Saturday, April 29, 2006

On Arundhati Roy

I am no fan of Arundhati Roy (but I think she is beautiful, though). If she had stuck to fiction, it would have saved me this trouble. I don’t read fiction and our worlds would not have crossed each other. She unnecessarily reads up modern age western thought books and tries to preach it to India.

Wars are made with “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat” (#) and Nations are built with ‘concrete, steel, iron, and will power’. She believes in borderless nations, dam-less rivers, and nuclear free countries. I like those concepts as well. I like a war-less world, caste-less society, race-less civilizations, malice-less neighbors, selfless taxpayers, and so on. That does not mean, I close my eyes, and start believing that’s how the world is.

Without dams, there wouldn’t have been a Silicon Valley or a Hollywood. Without Bhakra Nangal Dam Punjab would never have become ‘bread basket of India’. Without Nagarjuna sagar Dam in South, farmers would have been grappling only with flooding rivers during monsoon, and arid season during spring and summer. And one look at the poverty-ridden Bangladesh will tell you why taming Ganges and Brahmaputra is extremely critical for their farmers. Every year, floods sweep across the plain taking away crops, wealth and people into the Bay of Bengal.

Here’s one of here interviews at The Hindu. Snippets are given below, followed by my comments.

1. “For example, is it right to divert rivers and grow water-intensive crops like sugar cane and wheat in a desert ecology?”

Tell that to Israelis! Their survival depends on it. A country like Israel cannot tell its people- ‘We don’t want to disturb the rivers and natural ecosystem and hence your grandchildren will have no bread and we will have no country’. They have converted a brown desert into a green landscape and survived. That is the story of man. It is the story of man throughout the history- its how we made civilizations, wrote epics and dramas, composed music, created statutes, and discussed philosophies- surviving the nature, the environment, the climate, the wildlife, and surviving other men.

Many people shout- ‘Save Earth!’ They don’t realize that Earth will save itself, no matter what! It has done again and again in the last four billion years. It has induced Ice Ages and long summers many a times in its history to adjust climates, and in the process, losing dinosaurs and 99% of species that ever appeared on this planet, and it will keep on surviving long after mankind vanishes from its face. They should in fact shout- ‘Save Mankind!’ because we may not be able to adjust to the changing climate and have to go bust.

Some of civilizations were wiped out because they didn’t control the floods and droughts and not because they built dams.

2. “It touches a raw nerve, so you have people who know very little about it, people who admit that they know very little and don’t care to find out, coming out with passionate opinions.”

The problem with opinions is that- they are like assholes; everyone has one (its the same quote I use at the top of by blog). I think the same way about her- that she knows too little about it, and that her opinions are borrowed and misplaced in time and place. The luxury of not having a dam is something India cannot afford. It needs dams, it needs roads, it needs canals and it needs nuclear power to generate electricity. Those who oppose should go and live in villages which get two hours of electricity per day, instead of talking and writing from cozy a/c houses (that includes me- just that I don’t have a/c).

3. “…the really vital questions that have not been answered are the ones that question the benefits of dams.”

‘Now, my dear madam, read history! And if you don’t have much time, just read, Jared Diamond’s Collapse!' – was my initial reaction. But she actually she did! She says-“I recommend Jared Diamond’s wonderful book Collapse to all those who wish to take a slightly longer, and less panicked, view of ‘development’”. And she conveniently uses it as an argument for her case. That’s the problem with some fundamental ideas. They can be used by both the opposing parties to further their argument (like me doing here for ‘development’).

Many civilizations got swept away because they could not adjust to the changing climate and natural conditions- including flooding and droughts of many rivers. The civilization became stable only when those civilizations could tame these rivers by building dams. This point is mooted by Jared Diamond in a different context and that is conveniently NOT taken up by Arundhati Roy. In another instance, he talks about how tribals or jungle folks living in so-called ‘harmony’ with nature can actually create situations innocuously by which they get extinct. For example, gathering sticks from the forest for firewood which starts off quite harmlessly can have dangerous consequences when the rate at which the sticks fall from the tree is lower than the consumption rate of that tribals because it may trigger massive denudation of the forests leading to extinction of that tribe. Sometimes, ‘development’ can save that civilization by fencing off forests, and providing alternate method for those tribals to lit fire. Dams have been vital part of our civilization- many rivers in monsoon climates, swell, shrink, meander and take a different route, and this can lead to death of a civilization (as it happened to Indus Civilization when Indus started meandering away from the inhabited towns and cities).

May be, what she is referring to is the ‘big dams’ instead of just dams. Yes, big dams are very disruptive and cause changes to nature. But we can’t stop making dams. The US and others have built their huge dams and now the liberals in that country go about preaching to others not to build one. And UBIs (‘Unfortunately Born in India’) like Arundhati Roy, who aspires to be in that club, borrow their ideas and make a mega-fight out of it.

China is currently building one of the biggest construction sites on the planet- the Three Gorges Dam, once completed will improve the lives of tens of million Chinese. China sees itself ahead of India in all respects- in roads, better hospitals, in electricity, in steel, etc, because they don’t have Medha Patkars and Arundhati Roys.

Narmada river will have a series of dams, not just one massive dam, and of this series Sardar Sarovar happens to be a big one, but definitely not as massive as Three Gorges of China and Hoover Dam of US.

4. “Even vast parts of the command area of our favourite dam – the Bhakra is water-logged and in deep trouble.”

There are some negative effects to everything we build. One should weigh the positives against negatives. Is there ‘deep trouble’ in Punjab because of Bhakra Nangal Dam? Really? I see people happily buying cars and sending kids to US and Canada, thanks to Bhakra Dam, not worrying over death of Punjab civilization because of water logging.

If Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy were alive during those days of this dam’s construction, we would not have that dam, and we wouldn’t have the food to eat as well- which is of course irrelevant to these women.

5. “The tragedy is that if they would only use more local, effective, rainwater harvesting schemes, for less than 10 per cent of the cost of the Sardar Sarovar, every single village in Kutch and Saurashtra could have drinking water.”

Lot of people make lot of stupid arguments- just like the above. ‘If only more wind turbines are put across the whole of Karnataka, then we wouldn’t need to burn coal or nuclear fuel’, ‘if only we could collect all the cow dung on the planet, then we can run electricity to the whole city of Patna’, and so on. All the alternate sources of energy, from wind, from sea waves, from solar energy, etc, are important contributors but they do not generate enough energy to keep a nation going. Oil, coal and nuclear fuel for all its ills are still the reliable sources of energy at present. Our nation cannot run on windmills (and when the wind stops, the whole population, including Arundhati Roy, can then pray to God Vayu, the Wind God). Even if it runs on wind energy, the whole landscape will be filled with windmills, and imagine the deforestation and other ill effects. Any source of energy when utilized on mega scale will have some negative effects.

Rain harvesting should be encouraged, but it will never give the reliable source of water supply to millions of people for drinking and irrigation. These are all small contributors but not the main sources. When there is no rain, there is no harvesting, and millions may die because some inane author championed the obstruction of a dam which could have provided the lifeline.

All in all, her argument is farcical (as such any argument can be proved to be farcical, including mine in here). She cites silly reasons, like money for rehabilitation being given to men who blow it away in drinking, and that IT parks are created by throwing poor people out at gun point, etc. Such trivialities cannot stop a nation from launching space rockets, building mega roads, building software parks, and building dams. Just because certain people are not getting compensated or rehabilitated properly does not meant that work should be stopped. If such was the case, no project will ever get done in India. No matter who it is, people in India (or any where in the world) are not happy when moved from their abode, and no matter what compensation they get, they will always be dissatisfied and seek more. Citing reasons that the rehabilitation was inadequate is a good reason to strengthen the fight, but not stop the work. If that was the case, my hometown of Warangal would never have got wide roads, and city of Hyderabad would never have got good infrastructure.

Making sure the environment doesn’t get affected badly is our duty, and we have to take extra precautions to do that, not stop development. People benefit from infrastructure on the long run, though some people may suffer briefly- and that is true for any project anywhere on the planet. And that, for some reason, Arundhati Roy fails to understand- because she opposes ‘development’ in all forms. May be, she would like us all to go back to caves- which is not a bad idea, because then, all we could do is hunt, make war, eat meat, drink beer, and have sex!

(#) Quote from Winston Churchill.

Arundhati Roy's Interview in THE HINDU


  1. I agree Arundhati has views that are questionable though I don't agree with your entire analysis however I fell its unfair to discredit a movement because you don't agree with its leaders. Arundhati or Medha may have certain views on destructive development which may be convuluted but its irrelevant to the present case. Noone is talking about bringing down the dam its about building the dam but with adequate rehabilitation to the displaced families.
    "IT parks are created by throwing poor people out at gun point, etc. Such trivialities cannot stop a nation from launching space rockets,..."
    Well you can't encroach on rights of citizens for so called greater good. They are not dispensable.
    "No matter who it is, people in India (or any where in the world) are not happy when moved from their abode, and no matter what compensation they get, they will always be dissatisfied and seek more."
    In this case the people only are demanding what was promised to them by the authorities and they have a right to it. saying all indians want just seek for more is a self defeating generalisation putting you in the same category as Arundhati
    UBI-unfortunately born in India.

  2. This lady is obviously a fake.

    I dont see why people give so much importance to her when she keeps on talking with a loose tongue and no respect for democracy, keeps on abusing the government and the judiciary.

    she comes to india once in a while to rave and rant about things which she does not understand.

    I think one of the readers who keeps on commenting in these articles on NBA in her favor is arundhati herself

  3. she is all crap

  4. Sujai, great blog. Enjoyed your posts thoroughly.

  5. I too do not agree with your analysis. You may have very educated opinions, but to say that NBA is deterrant to development of the country is not right. The question here is people's rights. When you say in your post "Alone in Bangalore" that you cannot stand people going past you to buy a paltry pop-corn, do you expect people in the Narmada valley to keep mum when they are run over by the river because of the dam, so they could be relieved of their houses for the greater good of people like you and me? We are thankful that we are educated, have electricity and blogging facilities to express your opinions.

    Do you have a problem when people are fighting for even their basic rights. I think you are too critical. I do not want a development for a person sitting thousands of miles away from me at the cost of my family losing everything. I think you share the same idea too and so does everyone who bashes the movement.

    By saying this I do not subscribe to Arundati Roy and her works. First of all I have not read any of her works. I posted this comment because you seemed to be criticizing the movement without knowing the facts.

    FYI check the recent report from the government on the status of rehabilitation to the people in the valley.


  6. I agree with prakash I will just add its not just about being displaced but being displaced without proper rehabilitation and resettlement. And the MP govt first saying we have no land to give breaking an earlier promise and then well claiming they will rehabilitatwe everyone within three months if the dam construction is allowed to go on.
    Convuluted logics

  7. prakash you are too late in the discussion which has been going on in the net all over the place.

    it is generally understood that NBA has been more concerned with stopping the dam per se rather than merely R&R.

    True that R&R has been lax in MP but they did not have to undertake fasts in national capital to gain sympathy.

    They are not fighting for THEIR own rights but ostensibly for some displaced people's rights who as news reports say have been forced to accept NBA intervention and reject rehab packages.

    Anyhow, it is time the discussion on this is closed because people are getting carried away emotionally with NBA whereas the so-called affected people no one is bothered about.
    And incidentally, I do not find anything wrong with Sujai just because he is highlighting the bizzare actions of the two ladies.

  8. tell you what:

    Let Arundhati be placed in charge of fasting and dharna for displaced Kashmiri pundits since she has an international stature.

    Let Medha look after Coke agitation cuz she is in water already.

  9. Prakash and Tanvi:
    I have put up another blog as a response.

    This is to address some of the comments which suggested that I do not believe in upholding people's rights.
    Thank you,

  10. Rent a cause activists like Arundhati dont really ammount to much because they want the intellectual superiority of the left marxist ideologies while yet retaining the privileges of the right wing establsihment. If one only agrees to refuse prizes just because they are a mere $4500 like in the sahitya akademi award but will accept mega bucks from a mega publishing multi national corporation, people wil ask questions.

  11. The main problem with your 'asshole' is that you are assuming that the world will be able to heal itself, no matter what. Trouble is, world was able to support itself and lives on her before we started with our destructive course (with the birth of industrial age). There is no an iota of doubt in the scientific community that deterioration rate of the state of ecology has been alarming (see the documentary "Corporate" for a starter). Your claim that big dams, nuclear power and other plundrings will be absorbed somehow is a wishful, uninformed thinking. Finally, don't go about falsly naming Roy as a Westphile. She has more guts and 'patriotism' than many of our yuppy, globalisation, wannabes.
    BTW, Sardar dam does not benefit anyone except the miniscule rich farmers lobby of Gujarat.

  12. The last statement is really ironic.
    "May be, she would like us all to go back to caves- which is not a bad idea, because then, all we could do is hunt, make war, eat meat, drink beer, and have sex!"

    Isn't this exactly what out ruling class is doing now? They hunt their own people. They always use the threat of war to keep the military establishment out of any accountability. Oh yeah..they eat meat, drink beer and have sex. And that's all they do. All of this when they could use the power vested in them for saving our kids!
    Arundhati might be an anarchist, but don't count her as insane.

  13. The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

    The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

    Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

    Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
    Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
    Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.
    Subject : Environment can never be saved as long as cities exist.

    Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

    If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

    Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.

    When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

    There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

    People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

    Emotion ends.

    Man becomes machine.

    A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

    A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

    A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.





    To read the complete article please follow either of these links :




  14. I do not agree with your view, though it did make me laugh at certain points.

    Rehabilitation is their right. You can't ignore their rights on one side. You cannot work on development with another group going to the dogs. You should do justice to them. Medha and Arundhati are doing just that against many odds.

    If you had been in Medha's shoes, I don't know whether you would stood by and found for those poor creatures. Give them their due and take the land. Not otherwise.

  15. Sujai,

    Another humorous post from you filled with self-contradictions, sweeping generalizations, faulty logic, half-baked ideas and wishful thinking. Thanks for the laughs! :)


  16. A much better post Sujai. This time you have dealt with the arguments. Thanks

    ~ Vinod

  17. I especially love hw ur irreverent evn to urself..! Hence in my opinion ur arundhati-bashing wrks..!
    Gud job!

  18. Nice post!
    If they could have put fraction of their focus and energy on ensuring rehabilitation of displaced rather than taking anti-development approach, it could have been win-win situation for all(including poor)


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