Name: The God of Small Things
Author: Arundhati Roy
Bookhad Rating: 8/10
That Big God howled like a hot wind, and demanded obeisance. Then Small God (cosy and contained, private and limited) came away cauterized, laughing numbly at his own temerity. Inured by the confirmation of his own inconsequence, he became resilient and truly indifferent.
So Small God laughed a hollow laugh, and skipped away cheerfully. Like a rich boy in shorts. He whistled, kicked stones. The source of his brittle elation was the relative smallness of his misfortune. He climbed into people’s eye and became an exasperating expression.
Perhaps it’s true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house — the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture — must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for.
I started reading this out of selfish reasons. The insuppressible need for reading books based in the era before the age of mobile phones and the internet led me to The God of Small Things.
The author was another story; Arundhati Roy always intrigued me. Be it her solidarity with the Naxalites or the stand she takes against various socio-political cronies, she has always maintained an unabashed take on her opinion that even the basest of attacks hasn’t managed to subdue. I’m not here to make a political statement regarding her opinions, so I’ll give that a rest.
The God of Small Things is a story told in bits and pieces about two fraternal twins, Rahel and Estha. Theirs is a story of the relationships they share, between themselves and others, that goes through the vortex of unassuming challenges but of amplified ramifications. It churns and rips their life apart, and then, seamlessly joins together in the most unexpected ways. The love in Roy’s epic masterpiece, and this book is about Love without a doubt, is of a forbidden nature. It is so powerful and cruel that it can uproot lives and pave the way for more ruin by minor inflections on the predestined tangent of fate’s rhythm. Love, in its wrong assumption of righteousness, is weak and cannot stand to the attack of a social code and law that has its support in its timelessness and, hence, in its strength.
Rahel and Estha languish under the ordeal of the laws of the world that talk about how the quantity of love one can give, and to whom it can be given, is pre-destined. The smallest movements outside the demarcated limits, set by man, results in vulgarity and death.
Estha’s silence is strongly associated with his Two Thoughts. The ‘two thoughts’ are the focal points whereupon the story pivots; the epicenter upon which the Ayemenem household’s exfoliating lives (in retrospect mind you, always in retrospect) are measured. But such conjectures tend to trivialize the effect of such a telling story that has neither a specific start nor a specific end. The God of Small Things is best judged as a narrative of Estha’s and Rahel’s child like view of the surroundings that actually lead the fates to decide upon the climax of the story.
Estha’s Two Thoughts:
Thought 1: Anything can happen to Anyone.
Thought 2: It’s best to be prepared.
Estha finds solace of his soul in silence; Rahel in indifference. The two kids never recover from the death of Sophie Mol, Chacko’s daughter. The death of Sophie Mol is the catalyst that makes Estha the victim by having him ‘returned’ to his father as Ammu cannot support both her kids on her own.
The silence of Estha for the bigger chunk of his life is a direct response to the guilt that emanates from his conscience. His aunt, Baby Kochamma, the perennial vamp of the story has a gigantic part to play in the ruination of the once grand house of Pappachi Ipe.
The legacy of Shri Benaan John Ipe (Pappachi Ipe) is described by Ammu with succinct terms and calls her own father a ‘shit-wiper’ for his blind and excess devotion of anything English. Chacko, Ammu’s brother, uses a more verbose form of accusation and calls his family, himself included, “trapped outside their own history and unable to retrace their steps”. He goes on to say that they despise themselves because of this. Inferiority complex between the classes is shown with rustic appeal and is clear very often throughout the book. Even Comrade Pillai, the shining star to the Communist movements, is said to be a wounded tiger looking for gratification in his own ways. In one of the best part of the book, Roy says that Pillai “…held his poverty like a gun to Chacko’s head”.
The inferiority and class divide is so prevalent in the masses that it is not uncommon to find a father baying for the blood of his own son for crossing the fine, thin but strangely tangible class lines! The class divide is clearest when it comes to the manhandling of Velutha, an untouchable and an asset to Chacko’s factory. But his strength, capacity of work and his workmanship has no effect upon what his fate has decided for him. The life of Velutha, and the end which he meets, is the culmination of hundreds of years of disparity which couldn’t have been more accurate. The obviousness has its own merit.
The narrative style and the execution of the novel is a big reason why it has been perceived as a work of such merit. The first thing that will hold your attention is the use of child-like phrases to drive home a point. Roy has used those kiddy ideas and phrases to better explain to the reader that they’re dealing with 7-year-olds. The best example is the recurring use of the “Orangedrink Lemondrink Man”. Ordinarily it wouldn’t mean anything but by its constant use and with the help of harmonic interpretation what it does to the narration is very close to the KO punch in a boxing bout. It comes to mean something more than just a person who sells orange and lemon flavoured drinks in a cinema hall.
Another splendid, and noteworthy, aspect is the use of Capitalisation. Roy constantly uses phrases like “Loved From the Beginning” to describe what Sophie Mol was as compared to Rahel and Estha. Or, when she uses the familiar “Sad-About-Joe silence”, it comes across as a strong, childlike no doubt, but strong reminder, that a death of a person that kids don’t even know is nothing but an abstract notion that is merely converted into words to better understand them. For, what is the death of an unknown man to 7 years old? They’re anyway more interested in the fact that they’re Loved a Little Less now that Sophie was there!
The children repeat phrases and words that the elders use and restate them with a twist making it sound like a rhyme. They sometimes repeat stuff phonetically and rejoin words to make it sound like a hotchpotch of mumblings meaning nothing.
A case in point is as follows:
“…‘lend me yaw yers;
I cometoberry Caeser, not to praise him.
Theevil that mendoo lives after them,
The goodisoft interred with their bones”
The narrative is not sequential. It moves from year to year and from circumstance to circumstance. It is not in chronological order. It makes reading a bit of a task but to a seasoned reader it might just add that right amount of literary dash. For a lethargic reader this stunt keeps him on his toes and adds that much amount of attentiveness that a text of this magnitude commands.
Alice Truax, from The New Yorker, describes the book accurately as an “anti-bildungsroman” where Estha and Rahel never really grow up. She goes on to say:
Ms. Roy refuses to allow the reader to view the proceedings from any single vantage point: time and again, she lures us toward some glib judgment only to twist away at the last minute, thereby exposing our moral laziness and shaming us with it. But Ms. Roy’s shape-shifting narrative is also tremendously nourishing, crammed not only with remonstrances but also with inside jokes, metaphors, rogue capital letters, nonsense rhymes and unexpected elaborations.
The 1997 Booker Prize Citation says the following for the winning entry which is Roy’s only work of fiction: The book keeps all the promises it makes.
I tend to agree with the succinct phrasing.
NB: Like a lot of books that I have been reading in the past few months, even this was suggested by Utkarsha. May the Lord keep her joyful. Always. May she accomplish everything she ever wants to achieve.