Remembering The Experience of Reading The Poignant Tale of The God of Small Things
What I personally felt when reading my favorite (booker prize-winning) novel by Arundhati Roy — general and personal views. On my shelf for years.
Heard somewhere: The true richness of life is defined by the ‘moments’ we remember and the memories we’ve forgotten.
Perhaps in a movie. It relates to the moments and memories connected to this unforgettable book The God of Small Things authored by an internationally acclaimed storyteller Arundhati Roy.
What was that year, I forgot the time when I started reading the book, the exact time of the year couldn’t end up becoming my memory with this scintillating book. But I remember precisely what it did to me. I still remember how I chased the author in her interviews and online videos and through her later non-fiction accounts. She was such an illustrious, most unconventional and talked-about author in that era. She lived through two decades of fame and achievement, not just for her phenomenal literary work but also due to her contributions to the social and political sphere: her activism efforts, advocacy for the underprivileged and the oppressed, and audacious crusades for environmental and political causes.
Now, why am I recalling this brilliant, ravishing novel after all these years?
The God of Small Things. Let me unleash my inner literary bug. :D
First, the book was considered contemporary in its time. I admit, after garnering the rust of many years ever since, it might now be treated as a classic literature of a sort. But those who read it umpteen times — well for them it is an evergreen account and is going to be celebrated forever.
The year was 1997 when Arundhati Roy, the author of the novel, received the most coveted, prestigious Man Booker Prize for literature, usually given for an original fiction written in English by someone who belongs to the list of commonwealth countries. India is one of the included names in the list of qualified countries for the prize.
Roy, the Author became the only Indian who, without staying in any other country, relished the privilege of taking a walk of the victory in London. What a proud moment! That’s the history, of course. She became a literary sensation overnight as much as her story that allegedly offended some political and societal bodies, inciting a negative wave in some parts of the country.
And history is what is dealt with in this book on a social and political scale in the most pleasantly histrionic, quite dignified form.
Mr. Rushdie whose work was all the rage back in those years, who was awarded Booker of the Booker and Best of the Booker for his work The Midnight’s Children (Got it, too, in my shelf) — he himself once praised Arundhati Roy, the Author of the book in discussion, for keeping India and stories from India alive through the power of her indelible writing.
What made the Book so special for me?
Arundhati Roy, who has often been shallowly referred by Indian Media as Queen of Controversies, as she is still today for unspeakable reasons, had woven a unique, intriguing and, perhaps, the quirkiest tale ever in 1997. There were pages you never wanted to leave, and paragraphs you never wished to encounter, for the fear of either facing a disaster or missing the perfection of its expressions. It was also the most ingenious work of fiction, and the author had narrated it with breathtaking grace in her very first maiden journey into the fictional world. What I mainly found special about this terrific book were some of the elements that stood out to me, such as:
· Inventiveness — unprecedented writing style
· Anthropomorphism (giving the voice and feelings of the living)
· Non chronological adroit artistry
· Fragmented language for storytelling
· Cold, wry treatment to the events depicted
· Delicate vulnerable characters and novel’s quintessential tenderness
· Socially challenging realities
· Real-looking ensemble of characters
As I am writing this, some of its characters come around and dance their way into my head. How can I forget the Twins Estha & Rahel (nearly born on bus), the hilarious pair? Their commitment to idiosyncrasies and devilry, which unfortunately all concludes into the unpredictable tragedy whose consequences echo in their adulthood to shape something unexpected.
What a cavalcade of characters. Apart from the twins, we have an unapologetic anglophile soul Chacko, Mother Ammu, Mamachi, Papachi, Baby Kochamma — all of them just creating wonderful mayhem in their Ayemenem house in Kerala, the state that defines novel’s settings where the story takes place.
There is a lot to relish in the novel for the fact that it explores and touches on many themes in one good rich story.
In addition to its common themes of dysfunctional family and forbidden love, you get to learn about the widely existent cultural bias, class discrimination, racial experiences, societal hypocrisy. There are pages demonstrating in its cold, wry description the cases of domestic violence, fascist and oppressive treatment, women marginalization, cultural barriers, betrayal, fall of social idealism and ideals, behavioral expectations, exoticism and a lot more.
In one of its chapters you see a twin Estha getting molested by a scary-looking vendor. Estha whose fun dialogues and jargons he shares with Rahel are quite entertaining, often taking the shape of dark reality.
I also remember how the Author in her lyrical spirit, fills objects with life, amusingly anthropomorphizing things the characters in the book experience. A car turns into an herbivore and clouds becoming Roman emperors, the car has eyes, teeth and human personality, too. You will laugh and while feeling baffled in places.
The book worked its magic on me
It is not just me who felt something while reading it. I think all the people who read must have felt the charm and slipped into the world of family drama the Author made us imagine. It was a moving evocative work, after all. We went there deep in and keep getting soaked up, absorbed and thoroughly immersed until the last page of the book. I myself wanted to read it again, and I did.
I loved how the author fiddles with the time boundaries and as well as the boundaries the maps of the world enforce on the humanity. In this lyrical work, she flirts with the time-honored structure of sentences and dress them in all-new clothes of nuance. Expressions are precise and concise yet beautifully stretched in its imagination to the point where we feel like memorizing some of them.
I fell for the way objects become subjects in her book and how childish innocence of young characters leads to revealing the sins of the mature world. Its opening pages that depict the seasonal effect in Ayemenem and its people is mesmerizing and leaves readers with a promise to gorge on more mangoes in. 😊
And Pickles and Jam. Popular trends. Public manners and etiquette. Exotic vibes. And history in its honest version. The entire tale conceived and worded with magnificent poise and intelligence.
I felt sad when there was sadness. I felt sad even when there are moments of humor and joy offered by twins Estha and Rahel for I was afraid I had to doubt the longevity of their happiness. Like how long it could last, how long They could last.
The dark touch in the story creates enormous tension for readers to feel. The tension that emerges from caste issues, class-based discrimination, fascism, male chauvinism and misogynistic behavior shown towards women in India. The background plot the Author created in the story is so strong it doesn’t let you ease much, except only occasionally to comfort your senses and breathe in between.
It is amazing how the first chapter itself wraps up most of the entire drama, but you feel passionate desire to drown in and explore more to know how, why and what until the proper conclusion is reached. There are a few surprises and many revelations left for the middle and conclusive part of the book, which makes it a must read for us even today.
Such a tour-de-force of literature ofIndia written on India!
My favorite excerpts from the book
Referring to the internal war of caste and resultant shallow anglophile tendencies, Uncle Chaco to twins:
“But we can’t go in,’ Chaco explained, ‘because we have been locked out. And when we look in through the windows, all we see are shadows. And when we try and listen, all we hear is a whispering. And we can’t understand the whispering, because our minds have been invaded by a war. A war that we have won and lost. The very worst sort of war. A war that captures dreams and re-dreams them. A war that has made us adore our conquerors and despise ourselves.”
It is difficult to escape the multiple interpretations oozing off the dialogues — which is more of an intense clash — among characters.
Such instances and moments make the story evocative and profound. The author makes sure we pause to understand the depth of its meaning and gauge the weight of tension it carries.
My most favorite chapter, if I have to pick, would be Papachi’s Moth for it allows us to enter the surface of social façade to view the true face of misogynistic chauvinism and hypocritical aspects of life prevalent in Indian society. (as portrayed in the story)
Another excerpt which I believe constitutes the theme of the forbidden love within the story is:
“It could be argued that it actually began thousands of years ago…before the British took Malabar…before Christianity arrived in a boat and seeped into Kerala like tea from a teabag. That it really began in the days when the Love Laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much.”
This book in particular is the reason why my love for literature began to be loud and perceptible in me. It was so addictive it made me obsessed to fiction stories in general. After this book, I almost never stopped reading many other fiction novels ever since. I also bought another book by the same Author, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness — which I am still to finish reading. Which was also longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017. I had bought it from Amazon bookstore before the Corona pandemic.
Apart from Arundhati Roy, I have collected other great novels authored by some of my now-favorite Indian writers such as Mr. Rushdie, Kiran Desai, Amitav Ghosh, Arvind Adiga, Anita Desai…
And would also like to read Jhumpa Lahiri whose book The Namesake became famous and was adopted for the movie under the same title in 2006. I myself saw that movie, starring Irfan Khan was incredible and so was Tabbu.
Trivia: The book was published in 1997, but I only came across and started reading it post 2000, not sure exactly which year was that. However, what I perfectly remember is the euphoria it offered me. It made me a lit enthusiast.
Confession: Surprisingly, every time I read this book now, I begin to get the smell of 90’s; automatically the rush of those old days triggers themselves in me. Perhaps this is why I wrote this whole piece with immeasurable joy and raptures.