment that hung in the air like the mist over the Minachal river. "Chacko," she said again, with renewed emphasis. "I have won. I thought you'd like to know." Vengeance for her mother. Vindication for Velutha. Victory for the twins. Then the phone went dead.

Booker for Arundhati!

Arundhati Roy has won the 20,000 ($ 30,000) Booker Prize.

She is the first native Indian to win the ultimate laurel wreath for writers of the Commonwealth. Ladbrokes, London's celebrated bookmakers, had stopped accepting bets on Roy who, at 9/4, was the favourite to win the award.

"With extraordinary linguistic inventiveness, Roy funnels the history of South India through the eyes of seven-year-old twins," Booker Prize chairperson Professor Gillian Beer said, announcing the prize for the dimunitive, pretty Indian at Guildhall in London on Tuesday night. "The story is fundamental as well as local: it is about love and death yet tells its tale quite clearly. We were all engrossed by this novel."

Roy beat the other front-runners, Irish author Bernard MacLaverty for Grace Notes and Madeleine St John with The Essence of The Thing.

"There is no such thing as a perfect book. If there had been five different judges there might have been another winner. It is as much luck as worthiness,'' Roy said after receiving the award.

For the 37-year-old architect, script-writer and sometime aerobics teacher from Delhi, the Booker topped a memorable year. The God of Small Things earned her a reported 1 million ($ 1.6 million) in advances. Critical acclaim was also lavish; critics the world over acclaimed the first novel as a contemporary masterpiece. The most effusive praise for the book came from the great American novelist John Updike in the New Yorker.

It was indeed sweet triumph for Roy who spent four-and-a-half years on the book, sometimes writing only seven lines a day. Unlike most of the world's leading novelists, she says she does not like to rewrite or revise her work.

The novel did very well for itself in the US and continental Europe, but in Britain, home of the Booker, it performed below par. God may have sold more copies than other novels on the Booker short-list, but it was only the 16th most popular hardback in Britain last week, selling 953 copies in the last 7 days.

Arundhati Roy No writer of Indian origin had won the Booker since Salman Rushdie with Midnight's Children in 1981. 'Indian' writers -- if you could call two Bombay-born novelists, one domiciled in Britain, the other in Canada that -- were nominated several times in intervening years. Rushdie for Shame, Satanic Verses and The Moor's Last Sigh; Rohinton Mistry for Such A Long Journey and A Fine Balance -- final approval, however, eluded both men. Three distinguished Indian writers of recent vintage -- Amitav Ghosh, Allan Sealy, and famously Vikram Seth -- were not even short-listed for the Booker. The last named omission raised an almighty stink, with Seth's agent Giles Gordon dashing off a pungent missive to the Booker jury.

As always, this contest too had compulsory controversy. The selection was criticised for not including Ian McEwan's Enduring Love and for not being adventurous enough. Sure, we had all heard of God Of Small Things -- but Quarantine and Grace Notes?

Roy says she has no plans to write a second novel despite the huge excitement generated by her debut. "For me this prize is about my past," she said. "Having written this, I am back to square one. I do not know whether I will write another.''

EARLIER FEATURES:
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!

EXTERNAL LINKS:

The New Masters
Architect of Stories
How Amazon readers reacted to the book
The Salon Interview
The Booker short-list

The Penelope Mortimer review

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