Author Arundhati Roy has disowned her references to Communist legend and the first chief minister of Kerala E.M.S Namboodiripad made in her debut novel God Of Small Things, which fetched her the prestigious Booker Prize in 1997.
In an interview to Outlook, Roy, who has just released her second novel, The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness, called the whole controversy, which had created a storm two decades ago in her home state, Kerala, as “fake” and “rubbish.”
In God Of Small Things, Roy, through multiple references, painted the picture that her character “Comrade Namboodiripad” was EMS Namboodiripad. She portrayed him as a profit-minded estate holder. In the novel, Roy makes EMS appear as a landlord in Kottayam whose ancestral home had been converted into a modern hotel. To top it, old Communist workers were fawning bearers in the party boss’s hotel. And worse, Roy’s character Comrade Namboodiripad turned the hotel into a hub for incestuous parents.
In her latest interview, Outlook asked Roy, “Raking up an old ghost. The E.M.S affair. Do you regret the hotelier bit? Wasn’t that a bit of classic Left-baiting?
Roy replied: “It’s all fake…rubbish! I’ve not said that EMS ran a hotel. The real question is, which has now been cleared, has the Left dealt with caste or not? The hotel thing was a red herring. It’s a little unfair…I’ve always been an admirer of the Left. And Kerala benefited hugely from the presence of a mainstream left. But that doesn’t mean you toe the party line and say nothing. To me, it’s a great failure, the way the Left has been blind in dealing with caste, the violence it has done by doing that. And that’s what that novel was all about, 20 years ago! Not looking at caste is terrible. And I will say so. But the hotel thing is all bullshit.”
Read the full interview: "A Novel Is Like A Prayer, A Layered Universe..."
Neither did Roy ever apologize for the slanted portrayal of EMS or officially withdraw the passage.
E.M.S had come heavily against the book a couple of times through his articles. He called her book “anti-communist” and even denounced the book as representing the literature of a decadent, bourgeois society. He had also accused the novel of portraying deviant sexuality.
Reacting against the novel, Namboodiripad’s daughter Dr Malathi Damodaran had told Outlook in 2007 that Roy’s writing was “unethical.” “While Roy may hold that "Comrade E.M.S. Namboodiripad" of her novel is a "fictional" character, the fact is that the book contains sufficient factual references to my father, including his being the "Chief Minister of the first ever democratically elected Communist government in the world," she had written in a letter published in the Frontline magazine.
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