Saturday, March 19, 2005

a beautiful mind...

this morning i read half of what has become one of the most engaging books i've read in a very, very long time. arundhati roy continues to move me with her fierce eloquence. and in addition to what i consider to be her beautiful mind, from the pics above you can see that she is strikingly beautiful to look at. but nevermind that.

i'm reading the checkbook and the cruise missile: conversations with arundhati roy which essentially chronicles a series of four long conversations between ms. roy and david barsamian.

the purpose of this entry isn't so much to review the book, than it is an acknowledgement of the intensity and brilliance of this passionate woman who speaks ever so eloquently of the struggles of the oppressed (particularly in india)... so much so that i wanted to share with you some excerpts that i found particularly enlightening and/or moving. the simplicity with which she expresses her views allows for the kind of articulation i can only dream to possess one day. perhaps some of these passages will move you the way they did me. or perhaps not. i'll let you decide:

on the notion of development:

"when you travel from india to the west, you see that the western notion of 'development' has to do with a lack of imagination. a taming of the wilderness, of the human soul. an inability to understand that there is another way to live. in india, the anarchy and the wilderness still exist. but still, how are you going to persuade a naga sadhu - whose life mission has been to stand naked on one leg for twenty years or to tow a car with his penis - that he can't live without coca-cola? it's an uphill task."

on nature:

"i think it was in tanzania that farmers began to shoot hippos because they were raiding and destroying the crops. when the hippos disappeared, so did the fish in the river. later they discovered that these fish used to lay eggs in the shit of the hippos. when human beings don't respect something that they don't understand they end up with consequences that you cannot possibly foretell.

the western notion of thinking that you must understand everything can also be destructive. why can't we just be satisfied with not understanding something? it's all right. it's wonderful not to understand something. to respect and revere the earth's secrets... must everything be poked at and prodded and intervened in and understood?"

on taking sides vs. being a neutral observer:

"once you've seen certain things, you can't un-see them, and saying nothing is as political an act as speaking out. there is no innocence. that i'm sure about. there's no innocence and there isn't any sense in which any of us is perfect or not invested in the system. if i put money in the bank it's going to fund the bombs and the dams. when i pay tax, i'm investing in projects i disagree with. i'm not a completely blameless person campaigning for the good of mankind. but from that un-pristine position, is it better to say nothing or to say something? one is not powerful enough nor powerless enough not to be invested in the process. most of us are completely enmeshed in the way the world works. all our hands are dirty."

on being a writer:

"just the fact that you're known as somebody who's willing to speak out opens you to a universe of conflict and pain and incredible suffering. it's impossible to avert your eyes. sometimes of course, it becomes ludicrous. a woman rang me up and said, 'oh, darling, i thought that piece on the narmada (river dam project) was fantastic. now could you do one for me on child abuse?' and i said, 'sure. for or against?'"

on the united states:

"it's not that i haven't been to america or to a western country before. but i haven't lived here, and i can't seem to get used to it. i haven't got used to doors that open on their own when you stand in front of them, or looking at these supermarkets stuffed with goods. but when i'm here, i have to say that i don't necessarily feel 'oh, look how much they have and how little we have.' because i think americans themselves pay such a terrible price... in terms of emotional emptiness. watching michael moore's film bowling for columbine you suddenly get the feeling that here is a country with an economy that thrives on insecurity, on fear, on threats, on protecting what you have - your washing machines, your dishwashers, your vacuum cleaners - from the invasion of killer tomatoes or evil women in saris or whatever other kind of alien. it's a culture under seige. every person who gets ahead gets ahead by stepping on his brother, or sister, or mother, or friend. it's such a sad, lonely, terrible price to pay for creature comforts. i think people here could be much happier if they could let their shoulders drop and say 'i don't really need this. i don't really have to get ahead. i don't really have to win the baseball match. i don't really have to be the highest earner in my little town.' there are so many happinesses that come from just loving and companionship and even losing."

on globalization:

"we ought not to speak only about the economics of globalization, but about the psychology of globalization. it's like the psychology of a battered woman being faced with her husband again and again and being asked to trust him again. that's what is happening. we are being asked by the countries that invented nuclear weapons and chemical weapons and apartheid and modern slavery and racism - countries that have perfected the gentle art of genocide, that colonized other people for centuries - to trust them when they say that they believe in a level playing field and the equitable distribution of resources and in a better world. it seems comical that we should even consider that they really mean what they say."

at the risk of publishing the entire book right here on this blog, i'll end with that one. and i'm only half way through the book.

to order your own copy of the checkbook and the cruise missile, go here.

oh... just one more itsy bitsy thing... ms. roy paraphrases a quote from winston churchill that i found particularly horrifying considering he was considered "the master statesman [who] stood alone against fascism and renewed the world's faith in the superiority of democracy" by time magazine. in 1937, in reference to the palestinian struggle, he said: "i do not believe that the dog in the manger has the right to the manger simply because he has lain in there for so long. i do not believe that the red indian has been wronged in america, or the black man has been wronged in australia, simply because they have been displaced by a higher, stronger race."