Seven thousand, three hundred days. Twenty years. Judging by the response to the release of Arundhati Roy’s long-anticipated follow-up to her first novel, 1997’s The God of Small Things, you’d think it had been two hundred. Reviews of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness are almost as ecstatic as the ones that accompanied Roy’s first book — and they almost always include a lament that it took her so damn long to produce.
The God of Small Things received a Man Booker Prize, bestseller status, and a whirlpool of accolades, but after its publication, Roy opted out of fiction altogether, pursuing a career as a political activist-cum reporter, unearthing the stories of society’s rebels and outcasts, advocating for a non-nuclear India, the independence of Kashmir, and criticizing prime minister Narendra Modi.
How dare she?
That’s the underlying question in nearly every interview with Roy that’s followed. Who wouldn’t give just about anything for a fawning debut New York Times book review, a public clamoring for the next book? Doesn’t she owe her readers another glimpse into her imagination? Read more…
Born in New Jersey to a family of Indian descent, Kanan Gole chooses India over America by moving there for work. In “Going the Right Way” on The Smart Set, Gole explains why she made that choice and how it’s perceived by the Indians around her.
My decision to move to India to work was primarily motivated by my need for a stronger understanding of my heritage. There’s no other way to truly understand my Indian software except living where my parents lived. I look like an Indian, can dress like one, can sometimes speak like one too (though that is under construction), but I wouldn’t live up to the title “Indian.” It is difficult to define immigrant kid identity, so I try not to do it at all. I am simply part Indian, part American. Which parts? That’s too technical for me, a subject that will cause me unnecessary angst, and possibly one that won’t be resolved. Life is good, I must say. But people insist that only an idiot would move from the land of the dollar to the 68-times-weaker rupee.
The animation student felt a thrill as he entered the hotel. It grew when, as soon as he unlocked his luxurious room, he caught sight of a not-entirely-unexpected gift—a hamper of complimentary cigarettes and Zippo lighters. His excitement increased further over the next couple of days, filled with seminars and celebrations, and culminating in a party that he described, years later, as “a slice of real-life American Pie.”
“We started off with the bartending competition, and the alcohol was on the house, so all of us started drinking right then,” he told me. “By the time the party ‘started,’ most of us were either halfway drunk or completely drunk.” That was just the beginning. “They”—his hosts—“were going around with bottles of Chivas Regal, picking people up and literally choking them with alcohol.”
That evening, the Parkland Retreat’s plush banquet hall was the venue for a party themed “Gold, White and Black,” and was full of standees and banners adorned with the familiar logo of Marlboro cigarettes, of which the varieties sold in India include Marlboro Golds, Whites and Blacks. “They taught us how to party,” the student said, “Marlboro style.”
The event was a rite of passage for the student and his fellows, who had signed on to be “Marlboro Gold Connectors.” It was all part of a brand ambassador programme launched in 2009 by Philip Morris India, a wholesale trading company and a subsidiary of the global tobacco firm Philip Morris, which works on “fostering and promoting the sale of Marlboro cigarettes in India.” From 2009 until the programme was officially halted this June, the company hired “influencers” between the ages of roughly 18 and 25 to serve as “connectors” for Marlboro. Simply put, they were paid to promote Marlboro’s Gold and Red cigarettes among their friends and peers.
An illiterate child from a small town in India falls asleep on a train and ends up lost in Calcutta, unable to find his way back home. Twenty-five years later, while living with his adoptive family in Australia, he locates his lost hometown using memories and Google Earth:
This was it, the name of the station where he was separated from his brother that day, a couple hours from his home. Saroo scrolled up the train track looking for the next station. He flew over trees and rooftops, buildings and fields, until he came to the next depot, and his eyes fell on a river beside it—a river that flowed over a dam like a waterfall.
Saroo felt dizzy, but he wasn’t finished yet. He needed to prove to himself that this was really it, that he had found his home. So, he put himself back into the body of the barefoot five-year-old boy under the waterfall: ‘I said to myself, Well, if you think this is the place, then I want you to prove to yourself that you can make your way back from where the dam is to the city center.’
Saroo moved his cursor over the streets on-screen: a left here, a right there, until he arrived at the heart of the town—and the satellite image of a fountain, the same fountain where he had scarred his leg climbing over the fence 25 years before.
A man travels to the Dhamma Giri meditation center in western India to learn the meditation style known as Vipassana—the same meditation used by the Buddha to reach enlightenment 25 centuries ago. Enlightenment doesn’t come easy:
There are no further instructions. And I can’t ask anyone what I’m supposed to do. So I sit, striving to keep my mind free of distractions. I detect the tide of my respiration flowing over my upper lip – cooler entering my nose, warmer exiting. Still favoring my right nostril.
A line from The Big Lebowski jumps to mind. You want a toe? I can get you a toe. Then a song refrain. A dozen of them, as if I’ve pressed scan on my car radio. This is Ground Control to Major Tom. Snippets of sitcom dialogue, a phrase from a Richard Brautigan poem, famous opening lines – A screaming comes across the sky – old phone numbers. I try to decide whether I prefer chunky peanut butter over creamy. Chunky, I conclude. Commercial jingles, yearbook quotes, I got the horse right here the name is Paul Revere, math equations, crossword-puzzle clues, Hotel-Motel Holiday Inn, anything, everything, a deluge of internal prattle.
This doesn’t bother me. Before coming, we had been instructed to discard any mantras we might have used in the past – not a problem, as I’ve always been mantra-free – but I actually have brought with me something of one. Really more of a slogan. It is this: ‘waterfall, river, lake.’ I find myself repeating it, frequently, as I try to meditate. ‘Waterfall, river, lake. Waterfall, river, lake.’