Author: Arundathi Roy
Book: Walking with the Comrades
The crowd chatted feverishly while waiting to be let into the auditorium. "Literary sensation!", "brimming with talent", "unique sense of vernacular" were the terms flying around the groups in the foyer. Ages ranging from 16 to 80, they were all educated New Yorkers who had rushed to be part of this literary communion. The doors to the large auditorium opened. Beautifully built of wood and lit as for a crowning ceremony, it held several hundreds of us. There was a rush through the doors, a run down towards for the first rows, a bit of push and shove which quieted down quite soon as we are civilized after all.
Chats, last minute cellphone check, laughs, changes of seat, no change of heart. At last the diminutive woman walked on stage, sat down, took a gulp of water and leant towards the microphone. She raised her eyes towards us, she raised her eyebrows. Not a whisper in the room, nor a cough, nor a scraping of throat or shoe.
And Arundathi Roy started. She started, and she didn't stop. She started and she didn't let go. Telling us about tribal people being beaten, poisoned, arrested, women being raped, their land being raped. Constantly on the move to escape persecution. Undernourished, under educated, under cared for, families dispersed, belongings null.
These people in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Lalgarh have the great misfortune of having their lands sitting on profitable minerals and metals. Where they lived close to nature and far from what is called civilization, large companies have arrived with equipment to dig up the earth and pollute the waters, the airs, the soil. They burn villages, they bring elephants to trample the forest, they scatter babool seeds to make the soil barren.
She had an educated audience that exercise a certain power through belonging to a privilege society, and they needed to know. This was not a literary salon where minds get stroked thanks to highbrow exchanges and eclectic language. This was about the world out there, politics, humans, pain, injustice, ugly holes dug in the earth.
At last she was done. The audience, awed, was a different group of people that had walked into that auditorium an hour before. The moderator announced that the renowned author would now sign books. A long line of people formed from the top of the stairs of the auditorium all the way to the desk she was sitting at. She had asked for our time, for our ears, for our conscience. And now she returned the favour in full. She signed at length everyone's book, talking, smiling, indefatigable, this was the woman who had walked for months through the jungles. She let people take photographs. A young couple was keen on Roy holding their 2 year old in her arms for a snapshot. The 2 year old was uncooperative. Roy waited patiently for the child to be convinced they would all treasure the memento forever, and that an ice cream would be obtained on the way out. Finally the snapshot was taken, the couple ecstatic, and Roy turned graciously to respond to the next request.
Outside the auditorium, people made a beeline for the bookselling stalls, in a much more sober mood now, and purchased Walking With The Comrades, a convincing and commendable work.
National Geographic has a very different approach to the subject. They call Arundathi Roy's "comrades" killers who stand in the way of development.
Down To Earth begs to differ from National Geographic, with hard facts and statistics.
Amnesty also condemns the violations of human rights and the breach of Indian law in the mining regions.
Written and published by - - Arabella von Arx