art of resistance, India

Arundhati Roy: The President Took The Salute.

A month ago, I published Arundhati Roy’s Feminism & Foundations, Burkas & Botox, excerpt from her new book Capitalism: A Ghost Story. Here is another great excerpt, the preface The President Took The Salute.

Capture/Arundhati Roy, photo by Chiara Goia for The New York Times/

“The Minister says that for India’s sake, people should leave their villages and move to the cities. He’s a Harvard man. He wants speed. And numbers. Five hundred million migrants he thinks, will make a good business model.

Not everybody likes the idea of their cities filling up with the poor. A judge in Bombay called slum dwellers pickpockets of urban land. Another said, while ordering the bulldozing of unauthorized colonies, that people who couldn’t afford to live in the cities shouldn’t live in them.

When those who had been evicted went back to where they came from, they found their villages had disappeared under great darns and duty quarries. Their homes were ocuppied by hunger – and policemen. The forests were filling up with armed guerrillas. They found that the wars from the edge of India, in Kashmir, Nagaland, Manipur, had migrated to its heart. People returned to live on city streets and pavements, in hovels on dusty construction sites, wondering which corner of this huge country was meant for them.

The minister said that migrants to cities were mostly criminals and ‘carried a kind of behavior which is unacceptable to modern cities.’ The middle class admired him for his forthrightness, for having the courage to call a spade a spade. The Minister said he would set up more police stations, recruit more policemen, and put more police vehicles on the road to improve law and order.

In the drive to beautify Delhi for the Commonwealth Games, laws were passed that made the poor vanish, like laundry stains. Street vendors disappeared, rickshaw pullers lost their licenses, small shops and businesses were shut down. Beggars were rounded up, tried by mobile magistrates in mobile courts, and dropped outside the city limits. The slums that remained were screened off, with vinyl billboards that said DELHIciously Yours.

New kinds of policemen parolled the streets, better armed, better dressed, and trained not to scratch their privates in public, no matter how grave the provocation. There were cameras everywhere, recording everything.

Two young criminals carrying a kind of behavior that was unacceptable to modern cities escaped the police dragnet and approached a woman sitting between her sunglasses  and the leather seats of her shiny car at a traffic crossing. Shamelessly they demanded money. The woman was rich and kind. The criminals’ heads were no higher than her car window. Their names were Rukmini and Kamli. Or maybe Mehrunissa and Shabbano. (Who cares.) The woman gave them money and some motherly advice. Ten rupees to Kamli (or Shabbano). ‘Share it’, she told them, and sped away when the lights changed.

Rukmini and Kamli (or Mehrunissa and Shabbano) tore into each other like gladiators, like lifers in a prison yard. Each sleek car that falshed past them, and almost crashed them, carried the reflection of their battle, their fight to the finish, on its shining door.

Eventually both girls disappeared without a trace, like thousands of children do in Delhi.

The Games were a sucess.

Two months later, on sixty-second anniversary of India’s Republic Day, the armed forces showcased their new weapons at the Republic Day parade: a missile launcher system, Russian multi-barrel rocket launchers, combat aircraft, light helicopters, and underwater weapons for the navy. The new T-90 battle tank was called Bhishma. (The older one was Ajrun.) Varunastra was the name of the latest heavyweight torpedo, and Mareech was a decoy system to seduce incoming torpedos. (Hanuman and Varja are the names painted on the armored vehicles that patrol Kasmir’s frozen streets.) The names from the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata were a coincidence. Dare Devils from the Army’s Corpes of Signals rode motorcycles in a rocket formation; then they formed a cluster of flying birds and finally a human pyramid.

The army band played the national anthem. The President took the salute.

Three Sukhoi fighter jets made a Trishul in the sky. Shiva’s Trishul. Is India a Hindu republic? Only accidentally.

The thrilled crowd turned its face up to the weak winter sun and applauded the aerobatics. High in the sky, the winking silver sides of the jets carried the reflection of Rukmini and Kamli’s (or Mehrunissa and Shabbano’s) fight to the death.”

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