Debutant Arundhati Roy won the Man Booker Prize for her story of the two egg twins from Ayemenem, a small town in the southern Indian province of Kerala. The precious twins, who went by the name of Rahel and Estha. The two egg twins who thought of themselves together as ME and separately as WE. The children with back-reading habits. ehT nerdlihc ohw devol oot noos, dna tsol oot noos. Roy, who was born to a Keralite Syrian mother and a Bengali Hindu father, has her partly autobiographical novel The God of Small Things centering on the very themes that she grew up witnessing as a child – there are the Syrian Christian ideals, there’s the Indian caste system, there’s the democracy rule verses communalism, and there are the western and eastern ethics in clash – all in function within the vicinity of a classical Keralite family. But Roy, instead of making a big statement by drawing on the aforementioned themes, offers us a close and intimate look at her personal story. And she does so in sheer loveliness and honor.
So who are Rahel and Estha? They are born to Ammu as a rare breed of Siamese twins who are physically separate, but with joint identities. Their single mother is both, their Amma and their Baba. Restless and untamed this Ammu is filled with “the infinite tenderness of motherhood and the reckless rage of a suicide bomber.” After marrying an inter-caste man (downright blasphemy for the people in her society) she went so far as to 'die-vorce' her husband, a compulsive alcoholic, and returned with her beautiful dizygotic twins to live in her maternal house with Mammachi, Baby Kochamma and Chacko (her mother, aunt and brother respectively.)
Roy’s story leaps from past to present and shows the two inseparable twins and their dearly loved mother as they live their life in the family house. There are plenty of inscrutable people for the conjoined twins to deal with: Mammachi their blind grandmother and the founder of Paradise Pickles who’s hell-bent in reserving for herself the exclusive love of her son; Chacko the Oxford scholar who returns to India after separating from his wife owing to his wild and precarious lifestyle; Baby Kochamma the old yet fresh-and-in-love grandaunt who still muses over the young Irish priest she met as a young girl. Above all, there is Sophie Mol, their sophisticated foreign return cousin who is unlike Rahel and Estha by every scaling inch. Rahel and Estha - the lovelorn, doomed and fatherless waifs. The Half Hindu Hybrids.
But the neglected twins are loved, pampered, and petted in the daylight hours by their beloved friend, an indispensable worker at their Paradise Pickles factory Velutha. Velutha the Paraavan (Untouchable) with an unwarranted assurance. Velutha the Naxalite who broke the laws of love with their mother Ammu. The untouchable who held is head high and committed the ‘unchristian’ act of touching, and had more than touched.
Who was he?
Who could he have been?
The God of Small Things.
The God of Goose Bumps or Sudden Smiles.
He could do only one thing at a time.
If he touched her, he couldn’t talk to her, if he loved her he couldn’t leave, if he spoke he couldn’t listen, if he fought, he couldn’t win.
The family’s tragedy revolves around the visit of Sophie Mol and a calamity that the children are somehow held responsible for. An inopportune event has the Paravaan die an animal’s death, has the twins’ mother follow without turning to say goodbye, has Estha damaged forever, and has the laws of love broken once again. So much for the story.
Now, there’s something to be said about a book that spurs you on to shut it for the first 100 pages, but gives you a transcending reading experience once you reach there (and survive). And it takes more than just a heart-biting story to do that -
The God of Small Things, Roy’s first and only book as of 2009 is written in prose that sets her apart from most iconic writers. 'Yooseless Goose', 'Verrry Sweet', 'Goodgood..Very good', 'afternoon-mare', 'Myoozick', 'stoppit', 'Whatisyourname', 'Eggzackly', 'Pleasetomeetyou' are only some of beguiling expressions Roy fittingly uses to heighten the effect of her southern Indian story. She easily fascinates with her language, that she’s obviously first mastered and then played around with like a child. There’s also a brilliant interweave of story lines that you grasp much later. Plenty of small details that seem inconsequential, come together to form the bigger picture. Here all things beautiful and small are an indication of the destructive big: Whether it’s the Kathakali man who tells the stories his body can tell, or Estha fooling around with the repetition of the Roman senator’s famous line “Et Tu, Brute?”, or politics and power simply barging into their life to make their despair complete.
The book became a sensation soon after its release. It sold six million copies, and has been translated into forty languages. As for Roy, the writer became Kerala’s celebrated black sheep. She’s the worse thing a girl can be, she says – thin, black and clever. “People in Kerala don't know how to deal with it; they want to embrace me and say that this is 'our girl,' and yet they don't want to address what the book is about, which is caste. They have to find ways of filtering it out. They have to say it's a book about children."
But Roy’s story removes the distinction between what’s true and what’s not. She tells politics and casteism in the form of a story and fantastically interlinks with it the relationship of a man, a woman, a household and a pair of two-egg twins. The book is a cathartic narrative that speaks its truth plainly and clearly - there’s an untamable mother who loved much but rarely, there’s an Untouchable man who was destroyed for a Touchable future, there’s a society that knows how to kill a man’s spirit, and there are the children, with backward-reading habits. And it reads more remarkable than it sounds. Let’s give it to this writer-cum-activist-cum-Sydney Peace Prize winner-cum-world citizen. Her work is pretty much a dish that is fit for the Gods – and of all kinds, big or small.