Arundhati Roy Interview: The Characters Visited Me



“It is important to be able to write about violence with the same intimacy with which I write about love.” Enjoy this cordial interview with Indian Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy, who discusses writing about modern India and its many internal borders, in connection with her praised 2017-novel ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’.

Roy always knew, that she was never going to be the kind of writer, who turns into a “novel-writing factory.” Instead, she spent twenty years travelling, writing and deepening her understanding of India, “which is a universe of its own, it lives in several centuries simultaneously.” When she wrote ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ (2017), she needed to “smash” the language that she had found in ‘The God of Small Things’ (1997): “I wanted to challenge what a novel can and should do.” A novel, she feels, should have a structure as complicated as a city, which reflects her background as an architect: “The chaos of ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ is planned.” The only real anarchy in India, she continues, is found in the traffic. In continuation of this, because of her outspoken views on e.g. Kashmir, Roy is occasionally exposed to harassment: “Normally, when I’m speaking, I have eyes behind my head.”

“For me, as a writer, the ambition is a simple one: You have to be able to write about everything.” To Roy, writing isn’t about creating beautiful books, but to be able to honestly describe e.g. life on the streets, placing equal importance on vulgarity and exquisiteness. She often writes in her head, making her drafts this way, and allows her diverse characters – which include the marginalized ‘hijras’ – to speak without getting in the way, feeling as if they have moved in with her, expressing their opinion about everything and everyone.

Arundhati Roy (b. 1961) is an Indian writer and political activist. Her works of fiction include ‘The God of Small Things’ (1997) – for which she won the 1997 Man Booker Prize with the words “The book keeps all the promises that it makes.” – and ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ (2017). Roy is also the author of screenplays, most noticeably ‘In Which Annie Gives it to Those Ones’ (1989), which was awarded the National Film Award for Best Screenplay. In 2015 she returned the award in protest against religious intolerance and the growing violence by right-wing groups in India. Roy has also written works of non-fiction such as ‘The Algebra of Infinite Justice’ (2002) and ‘Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy’ (2010). Among other prestigious awards, she is the recipient of the Lannan Foundation’s Cultural Freedom Award (2002), the Sydney Peace Prize (2004) and the Norman Mailer Prize for Distinguished Writing (2011). In 2003 she was awarded special recognition as a Woman of Peace at the Global Exchange Human Rights Awards in San Francisco. Moreover, Roy was featured in the 2014 list of Time 100, the 100 most influential people in the world. She lives in Delhi, India.

Arundhati Roy was interviewed by Danish writer Merete Pryds Helle in May 2018 at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark.

Camera: Klaus Elmer Edited by: Klaus Elmer Produced by: Christian Lund Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2018

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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