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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 12:13 GMT
Arundhati Roy: A 'small hero'
Arundhati Roy
Roy has become more and more politically committed
The Indian novelist Arundhati Roy burst on to the UK literary scene when her debut novel, The God of Small Things, won the Booker Prize in October 1997 six months after its publication, in Delhi.

During those six months, the author, who is now 40 years old, received a reported 500,000 in advances, and the rights to her book were sold in 21 countries.

Roy's Booker acceptance speech made it clear that being a literary sensation had not gone to her head.

"It is the judgement of five people. If there were five other judges it might have been a different book," she said.

A supporter hugs Roy
Roy has written repeatedly against the dam

"My book is not the best book - it is the luckier book."

The book's success, however, was not unqualified.

On the evening of the Booker prize-giving, in a televised discussion on Channel 4 television, writer Carmen Callil, chair of the previous year's Booker jury, pronounced Roy's work "execrable", and said it should never have reached the shortlist.

Meanwhile, in India, Kerala's chief minister, EK Nayanar, attributed the book's success in the West not to any literary merit but to its "anti-Communist venom".

The writer, who was born in 1961 in Bengal but grew up in Kerala, is no stranger to controversy.

Electric Moon

She left home at 16, and headed for Delhi, where she enrolled on an architecture course, marrying a fellow student.

After a stint as a hippy in Goa, Roy returned to Delhi and was spotted by film director Pradip Krishen, who was to become her second husband.

Roy played what she calls the "tribal bimbo" in the 1985 film Massey Sahib.

She went on to write and star in the film In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones, and wrote the script for her husband's 1992 film, Electric Moon.

Shortly afterwards, notoriety first struck when she penned an article criticising Shekhar Kapur's celebrated 1994 film Bandit Queen, about the famed outlaw and avenger of violated women Phoolan Devi.

Roy argued that Devi - who was shot dead in Delhi outside her home on in 2001 - had been exploited by the filmmakers.

By Arundhati Roy
The God of Small Things
The Cost of Living
War Is Peace
Power Politics

In the wake of the Devi controversy, Roy settled down to write the book that would eventually become The God of Small Things.

She spent the year after winning the Booker prize intensively giving interviews and promoting her work, staying in hotels she has described as "ridiculously posh".

Since that time, Roy has become increasingly outspoken on political issues, writing against globalisation, religious fundamentalism and, most recently, against the US-led war in Afghanistan.

"Each innocent person that is killed must be added to, not set off against, the grisly toll of civilians who died in New York and Washington," she argued in a piece for the UK's Guardian newspaper in October.

However, it was Roy's opposition to the Narmada dam project that led to her prison sentence.

The first salvo in her campaign came in 1999 with the article The Greater Common Good for the Indian magazine Outlook.

In it, Roy described the 40 million people who may be displaced by the dam as "small heroes".

She argued that the 21st Century might be the time for "the big" to be dismantled - it might be, she said, "the century of the small things".

See also:

06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Indian Booker winner jailed
23 Oct 00 | South Asia
Protest against controversial dam
18 Oct 00 | South Asia
Go-ahead for India dam project
12 Jan 00 | South Asia
Author released after dam protest
29 Jul 99 | South Asia
Narmada: A history of controversy
29 Jul 99 | South Asia
Narmada: The threat to local villages
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