The Writer and the Activist

10 months ago / by Swarnendu Biswas
Arundhati Roy
Image credits: che1882 via Flickr

Arundhati Roy is a famous author from India, who attained global literary fame with her debut novel titled The God of Small Things (1997). It not only received Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997 but also went on to attract great critical acclaim and remarkable sales. It became an immediate bestseller and has sold six million copies across the world.

Besides being an acclaimed author, she has also attracted renown and notoriety as a political activist. Her often controversial and radical views have also garnered lots of condemnation for her from various sections of Indian society and also peeve of the state.

While discussing about Arundhati Roy one can easily come to know that she was born in Shillong, located in the state of Meghalaya, to  Mary Roy, a Keralite Christian and Rajib Roy, a Bengali Hindu, on 24th November 1961. The age of Arundhati Roy is 60 years. Her parents divorced when she was only two, and her mother came back to Kerala with Arundhati and her brother. She spent her childhood in Aymanam, a village in the Kottayam district of the Kerala state of India.

Arundhati did her schooling from Corpus Christi in Kottayam, Kerala and from Lawrence School, Lovedale, in Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu. Thereafter, she did her graduation in architecture. She did her B. Arch from School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi.

While studying architecture from School of Planning and Architecture she met Gerard da Cunha, who went on to become a famous architect in India. They married in 1978 and divorced in 1982.

Arundhati Roy’s second marriage has been with the former filmmaker turned naturalist and environmentalist Pradeep Krishen, which took place in 1984. Arundhati Roy acted in the film Massey Sahib (1984), which was directed by Pradeep Krishen. She acted in the role of a village girl.

However, any good biography of Arundhati Roy must not overlook the fact that her famous debut novel was not the first reflection of her writing talent. She wrote the screenplay for the movie In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones (1988), for which she and Arjun Raina wrote the screenplay. The Pradeep Krishen-directed movie went on to win the National Film Award for Best Screenplay in 1988. Besides writing the screenplay she also acted in the movie.

Following that she also wrote screenplay for Electric Moon, which was directed by Pradeep Krishen. The film won the award for Best Feature Film in English at the 40th National Film Awards.

However, it was The God of Small Things which catapulted her to not only national but also global fame. In fact, despite being an unpublished author Arundhati Roy received half a million pounds as an advance for her debut novel; a hitherto unheard of sum in India’s literary scene.

She began writing the book in 1992 and completed it in 1996. The semi-autobiographical book where her childhood experiences in Aymanam were sensitively captured in words, was sold in several countries across the globe and received widespread critical acclaim in the west. Time adjudged The God of Small Things as one of the five best books of 1997 in the Fiction category. However, the book also attracted controversy in India for its description of a love affair between a Syrian Christian and a Hindu ‘untouchable’. EK Nayanar, the then Chief Minister of Kerala, criticized the book especially for its unrestrained description of sexuality.

After the success of her debut novel, Arundhati Roy wrote many non-fiction works. In fact, bulk of her writings comprise non-fiction works. In many of her essays she had heavily criticized the Indian governments and the political establishment.

One of her essays titled The End of Imagination is a highly biased critique against the then BJP government’s nuclear policies (it was written in 1998, in response to India’s testing of nuclear weapons in Pokhran, Rajasthan) and another of her long essay deals with her irrational crusade against India’s massive hydroelectric dam projects. As an activist, she also campaigned against the Narmada dam project.

Her vocal support for secession of Kashmir from India and her sympathetic stance towards Maoist insurgents in India also caught her in controversy and drew sharp criticism against her from various quarters of Indian society. Arundhati Roy even described the Indian government’s justifiable armed actions against the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency in India, as “war on the poorest people in the country”.  

She was also charged with sedition along with separatist Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and some others by Delhi Police for their “anti-India” speech at a 2010 convention on Kashmir which was controversially titled ‘Azadi: The Only Way.

She also bitterly criticized US’s foreign policy in her non-fiction writings.

She returned to fiction in 2017 with her long-awaited second novel titled The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. The novel was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for 2017 in the US.


When did Arundhati Roy start writing?

Her initiation into writing began with screenplays. Her first screenplay was for the film In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones, which is an English language film made in 1988.

Who is Arundhati Roy’s husband?

Pradeep Krishen is the husband of Arundhati Roy. Though they live separately they are still married.

What is Arundhati Roy’s first book?

The God of Small Things is the first book written by her.

How many books have Arundhati Roy written?

She has written 22 books so far, among which only two are fiction.