Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 847
Suzanna Arundhati Roy is the child of a Christian mother from the south Indian state of Kerala and a Bengali Hindu father, who was the administrator of a tea plantation. She grew up in Aymenem, Kerala, India, where she attended an unconventional school, Corpus Christi, operated by her mother, Mary Roy. Both the social atmosphere of the varied religions of Kerala (Hindu, Muslim, and Christian) and the natural history of the rural area are part of the background and atmosphere of her novel, The God of Small Things (1997). By her own admission, Roy grew up very much as the children in the novel did. Her mother was divorced, and the vulnerable family lived on the outskirts of the village.
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When she was sixteen, Roy left home to be on her own, and for a while she lived a precarious existence in a squatter’s camp in Delhi. After some time she enrolled in the Delhi School of Planning and Architecture, which had an influence on her writing. She brought the same structure of recurring motifs that she found in architecture to her novel, which she shaped by the way words, paragraphs, and punctuation fall structurally on the page. Roy married a fellow architectural student, Gerard da Cunha. Da Cunha eventually went on to receive the Prime Minister’s National Award for Excellence in Urban Planning and Design, offered by the Ministry of Urban Development, in 2006. His marriage to Roy, however, lasted only four years, and during that time they moved to Goa to sell things on the beach and live like flower children. Unhappy in such a commercial tourist destination, Roy returned to Delhi and found a job in the National Institute of Urban Affairs.
The Indian film director Pradeep Krishen noticed Roy one day and offered her a small role in the film Massey Sahib (1985). Soon after, she received a scholarship to study the restoration of monuments in Italy for eight months. Roy realized she was a writer while in Italy. She married Krishen, and together they planned a television epic in twenty-six episodes for Doordarshan, the public television broadcasting company of India. ITV, an independent television production company, scrapped the serial after a few episodes, severely disappointing Roy and her husband. Roy met Bhaskar Ghose, then director general of Doordarshan, who offered to finance a screenplay she wanted to write. The result was In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones. Released for television in 1989, the story is set in the 1970’s and is a humorous tale of architecture students in their final year of college. Roy portrays herself in the film, which was shot at the Delhi School of Planning and Architecture, where she went to school. Continuing her film work, Roy wrote the screenplay for the film Electric Moon, which had a few good reviews when it was released in 1992 but was not a success. She later admitted she did not have enough cinematic experience to fully translate her concept into a film.
Returning to India, she wrote a criticism of the widely acclaimed and celebrated Indian film, Bandit Queen, which resulted in a lawsuit against her. In the aftermath, she left the public sphere for private life to concentrate on her writing, which developed into The God of Small Things. The novel was written in English because it is the only common language throughout India. Although the novel catapulted Roy to fame and celebrity, it also garnered a certain amount of notoriety because of its sensitive subject matter. In the novel, the divorced mother of young children crosses ancient caste lines when she has an affair with a Dalit, or untouchable. Dalits, according to India’s three-thousand-year-old caste system, are not traditionally considered part of human society but are polluters of higher-caste people, which is why they are untouchable. Roy turned to a defense of the Dalits after the book’s publication by speaking out against their oppression and appearing at a reception in Kerala to establish herself as an advocate of their cause. She also donated royalties from the Malayalam translation of her novel to support Dalit writings.
Following the publication of The God of Small Things, Roy used her talents and status to publicize some of the important choices India faces. In 1998, she published an article in The Nation concerning the testing of nuclear weapons in India. Some of her controversial essays have been collected in several books, including Power Politics (2001) and War Talk (2003). She attacks global capitalism, the spread of poverty, and the fact that more than four hundred million citizens in India remain illiterate. In a collection of essays published in 2004, An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, Roy takes on the administration of President George W. Bush, exposing what she perceives as the hypocrisy of Bush and his cabinet and reminding readers that the power of the people to oppose their leaders’ tyranny is the foundation of democracy. She advocates using nonviolent organizing to sabotage the war in Iraq and draws attention to the subtle connections between globalization in India, devastation in Iraq, and poverty among African Americans.