The Air We Breathe: A Conversation With Arundhati Roy

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Well, The God of Small Things is about a family, which has a broken heart at its center. It looks at the violence in the heart of the intimacy that is supposed to be the family. I think a writer’s relation to family is deeply affected by their life, especially their gender. For many privileged, upper-class, male writers, family is often a place of security and assurance—their mothers are doing what mothers do, and the grandmothers are doing what grandmothers do. Whereas, in The God of Small Things, the family is a place of danger.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness turns this inside out. Almost none of the characters have families in that conventional Indian sense. What happens in Ministry is that people bring shards of their broken hearts from all over the place and create a mended heart in that graveyard—in the most unorthodox way, with most unorthodox forms of love.

Of course, as a novelist, I never want to write about “issues” like “the Indian family.” What I want to write about is the air we breathe. These days, I feel that novels, I don’t know for what reason—maybe because of the speed and the way that books have to be sold—these days, novels are becoming kind of domesticated, you know? They have a title, and a team, and they are branded just like NGOs: you writing on gender, you writing on caste, you writing on whatever. But for me, the fact is that these are not “issues”—this is the air we breathe.

There’s a connection between the fact that, as Hindu nationalism rises, Muslims are being ghettoized in India. It began long ago, and the Muslim community has always…

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