Arundhati Roy’s essay “The End of Imagination” and the need for Nukes.

by Farrukh Ilyas

The truth is that it’s far easier to make a bomb than to educate 400 million people. (Arundhati Roy, The End of Imagination)

Arundhati Roy, famous as the Booker Prize-winning author for The God of Small Things, with her out of the box works has given India the true picture of what we call dissent. Roy’s recent fiction book The Ministry of Utmost Happiness has brought the everlasting critiques of socialization culture within our society.

Roy’s essay The End of Imagination is the most critically analysed, scanned, and scrutinized tale of the events held in May 1998 at Pokhran. It, in detail, criticises narrative of the test of a nuclear weapon conducted at Pokhran. She highlights the basic fundamental needs and wants of the people in her essay, which the government had ignored in light of gaining a political edge and power to call itself the powerful and developing country. She has put it staunchly where the government has blatantly ignored the education, nutrition, shelter, poverty of 400 million people:

If only, if the only nuclear war was just another kind of war. If only it was about the usual things – nations and territories, gods and histories. If only those of us who dread it are worthless moral cowards who are not prepared to die in defence of our beliefs. If only nuclear war was the kind of war in which countries battle countries and men battle men. But it isn’t.

If there is a nuclear war, our foes will not be China or America or even each other. Our foe will be the earth herself. 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.

What shall we do then, those of us who are still alive? Burned and blind and bald and ill, carrying the cancerous carcasses of our children in our arms, where shall we go? What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we breathe?

The Head of the Health, Environment and Safety Group of the Bhabha Atomic Research Center in Bombay has a plan. He declared that India could survive a nuclear war. His advice is that in the event of nuclear war we take the same safety measures like 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.’

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?

Questioning the Governments

Roy’s essay completely unmasks the government’s obsession with the power, may it be any country in the world. There exists no country in the world, where people want war and massacre with their life. They only want peace and harmony with the development and progress of the society, but not at the cost of innocent deaths and massacring of innocent women and children. Roy puts it:

In any case who’s the ‘you’ and who’s the ‘enemy’? Both are only governments. Governments change. They wear masks within masks. They molt and re-invent themselves all the time. The one we have at the moment, for instance, does not even have enough seats to last a full term in office, but demands that we trust it to do pirouettes and party tricks with nuclear bombs even as it scrabbles around for a foothold to maintain a simple majority in Parliament.

Roy is arguing with very far-sighted consequences that the nations of the world will suffer when weapon creations will be justified to save the boundaries and territories of the nation, and then there will be a market which will sell ammunition, powerful chemical weapons to justify the policy of international relations and foreign policy.

The irony will be the ignorance of the interest of the common citizens. And then the planet earth will bristle with beautiful missiles. There will be a new world order. The dictatorship, their hypocritical policies to establish the fact, saving the nation with war but only for peace.

America’s Contribution

Roy gives the credit for creation of this horrific fear and traumatized policy of waging war to build its economy to the United States of America. She quotes in her essay:

But let us pause to give credit where it’s due. Who must we thank for all this? The men who made it happen. The Masters of the Universe. Ladies and gentlemen, the United States of America! Come on up here folks, stand up and take a bow. Thank you for doing this to the world. Thank you for making a difference. Thank you for showing us the way. Thank you for altering the very meaning of life.

From now on it is not dying we must fear, but living. All I can say to every man, woman and sentient child in India, and over there, just a little way away in Pakistan, is: take it personally. Whoever you are –Hindu, Muslim, urban, agrarian – it doesn’t matter. The only good thing about nuclear war is that it is the single most egalitarian idea that man has ever had.

On the day of reckoning, you will not be asked to present your credentials. The devastation will be indiscriminate. The bomb isn’t in your backyard. It’s in your body. And mine. Nobody, no nation, no government, no man, no god has the right to put it there. We’re radioactive already, and the war hasn’t even begun. So stand up and say something. Never mind if it’s been said before. Speak up on your own behalf. Take it very personally.

India’s Neophilia

When the nuclear test at Pokhran was successful, the news channels and the newspapers said it loud and clear the phenomenal job was done in the history of India to add one strongest pillar to safeguarding its defence system was the nuclear bomb. Even some went repeatedly calling this as” They are nationalism tests, not just nuclear “. Roy quotes this situation in her essay as:

This has been hammered home, over and over again. The bomb is India. India is the bomb. Not just India, Hindu India. Therefore, be warned, any criticism of it is not just anti-national but anti-Hindu. (Of course in Pakistan the bomb is Islamic. Other than that, politically, the same physics applies.) This is one of the unexpected perks of having a nuclear bomb. Not only can the government use it to threaten the Enemy, they can use it to declare war on their own people. Us.

When I told my friends that I was writing this piece, they cautioned me. ‘Go ahead,’ they said, ‘but first make sure you’re not vulnerable. Make sure your papers are in order. Make sure your taxes are paid.’ My papers are in order. My taxes are paid. But how can one not be vulnerable in a climate like this? Everyone is vulnerable. Accidents happen. There’s safety only in acquiescence. As I write, I am filled with foreboding. In this country, I have truly known what it means for a writer to feel loved (and, to some degree, hated too). Last year I was one of the items being paraded in the media’s end-of the- year National Pride Parade. Among the others, much to my mortification, were a bomb-maker and an international beauty queen. Each time a beaming person stopped me on the street and said ‘You have made India proud’ (referring to the prize I won, not the book I wrote), I felt a little uneasy. It frightened me then and it terrifies me now, because I know how easily that swell, that tide of emotion, can turn against me. Perhaps the time for that has come. I’m going to step out from under the fairy lights and say what’s on my mind.

It’s this;

If protesting against having a nuclear bomb implanted in my brain is anti-Hindu and anti-national, then I secede. I hereby declare myself an independent, mobile republic. I am a citizen of the earth. I own no territory. I have no flag. I’m female but have nothing against eunuchs. My policies are simple. I’m willing to sign any nuclear non-proliferation treaty or nuclear test ban treaty that’s going. Immigrants are welcome. You can help me design our flag. My world has died. And I write to mourn its passing.

India’s nuclear tests, the manner in which they were conducted, the euphoria with which they have been greeted (by us) is indefensible. To me, it signifies dreadful things. The end of imagination.

Politics and Political Gains

Roy opens up in her essay saying the major steps taken in the functioning of government in India was the need for politics and its later form- the political gain. She in her essay critically analyses the immediate need of the political class which triggered two major political steps of devastation in the country i.e the nuclear bomb and demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

The nuclear bomb is the most anti-democratic, anti-national, anti-human, outright evil thing that man has ever made. If you are religious, then remember that this bomb is Man’s challenge to God. It’s worded quite simply: We have the power to destroy everything that You have created. If you’re not religious, then look at it this way. This world of ours is four billion, six hundred million years old. It could end in an afternoon.

 She explains the whole theory of the use of power and politics. Is this why it becomes an important essay?

Awaam India

Awaam India

Awaam India is online platform founded by researchers and senior students of Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. Awaam stands for dissemination and promotion of progressive and constructive ideas in the society.

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