Saba Naqvi Bhaumik has written an article in Outlook entitled “Why We Love To Hate Ms. Roy”. She is referring to our very own Ms. Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize winning social activist.

In it, Ms. Bhaumik argues that one of the fundamental reasons why Indian males love to hate Ms. Roy is because ” there is the macho male response to a woman who is not just brilliant and beautiful, but is also blessed with a talent for turning out powerful prose.” She goes on to say that Ms. Roy would be “adored by the Indian male if she had been content to sit prettily on a pedestal.” The article goes on to try and prove some notion that she is disliked because she does not fit the stereotypical Indian woman. Because Ms. Roy apparently “threatens” the Indian male because of her eclectic fashion statements. And her haircut.

And then she goes on on a diatribe against all Indians in a manner that I found extremely condescending, typical of the Indian middle class, public school educated, big city dwelling, English speaking (and writing) press pundits. A quote – ” Self-absorbed as we are, most Indians are oblivious that Roy’s forceful post-September 11 essay made her an icon not just in the West but also in West Asia. Yet, most of us still think of Roy as a Booker Prize-winning author of a novel we have never read, who inexplicably seems to enjoy slumming it with anti-dam activists and now ‘Muslim terrorists’.

Indians would probably like Roy better if like VS Naipaul and Salman Rushdie, those other great writers they claim as their own (despite both of them living in the West), Roy made grand statements about Islam or Indian civilisation in rarefied writers’ fora and then swiftly retreated from the public stage. Besides, shouldn’t she learn some lessons from Naipaul and Rushdie, both of whom are now on the right side of the great ‘clash of civilisations’ debate?

Yet, Roy seems to prefer clashing with those who believe they know better. But Indians are a forgiving people and her critics would absolutely adore Roy if she moved to the West, where they believe people like her actually belong. Then every Indian heart would swell with pride whenever they recall their great galaxy of English language writers.

So without going specifically into the Roy world view that she espouses so forcefully (because that merits an entire post to itself) – what I found irritating and disturbing about this inane article on Outlook were two things.

First, everything, absolutely everything negative associated with a woman is now attributed to the stone age Indian male. This article for e.g. – when the author writes about how “Indians” hate Ms. Roy – her definition of Indians are the exact same small minority that constitutes her world. Well read, India Habitat Centre visiting, English speaking middle class. Because, really that’s audience she is addressing. Read her very next lines ” Self-absorbed as we are, most Indians are oblivious that Roy’s forceful post-September 11 essay made her an icon not just in the West but also in West Asia. Yet, most of us still think of Roy as a Booker Prize-winning author of a novel we have never read” – she is referring with no small amount of intellectual arrogance about this set of Indians who are oblivious and have not read The God of Small Things. That is the group of Indians she cares about. And within that set of Indians – she has come to the conclusion, that Indian men hate Ms. Roy for her dress sense and unconventionality. I don’t know about the men she is referring to – if I dislike Ms. Roy – its not for her dress. Actually think she’s rather chic in her post-modern grunge ethnic look. What I dislike is that her ideas border on anarchy. She has some very fair points – but she is a leftist/anarchist to a point that she defeats her own ends – because noone takes her seriously. I dont hate Ms. Roy. I think she has good intentions – but I don’t necessarily agree with her means.

And I refuse, just because I don’t agree with a modern Indian woman to be called a bloody sexist. I refuse to buy into this brand of social feminism where everything, every social ill in today’s modern urban Indian society boils down to the the shortcomings of the Indian Man.

Secondly, the next pet peeve about these press pundits.I first quote ” Indians would probably like Roy better if like VS Naipaul and Salman Rushdie, those other great writers they claim as their own (despite both of them living in the West), Roy made grand statements about Islam or Indian civilisation in rarefied writers’ fora and then swiftly retreated from the public stage. Besides, shouldn’t she learn some lessons from Naipaul and Rushdie, both of whom are now on the right side of the great ‘clash of civilisations’ debate?

Yet, Roy seems to prefer clashing with those who believe they know better. But Indians are a forgiving people and her critics would absolutely adore Roy if she moved to the West, where they believe people like her actually belong. Then every Indian heart would swell with pride whenever they recall their great galaxy of English language writers.

But if Roy insists on staying on in India, there are a few things she could do to soften the hatred she often inspires in some Indians. Wear saris, shut up, stay at home, have babies, grow her hair long and start plaiting it.

So according to Ms. Bhaumik, the other central reason why we Indians hate Ms. Roy is because she has “chosen” to live in India – when the fair west beckoned. And that we Indians would adore her if only she decided to live in the west. What is this? Some kind of self-deprecating superficial explanation of having looked into ourselves.

I don’t claim to know why people hate Ms. Roy. I would imagine a lot of it has got to do with some rather controversial stands she has taken in the past. But I fail to understand how this national/feminist angle plays into it. As if if she braided her hair, wore a saree and then supported a terrorist – it would make her somewhat more likable. Or if she did the same but lived in America – it would make her views more palatable.

The logic fails me. Ms. Bhaumik obviously is a self conscious, introspective feminist. So everything that happens in this article is either the inadequateness of the Indian Male accepting a modern woman on her merit or worse, the self in-adequacy of the Indian nation in accepting a successful woman to live in India.

Ms. Roy will be what she is. At the bare minimum, a writer with great linguistic imagery. But Ms. Bhaumik needs to feel less victimized and inadequate – and grow up just a little bit and lose that pseudo- intellectual “vision” of everything around her.

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