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Arundhati Roy with Nicola Sturgeon

ByRohini Nambiar

Aug 23, 2019

A wide-ranging conversation beginning with her foray into writing and her work as a political activist in India, Nicola Sturgeon’s discussion with Arundhati Roy is an illuminating insight into the current political scene in India.

The hour-long discussion touches on Roy’s previously published books, with select readings of passages from The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and My Seditious Heart. The Booker prize winner elaborates on how as an architecture graduate, she initially worked in Bollywood, and then into writing in an unexpected manner and found her passion. Roy’s eloquence is evident from the way she speaks; in an almost lyrical fashion. She likens her writing to architecture when she says, “As a student of urban planning, when I write a novel the structure is everything. The idea of a city is you try to design it and it un-designs itself. You let it go, you gather it, you let it go, and you gather it.”

Roy’s appearance at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival follows the release of her non-fiction anthology of essays, My Seditious Heart. The collection is a series of political insights into the Indian system Roy has written about in the last two decades. Roy terms her book an “archive of urgency” that aims to open a discussion that is largely absent in the Indian media due to the corporate model it follows and the increasing assault of the vulnerable, with India’s turn towards the right.

Roy paints a bleak picture of the political developments in India. She draws on the recent crackdown in Kashmir and argues that the liberals in India paved the way for what is happening today. She pinpoints to the nuclear tests in 1998 as a critical moment in Indian politics where a change of language, with more emphasis on nationalism and aggression, was observed in the popular lexicon.  

First Minister Sturgeon is an engaging and insightful interviewer. Drawing from her experience reading Roy’s work, Sturgeon draws parallels between Roy’s insights into Indian politics with the global political arena. While Roy agrees similarities can be seen between developments in India and the West, she argues that fascism was destroyed in the West but is seeing a re-emergence today. This is unlike the case in India, where the ideology that many leaders from the BJP draws from is influenced by the philosophy of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has its roots in the early 20th century.

When asked how First Minister Sturgeon maintains balance, she says “Literature is my way of maintaining equilibrium, of trying to deepen my understanding of the world, gaining a perspective and empathy that is so important. I have a theory if more political leaders read literature, the world wouldn’t be in the state it is in.”


Arundhati Roy with Nicola Sturgeon, August 19, The New York Times Main Theatre at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 

 The Edinburgh International Book Festival runs until August 26 2019.



Image: Rohini Nambiar

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