A few years ago, walking down the road in Kanpur, I noticed a small boy, holding his mother's hand, walking in front of me. Suddenly, the boy broke free from his mother's grip and ran. He almost came under a car but the driver, a young woman, applied brakes just in time.
"Kya samajhti hai apne aap ko!" the boy's mother yelled while looking at the car -- What does she think of herself!
I was quite suprised by her reaction: instead of scolding the boy, she was getting angry with the woman who had actually saved her son's life by applying brakes in the nick of time. Then I realised, had the driver been a man, she would have at the most shouted, "Dekh kar nahin chalte kya?" -- Can't you watch out while driving? But the sight of a woman on the driver's seat (in the car as well as in life) was a bit too unpalatable for this boy's mother. And therefore, the 'What do you think of yourself.' The mother kept throwing angry, backward, glances at the car till it was out of sight, and only then did she give one slap to the boy for sprinting out of her grip.
It is the 'What do you think of yourself' syndrome that bites the Indian, man or woman, whenever Arundhati Roy writes or says something in public.
I am neither a fan of her, nor a baiter; I haven't even read her, though I am aware of what she writes about because of the noise made in the media. And I think it is commendable on her part to raise issues that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. In the process, she at least creates awareness and every newspaper-reading Indian gets to examine or re-examine the issue she is raising. The opinion you arrive at after examining the issue is a completely different matter -- you are free to agree with her or disagree with her.
But why go after her hammer and tongs as if she was a witch going to eat up the nation? It was to understand, and perhaps explain, this question that I wrote my previous post. But the point seemed to have been lost. As far as Kashmir or the Maoist movement is concerned, your opinion may be different from mine and I have no quarrel with that. I only sought to address one simple question: why does the whole of literate India seem to be seething with rage every time Arundhati Roy opens her mouth?
She is hardly a threat, after all. She does not run a political party that can influence people. She does not even command a small-time political outfit. She is not even as influential as individuals such as Medha Patkar or Baba Amte. She is not even being a writer -- just a one-book wonder. And yet, so much of rage, so much of anger -- coming from people who have learned to live with the likes of Bal Thackeray and Raj Thackeray?
The answer is simple. Arundhati Roy is a woman -- a woman who is attractive and articulate, defiant and daring, who effectively uses glamour and celebrity to draw attention to the issues she raises. Too unpalatable for Indian sensibilities. Indians must revolt: What does she think of herself?
Had the same views been expressed by a khadi-wearing, jhola-carrying gentleman called Arun Roy, instead of Arundhati Roy, no one would have wasted their time and emotions in retaliating.
There is a genial doctor called Binayak Sen, who spent the best part of his productive life in Chhattisgarh, treating and fighting for the oppressed, and yet languished in jail for allegedly being kind to the Maoists. Now tell me -- and do tell me the truth -- how many of you had even heard of Dr Sen until he was released from jail pretty recently following intervention by the Supreme Court? And yet you bristle with anger and activism when a certain Arundhati Roy speaks her mind on the same issue. Why so?
An Indian woman is supposed to be shy and coy and conforming to the rules set by the society. Until very recently, the storylines of many Indian films, including Hindi films, have been about taming the tomboy. In the first half of the film, the heroine defies tradition and raises eyebrows, but in the next half, she is tamed by the macho hero into being as soft as a snowflake. The audience gave out a collective sigh of orgasm: "Wow, he taught her a lesson." It walked out of the theatre with a smug look, happpy that the social equilibrium remained undisturbed.
The mindset hasn't changed since then. Problems still arise when a woman stops being a doormat and decides to raise issues and ask questions. That's when we Indians take a big gulp and exclaim in outrage, "How could she? What does she think of herself?"