August 19th, 2011
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Exposing the gothic face of a celebrated democracy

Book review/ Malini Murali

Book by Arundhathi Roy

Arundhati Roy’s Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy, pitches itself right into the capitalized democratic fantasies of India’s flimsy secular middle class. Come to think of the title, one might legitimately wonder if the book holds her ideas of democracy gathered right from the field, through empirical research,  to sound more profound(!), as it is based on actual observation and recording, while  keeping one ‘s feet firmly on the ground, and hence an obvious antithesis to Shobha De’ s SuperStar India.  It is another self help book, I would say – which happens to be totally in vogue these days, and has every reason to become a market favorite except that this one literally holds you by the collar and mercilessly drags you out of your American wisdom and tells you to better run for your life before the market completely quaffs you down! Here, Roy radically exposes the gothic face of a celebrated democracy which gases up its poor, lowly and other dissenting voices in fascist chambers intended to completely obliterate them even from the spookiest corners of our collective memories.

Through looking at the attack on the parliament in 2001, the heavily conspired state backed murders of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, the Hitlerian developmental gimmicks of former American president George Bush, the brutal denials of a Kashmiri sensibility, disgusting judicial conspiracies etc., Roy illustrates how development and progress have become blatant, neo-liberal euphemisms for genocide, pogrom and homicidal zealotry. The polemical stance Roy dons need not necessarily always cater to one’s positivist brood-overs or optimist future dreams, for the book itself is written to those who have learnt to divorce hope from reason.  The beguiling charm of facts may seem, many a time,  to stumble into her  fictive sensibility as a writer while rendering her protest politics. This willful compromise also gets rightly corroborated as the book gradually gets the reader to mistrust the glorified factual construction of his physical and intuitive realities.

Now that the cozy perceptual fantasies built around our hallmark democracy card is hysterically torn down , where does the book actually leave us? The writer does not at any point attempt to generate a safe solution to the overwhelming hurt , guilt and ideological suicides it provokes. Perhaps one could start listening to grasshoppers and immerse oneself in euthanized fantasies of an end that they signal. Or perhaps fight the Frankensteinian  state market with a Gandhian might?


Malini Murali is a writer on literature and theatre and a known theatre activist, based at Kochi, Kerala. 



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