Arundhati Roy is in the news again, thanks to the right-wing reaction to her (not new) statement that Kashmir is not an integral part of India. My colleague Rahul Basu savages her style while still criticising the threat of using sedition laws against her. Some days earlier, Harini praised Ms Roy for uniting the left and the right against her (and argued, also, that she makes a habit of piggybacking on other causes). Today, Nilanjana acknowledges the criticisms that Ms Roy is naive or simplistic, but says “you cannot doubt the intensity of her engagement.” She adds: “To ask, as we are now doing in India, for writers to stick to their writing is a little like asking investigative journalists to stick to their knitting.”
I don’t doubt her intensity, but I have a basic question: is Ms Roy, in fact, a good writer? It seems to be widely assumed that she is (the Booker Prize helped), and in fact, that she uses her enviable command of the English language to bamboozle her audience.
In my view, it’s exactly the opposite.
A good writer illuminates. Ms Roy is capable of writing thousands of words without adding any illumination to the topic (her trek through the Dantewada forests is a good example).
A good writer persuades skeptics. Lesser writers preach to the choir. Ms Roy, in fact, repels the choir. Some of the strongest criticisms of her writings have come from those who should, logically, be agreeing with her.
A good, provocative writer makes you question your own assumptions and beliefs. Ms Roy seems to make people want to tear their own hair out. That is not being provocative. That is being annoying.
Perhaps she is a prophet misunderstood in her own time. But I suspect not. I can’t think of a single thing she has said that hasn’t been said, earlier and better, by others. Her special knack seems to be saying it in a manner that would annoy and turn off the largest number of people. She is the very opposite of an articulate and persuasive spokesperson of a movement, which a good writer would be.