AUTHOR- Arundhati Roy
PUBLISHED IN- 1997
Are you supposed to read the book that you bought for someone else? Maybe not? But I couldn’t control my urges to pounce upon the book as soon as I received it.
The story couldn’t have been any more tragic than it already was. This book churns out the emotions of the reader as it delivers it’s content in a graceful manner. Set in Kerala, during the 1960s when a woman gives birth to fraternal twins, the story weaves around the twins and the people surrounding them. Most importantly, it covers the idea of caste discrimination which was prevalent during that time. It is a sorrowful tale which has been told from changing perspectives of the characters. The best part of the book is when the events are being described from the perspectives of the twins. Their child like innocence adds an element of joy even when the times are troublesome. The main reason of that being because the twins, aged 7, are unable to comprehend the distasteful times. They are unable to understand why must their mother be locked up in the house. That was because she engaged herself with a dalit man. One of the twins is unable to understand why he feels sick after a stranger sexually assaults him. Something inside him had shaken from that day onward and he never felt the same again. They are unable to understand any of these because they are not supposed to. What has caste, creed or even sex got anything to do with children?
There are two scenes which were too painful to read. First, when one of the twin is assaulted. He’s seven. He doesn’t even understand what’s happening and it hurts to read the part. A part of me wanted to scream on his behalf and the other part wanted to dismember the assaulter. The second scene was when the police come to beat up the dalit man. The cruelty in which he was beaten was horrifying. To top it, the twins had to witness the entire scene too. They loved the man and now they watched him die. Their innocence is misused and they are made to accept that the man had kidnapped them, which was false. Both of the scenes were tear jerking moments.
We all have that one special family member who is never happy in your happiness, always adds fuel to the fire and loves to have you in deep trouble all the time. Such was the character of the twins’ grand aunt. I loathed her character from the beginning till the end. There was not a single time that I was not repulsed by her actions. Had it not been for her, the story would have taken a much happier outcome. When she was young, she loved a man whose companionship she could never have throughout her life. I suppose, that made her bitter as the years went by? Wrong. How could an innocent emotion such as love be capable of mustering such cruelty into a being? Isn’t love supposed to bring out the best in oneself?
I recently watched a movie Article 15 which dealt with the issue of the caste system which is still so prevalent in India. I don’t understand why people feel like the “order” needs to be maintained. Who has given anybody the right to discriminate others on a stupid thing such as caste? What even is caste? During the ancient times, they made the caste systems according to the labor performed by the different communities. Why now? I can find a Brahmin sweeping the streets or a dalit obtaining a PhD in Physics. Who cares about caste now? It feels ridiculous to imagine that even the most educated people continue to believe in this system and won’t even touch the “Untouchables”. We have a very long way to go to achieve an equality that feels just to everyone.
Another thing that continued to occur in the book at various times was domestic violence. The men beat up their wives for no absolute reason. Just because they felt so. And it isn’t even the uneducated that I am talking about. I am talking about the much educated men who held higher positions in the society. They beat their wives because they felt that wives are supposed to serve the purpose of a punchbag. And the wives? They never complained. They accepted it as if they are accepting a gift. Husband is God, eh? I felt even more enraged at the wives for going about their lives everyday as if it is a very normal feat. A friend of mine used to tell me how she and her brother would hide away steel rulers with which their father used to beat their mother. That’s horrifying and not acceptable. Sometimes I feel as if everything is wrong in this society.
Here are some of the best lines that I found in this literary marvel:
“There are things that you can’t do – like writing letters to a part of yourself. To your feet or hair. Or heart.”
“That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.”
“If you’re happy in a dream, does that count?”
“This was the trouble with families. Like invidious doctors, they knew just where it hurt.”
“Change is one thing. Acceptance is another.”
And the most important line which governed the book:
“That it really began in the days when the Love Laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much.”
This very line just gives me chills. Why? Because it is still true.