The God of Small Things

by Arundhati Roy
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Why does Ammu recognize Velutha as "the God of Small Things"?

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Arundhati Roy's 1996 novel The God of Small Things is an acclaimed critical work. The story, which is not told chronologically, revolves around fraternal twins Rahel and Estha and their mother (Ammu). One of the very important characters in the novel is Velutha, a lower-caste Untouchable whom the children quickly befriend.

Velutha is a Paravan, an "Untouchable" in the Hindu caste system, which leaves him at the bottom of the social ladder. He is skilled and works as a carpenter for the Ipe family. He is also intimately connected with the idea of the "God of Small Things."

In chapter 11 (titled "The God of Small Things"), Ammu dreams of a one-armed man who holds her close.

He could only do one thing at a time. If he held her, he couldn't kiss her. If he kissed her, he couldn't see her. If he saw her, he couldn't feel her.

When she is awoken by her children, their appearance and the shaved wood in Rahel's hair makes her realize that they have been visiting Velutha, and she immediately realizes that he is God of Small Things:

She knew who he was—the God of Loss, the God of Small Things. Of course she did.

Why does she realize this?

Well, here is what Arundhati Roy has to say about the "small things" in her novel:

To me the god of small things is the inversion of God. God's a big thing and God's in control. The god of small things . . . whether it's the way the children see things or whether it's the insect life in the book, or the fish or the stars—there is a not accepting of what we think of as adult boundaries. This small activity that goes on is the under life of the book. All sorts of boundaries are transgressed upon. At the end of the first chapter I say little events and ordinary things are just smashed and reconstituted, imbued with new meaning to become the bleached bones of the story. It's a story that examines things very closely but also from a very, very distant point, almost from geological time and you look at it and see a pattern there. A pattern . . . of how in these small events and in these small lives the world intrudes. And because of this, because of people being unprotected . . . the world and the social machine intrudes into the smallest, deepest core of their being and changes their life.

This moment in the novel is when Ammu realises that she is in love with Velutha, and hence the logical conclusion of this is that there will be transgression of the social order.

Firstly, her children visiting Velutha and being friends with him have "transgressed" "adult boundaries" of class and propriety, and Ammu realises that Velutha is source of these transgressions.

Secondly, her own affection is a transgression because their class differences would never allow them to pursue a socially-accepted relationship. And Velutha is the one who generates these feelings of norm-breaking and rebellion in both Ammu and her children, hence he is the "god" who urges, if not the revolutionary overthrow of society, at least the lapse in memory when it comes to "how things should be done" in an India still haunted by caste.

Thirdly, Velutha is connected with the "small" that leads to the big. He is linked with the small children, who play with him. This small friendship causes them to take Sophie Mol and run away to Velutha after Ammu's harsh words (again, a small thing, and again she is locked up because of her relationship with Velutha). This running away leads to Sophie Mol's death, and the children and Ammu's separation. This is the "big" thing in the novel.

Another example of this is the small moments that the family shares with Velutha. He plays with the twins and takes their games seriously. As a child, he made small toys for Ammu. The former leads to a friendship that will cause misfortune and separation. The latter leads to love, which will lead to many deaths.

Another small things associated with Velutha is the spider that he and Ammu nickname "Chappu Thamburan" (Lord Rubbish) when they secretly meet. The narrator tells the readers:

They were wrong about Chappu Thamburan, though. He outlived Velutha. He fathered future generations. He died of natural causes.

This shows how small things associated with Velutha carry on after him, and also that the small lives are more important than larger (human) ones in a society dominated by class. As a Paravan, Velutha himself is a "small" thing in Kerela and hence dominates all associated with this class—oppression, hard work, gentleness. This makes him a god in his realm.

All these quotes (and more) link Velutha to being the "God of Small Things" in both Ammu's mind and the narrator's and play into why Ammu recognises him as such.

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Ammu first mentions the idea of “The God of Small Things” in Chapter 11, after she has a dream of a man with one arm holding her close. Not only is the man holding her close, but Ammu and this man are almost the center of attention in a crowd. In the dream, we don’t know who this man is, but it is suggested that he is “The God of Loss” or “The God of Small Things.”  

As Ammu dreams, Estha and Rahel watch her carefully so that they don’t wake her up. When she does wake up, she quickly realizes that the twins have just spent time with Velutha because of the wood shavings in their hair. This makes her realize who “The God of Small Things” is (Chapter 11):

By not mentioning his name, she sensed that a pact had been forged between her Dream and the World. And that the midwives of that pact were, or would be, her sawdust-coated two-egg twins. She knew who he was - the God of Loss, the God of Small Things. Of course she did.

While this may be the first moment that Ammu realizes her feelings for Velutha, the romantic relationship has been developing all along: from the time they were younger, when Velutha no longer had to stretch out his hands to give her gifts, to now, when her children refer to him as their best friend. Ammu almost predicts a tragic end by warning her children not to get too close to Velutha because something bad might happen.

Due to their opposing social statuses, both Ammu and Velutha know that their relationship has no viable future. Their love affair is all they have (Chapter 21):

Even later, on the thirteen nights that followed this one, instinctively they stuck to the Small Things. The Big Things ever lurked inside. They knew that there was nowhere for them to go. They had nothing. No Future. So they stuck to the small things.

Because of the narrative structure of the novel, the events are not presented in the order that they happen chronologically. However, the novel ends at a place that we could almost consider as the beginning - it’s the beginning of Ammu and Velutha’s love affair. Ammu leaves by telling Velutha “Tomorrow,” and he confirms “Tomorrow.”

Velutha becomes “The God of Small Things” because their relationship can only unfold and develop day by day, no matter how strong or legitimate their feelings are for each other.

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