Friday, June 30, 2017

What Arundhati Roy Gave Me Last Night

I took an UberX last night down to the Aratani theater in Japantown to hear Arundhati Roy, the great Indian novelist. The driver was of indeterminate ethnicity and drove an immaculate Lexus sedan. I tend toward chatty, and he obliged by telling me that driving was his second job, his first being something to do with transferring people from health insurance to Medicaid or whatever whatever whatever.  He began mansplaining about the whole shebang so I jumped in with my own tiny little mother mind™ and explained the tiniest bit about Sophie and then he shut up and then I said a single payer plan was the only way to go and he shook his head and said it'd hurt a whole lot of people and then I asked why and he told me the story of his sister-in-law who came to this country from a very poor country and overstayed her visa and had a baby with a man and used Medi-Cal to pay for diapers and formula even though she's illegal and he and his wife both work hard and this is the problem because there are thousands if not millions of people doing what his sister is doing while he and his wife are doing the right thing. He said people like her should not have babies. So I asked, Why don't you offer to pay for your sister-in-law's diapers and formulas, then? And he said nothing. To be fair, he agreed that the pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies are a big racket, and I agreed that people shouldn't work the system and should take responsibility for their actions. We compromised on the need for everyone to do the right thing, but when I climbed out of the Lexus at my destination, I walked through the plaza straight to a little bar set up and ordered myself a cold dark beer and drank it, fast, along with a $2 taco from a kosher taco truck. Then I waited in line with my copy of Arundhati Roy's new novel and filed into the theater and sat in my second row center seat and had my tiny little mother mind™ blown.

It seemed fitting that Roy was framed on stage by a photo of Patti Smith, her arms reaching up toward the heavens. I imagined that Roy had descended from them to grace us, such was her luminosity for the next hour and a half. She talked with Hector Tobar about art and literature and the history of India, of Pakistan and Kashmir. She told us of the atrocities happening there, that the Kashmir has the highest military occupation of any country in the world, that you can't really write about the atrocities as reportage but that fiction is the only, the best way to write about them because you will write about everything, all angles, all human experience through fiction. Fiction is a prayer and an offering, she said at one point, and we all might have swooned. Her voice, her laugh, her gentleness and steel. She told us that she is returning to India this weekend to appear in court. Every few years or so, she is sued by five male lawyers over something or other, for daring to speak, to write, to protest. She has spent time in jail. At the end, a woman in the hijab told her what she meant to her, and her voice broke. I felt tiny, the ride in the Lexus, the driver and his sister-in-law, Medi-Cal, Trumpcare and all the rest peeled away, a transparent skin to shed. Naked.

I'm thinking what sorts of bullshit we are preoccupied with here in these Disunited States of Amerikkka. Bloody, plastic surgery faces, the National Enquirer, talking heads yammering, yammering, yammering with our acquiescence and participation. Our umbrage. I told a friend today that the latest diversion is worse than a soap opera. Stop the madness. It's a vomitorium. Bloody face lift had me howling at the moon, she replied, and I thought yes. Yes because it's so over the top horrible that a person in power would say it and also yes because it's all so tragically stupid. There's a $3.2 million dollar Mega-Mansion behind my bungalow that a family bought so that their 23 year old graduate student kid can live in it while attending USC. They are Korean. I walked by with Sophie yesterday and noticed a black Ferrari in the driveway with dealer plates on it. Just a block away, there's a small tent city growing of homeless people who look familiar to me now because they've been in the neighborhood so long. The giant Lenin statue that sat at the corner was removed the other day as the art gallery that put it there has gone bankrupt. For a couple of days only half of Lenin sat there, and I wondered whether he could house a homeless person. Here's a picture:

But I digress.

I took an Uber home. My driver was African American and drove a Toyota Corolla. As is my wont, I was chatty but he was surly so I let up and we drove through the lit up shitty in silence. When he pulled in front of my house, I said Have a nice night and stay safe and he looked up and said Yeah. Thanks. No one has ever said that to me before.

Normality in our part of the world is a bit like a boiled egg: its humdrum surface conceals at its heart a yolk of egregious violence. It is our constant anxiety about that violence, our memory its past labors and our dread of its future manifestations, that lays down the rules for how a people as complex and as diverse as we are continue to coexist --continue to live together, tolerate each other and, from time to time, murder one another. As long as the center holds, as long as the yolk doesn't run, we'll be fine. In moments of crisis it helps to take the long view.
Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness 

** The irony of me buying a ticket to hear a writer and taking Ubers down there and back, drinking a beer and eating a taco and otherwise living this luxurious life in the beginning years of the twenty-first century is not lost on me. Privilege. Just in case you wondered.


  1. There is enough money in the united states for everyone to have good health care. To make money from suffering and illness is monstrous. We all need help sometimes. We will all need help at some point in our lives. As humans, it is our responsibility to help one another. But I know I'm preaching to the choir here:)

    It's a shit show right now, I only hope it gets better before it's too late.

  2. I have saved, "Fiction is a prayer and an offering." I know I would have wept, were I there. I saw today a statistic, not yet verified by me, that one in five students in California community colleges is homeless. While America is turned into fidget spinners, we have to keep looking at what we know matters. Thank you for being our eyes and ears last night. xo

  3. Thank all that be for artists. They bring light to the darkest corners. Their love is without boundaries.

  4. I am so happy that you got to see and hear Arundhati Roy. On days when I feel a similar despair, the disgust that rises in my throat (and vomitorium is the perfect word!) when confronted by the inequalities and the injustice and the arrogance of the wealthy, it helps to read that small card of Arundhati Roy quotes my daughter pinned above my desk years ago, especially this one: "Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.'

  5. I wish I could have gone with you, and split the uber fare, and taken in all that soul nourishment at your side. I have opportunities for this sort of thing in New York, too, and I have been neglecting them. Thank you for the reminder of the folly of forgoing wisdom and art that is all around me. I get so caught up in the everyday fiascos, tragedies, petty brutalities of our government. but we must also regularly nourish the soul if we are to have energy for the work ahead. xo

  6. No, irony detected here. In fact, I thought how delicious and smart and "life saving" in so many ways to take such action as go to hear Ms. Roy. Expanding one's perspective is one of the basic food groups of the goddesses --
    For me, reading, whether it is fiction (a mix of really good with a less highbrow type), or your blog and the responses is what is helping me stay minimally sane. I find myself wanting to punch something when I see his face or hear or read his words or those of his "surrogates."
    Enjoy the weekend.
    Happy 4th!

  7. I love Arundhati Roy, and I ordered her new book for our library -- and then promptly checked it out, the first in line! I haven't read it yet, though. I would love to hear her speak.

    The conversation with that first Uber driver is interesting. He may feel that his sister-in-law shouldn't have children, but the point is, she DID have a child, and what's supposed to happen (in his mind) then?? Know what I mean? The baby is here. It has to be cared for.

    Such an interesting post -- so full of all the conflicts and conversations that so many of us face each day, one way or another, in considering our own privilege while trying to live responsibly and conscientiously.

  8. OK. Very rarely do I swear online, but, F...! That was a gem of a post. You are such an amazing writer. I love your sense of humour, even when I think you want to deck the other person. I am waiting until my birthday to order the new Arundhati. Hardback. Brand new. I'm going to smell it first (rituals are rituals). Then, I will take a few weeks of what will be a very busy time for me and dive in. You don't just read Aru. You dive in. Thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  9. I admire the way you fully participate in so many of the beautiful offerings available in your amazing and exhausting Shitty. I always imagine myself as your date.

  10. Damn, lost that comment, hope this doesn't appear as a repeat but here I go again. Arundhati Roy was recently interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel on her CBC Radio program Writers and Company. I imagine you'd like the show a lot as Wachtel is a fabulous interviewer (knows her stuff and is a sweetheart with a sense of humour) and has interesting authors as guests. The show airs twice a week on CBC Radio ( ) and as a podcast. I'm addicted. -Kate



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