The Cost of Living
Author: Arundhati Roy
Publisher: Modern Library
Publishing Date: October 1999
Genre: Society and Culture/Non-fiction
With the book ‘The cost of Living’, Arundhati Roy turned a compassionate but unrelenting eye on one family in India. Now she lavishes the same acrobatic language and fierce humanity on the future of her beloved country. In this spirited polemic, Roy dares to take on two of the great illusions of India's progress: the massive dam projects that were supposed to haul this sprawling subcontinent into the modern age--but which instead have displaced untold millions--and the detonation of India's first nuclear bomb, with all its attendant Faustian bargains.
Merging her inimitable voice with a great moral outrage and imaginative sweep, Roy peels away the mask of democracy and prosperity to show the true costs hidden beneath. For those who have been mesmerized by her vision of India, here is a sketch, traced in fire, of its topsy-turvy society, where the lives of the many are sacrificed for the comforts of the few.
Arundhati Roy gets up close and personal with the political scenario creating havoc in India. She talks about the building of a controversial dam on the Narmada River in India. Roy notes that 60% of the 200,000 people likely to be uprooted by the project are tribal people, many illiterate, who will be deprived of their original livelihoods and land. Drawing on studies and government and court documents, Roy criticizes the World Bank, the Indian government and a political system that favours interest groups at the expense of the poor.
She points the arrow criticising India's decision to test a nuclear bomb that was published in the Nation in September 1998, Roy asks why India built the bomb when more than 400 million Indians are illiterate and live in absolute poverty.
She even lays down the details which fulfils two purposes:
- To elevate the seriousness of the situation and;
- To impart knowledge to her readers, making them aware.
“Our cities and forests, our fields and villages will burn for days. Rivers will turn to poison. The air will become fire. The wind will spread the flames. When everything there is to burn has burned and the fires die, smoke will rise and shut out the sun. The earth will be enveloped in darkness. There will be no day. Only interminable night. Temperatures will drop to far below freezing and nuclear winter will set in. Water will turn into toxic ice. Radioactive fallout will seep through the earth and contaminate groundwater. Most living things, animal and vegetable, fish and fowl, will die. Only rats and cockroaches will breed and multiply and compete with foraging, relict humans for what little food there is.”
She has never has been shy about the controversial writing. This time is no different. She pulls down bullets of criticism on supposedly ‘Important people’ concerned with the situation:
The head of the Health, Environment and Safety Group of the Bhabha Atomic Research Center in Bombay has a plan. He declared in an interview (The Pioneer, 24 April 1998) that India could survive nuclear war. His advice is that if there is a nuclear war, we take the same safety measures as the ones that scientists have recommended in the event of accidents at nuclear plants.
“Take iodine pills”, he suggests. And other steps such as remaining indoors, consuming only stored water and food and avoiding milk. Infants should be given powdered milk. "People in the danger zone should immediately go to the ground floor and if possible to the basement."
She ridicules them by asking, What do you do with these levels of lunacy? What do you do if you're trapped in an asylum and the doctors are all dangerously deranged?
About the Author:
Arundhati Roy is an Indian writer who is also an activist who focuses on issues related to social justice and economic inequality. She won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel, The God of Small Things, and has also written two screenplays and several collections of essays.
For her work as an activist, Arundhati received the Cultural Freedom Prize awarded by the Lannan Foundation in 2002.