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India's literary terrorist wows its 'enemy'.
[Text by Kazim Aizaz Alam, picture by Khuda Bux Abro; in the picture you can see Arundhati Roy with Amar Sindhu, a Karachi-based intellectual, writer and activist who has a very strong voice in Sindhi literature. Ms Sindhu teaches philosophy at Sindh University and also represents the Sindh Chapter of Women's Action Forum]
Famous Brazilian author Paulo Coelho said in The Alchemist, "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." I came to believe in this quotation in May, 2009, when I met the woman I have admired most of late – the great Arundhati Roy.
Not only I heard her speak in close proximity but also got her autograph! She was at Karachi Press Club to attend a Women's Action Forum programme against creeping Talibanisation in Pakistan. This is what I can recall from that memoreable evening.
She was in a white kurti and blue baggy trousers with a wrinkled blue-white dupatta (this dress is probably called gharara). Going by many photographs of hers (courtesy Mayank Austen Soofi) in which she is in the same kind of dress, one can say that she perhaps feels comfortable in a gharara. If I were a woman I would have started wearing it too.
She was smiling continuously and seemed totally at home among Pakistani civil rights activists.
She was the last speaker (barring Dawn's India correspondent, Javed Naqvi, who had accompanied Arundhati Roy, in his own words, as a 'travel agent'. Till she got up, the speeches were largely made in urdu. But Arundhati Roy started off in English saying she was sorry that her Urdu wasn't good enough to express her views conveniently. Still she said that for those among the audience who couldn't understand English she would say something interesting in Urdu. Then she told us how amused she was recently by watching the video of a 10-year-old member of the Taliban brigade who said something like this: "Just like the government has banned the use of plastic bags, why can't it impose a similar curb on women in public spaces? Why can't women be simply banned from coming out of their homes?" So in the eyes of the Taliban, Arundhati Roy said, she too was a plastic bag and so were all the women activists present there.
She said she considered George Bush a 'Twisted Prophet'. Twisted because unlike a 'normal' prophet who makes a prophecy about future which turns out to be true later on, what Bush did was that he 'designed' the future in a way that it 'fitted' the prophecy he had made.
She urged us not to be selective as a protester and stay away from the 'pick-and-choose' syndrome. The pick-and-choose syndrome, she said, was something that would make us take up the issues that 'suited' us as protesters and leave those unaddressed that somehow weren't 'attractive' enough. She cited the example of the urban Indian feminists not coming forward to help the people facing displacement due to the government's plan to build large dams. Displaced women in such cases were the worst victims since they wouldn't get even what the government called 'compensation' which was handed over to men only, she remarked.
She vociferously called for rejecting the 'either-or' condition. She said we should oppose the Taliban without aligning ourselves with imperialism. Opposition to the Taliban should not mean joining hands with imperialism, she stated. She held that the Taliban in Pakistan were like the Maoists in India. Give a dog a bad name and hang him. In India, children are killed and then their extra-judicial killing is justified in the name of combating the Maoists – just like what is happening in Pakistan in case of the Taliban.
"My job is not to make people comfortable," said Arundhati Roy, whose views were clearly in contrast with those held by the Women's Action Forum as far as confronting the Taliban was concerned. She said she was considered a 'Desh Drohi' in India, which probably means a traitor.
Her surprise visit
She told the audience that she planned to visit Pakistan (Lahore) for an Eqbal Ahmad lecture along with Noam Chomsky. For some reason, Chomsky had to cancel his visit so the Eqbal Ahmad lecture was also postponed indefinitely. Since she already had a valid Pakistani visa she decided to visit Karachi and participate in the demo against the Taliban.
But who's she?
After the conclusion of the programme, I made my way into the crowd surrounding the diminutive Arundhati Roy and sought her autograph which she happily signed. The cheeky, but funny, bit of the evening was that just when I got her signature, an annoyingly stupid person came forward and asked her intensely, "Your good name?" Bewildered, she replied, "Arundhati."