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Roy, Arundhati

Roy was born in Shillong, Meghalaya, a rural area and one of the smallest states in India. Her given name is Suzanna Arundhati, but she does not use her anglicised first name. Her father was an alcoholic tea planter, which may have influenced her ideas about love, marriage, economics, politics and the aftermath of colonisation. Her mother was Christian, a minority religion in India, and actively lobbied for rights to property for Christian women upon their fathers’ deaths, which may have influenced Roy’s ideas about feminism, religion and activism. Her mother originally married a Hindu man but divorced him, causing a social outcry. Roy’s mother may have influenced the character of Ammu in The God of Small Things.

Roy trained as an architect but always dreamed of becoming a writer. In 1995, she wrote two newspaper articles criticising a popular director’s film about a poor Indian heroine whom she claimed was exploited in scenes of rape and violence. The public backlash caused her to retreat from public life and focus on her writing. Some might note that since this time Roy has empathised even more with the oppressed. She has written non-fiction books about anti-capitalism and is linked to the far-left Maoist movement in her non-fiction work Walking with the Comrades. She also supports the Naxalites, another far-left movement, known for its peasant revolts. She was accused of sedition when supporting Kashmiri independence but has received numerous honours, such as the 2004 Sydney Peace Prize, for her support of humanitarian causes.

Her major work, published in 1997, is The God of Small Things, a semi-autobiographical novel about family, love, brutality and the caste system, which has sold over six million copies, won her the Man Booker Prize and been translated into over 40 languages. Roy did not complete another work of fiction until 2017, 20 years after her first novel (although she claims that The God of Small Things is actually non-fiction). The Ministry of Utmost Happiness follows the story of a group of outsiders and includes sociopolitical references to the war over ownership of Kashmir, and other contemporary Indian issues. Her other works are political non-fiction and have caused much controversy. She co-authored Things that Can and Cannot Be Said with actor and political activist John Cusack to challenge US power within the world.

Roy lives in New Delhi, India. She co-authored ‘Things That Can & Cannot Be Said’ with actor and political activist John Cusack to challenge US power within the world. Although her strong political opinions divide critics, you cannot fail to be impressed by her bravery and commitment, both of which definitely seep into her gloriously defiant literature.

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Author: Vikramjit Kakati
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Arundhati Roy born

She was born on 24th November 1961 in Shillong, Meghalaya, India. Her given name is Suzanna Arundhati.

Find out about Shillong


Roy trained as an architect

Roy left home to train in Delhi as an architect, for which she has a degree. She lived in a squatters’ camp and sold plastic bottles to fund her education. Here, she met her future husband, Gerard Da Cunha, but they divorced in 1982.

Roy’s second marriage

She became involved with independent film-maker Pradip Krishen and took a minor role in his film Massey Sahib about India, colonisation and the soul. They married but later divorced.

Watch the trailer of Massey Sahib


Roy awarded for screenplay writing

She won the National Film Awards prize for best screenplay for the film In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones, made by her then husband, Pradip Krishen. Roy also acted a small part in this film.

Newspaper controversy

Roy caused an uproar when she criticised the film Bandit Queen, accusing its maker of dramatising the rape of real-life working-class heroine Phoolan Devi. Due to negative pressures, Roy left public life and focused on writing.

Publication of The God of Small Things

Roy’s first fiction novel was published to huge critical acclaim.

Read a review of the book


Man Booker Prize

The God Of Small Things won the Man Booker Prize.

Publication of The Cost of Living

Roy published this book about the Narmada dam and how greedy corporations were displacing around 1.5 million local people. She was as yet unaware that her involvement in this dispute would cause her a lot of trouble.

Terrorist or freedom fighter?

Roy controversially claimed that a man convicted by the Indian government of terrorism was being held as a prisoner of war. He was hanged in 2013.

Contempt of court

Roy was charged with contempt of court while she made a case to support villagers against a large corporation which was damming their river and displacing local people.

Watch her film DAM/AGE about the campaign


Activism award

Roy was given special recognition as Woman of Peace at the Global Exchange Human Rights Awards in San Francisco. She published books about the war on terror, the US as a negative superpower and the dangers of nuclear war.

Peace prize

Roy was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize for her advocacy of non-violent protests.

Roy turned down award

Roy refused an academic award from the Indian government for essays written about contemporary Indian issues.

Read a 2007 interview with Roy


Religious controversy

Some, such as writer Salman Rushdie, accused Roy of being anti-Muslim since she accused Muslims of attacks against Kashmir.

Activism controversy

Roy was accused of making seditious, anti-Indian speeches about Kashmir.

Watch an Al Jazeera interview with Roy


Writing award

Roy received the Norman Mailer Prize for distinguished writing.

Political controversy

Roy voiced her disregard for prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who became PM in 2014 and who is linked to nuclear attacks on Pakistan.

‘Most influential’ list

Roy is put on the Time 100 list of most influential people in the world.

Publication of Things that Can and Cannot Be Said

This book was co-authored with actor and activist John Cusack as a challenge to US hegemony.

Read a conversation between Roy and Cusack about the book


Publication of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Roy finally published her second novel 20 years after her first.

Read a summary of the book