The last time the Indian Summer Arts Society invited Indian novelist and essayist Arundhati Roy to Vancouver, every seat was filled and people were standing along the walls inside the cavernous St. Andrew's–Wesley United Church in downtown Vancouver.
She arrived in town not long before corporatist and Hindu nationalist politician Narendra Modi rose to become prime minister. And in an interview with the Straight at the time, Roy described how the country's poorest residents were being crushed by a neoliberal agenda advanced by Modi and others on behalf of India's oligarchs.
"There isn't a single institution anymore which an ordinary person can approach for justice: not the judiciary, not the local political representative," Roy declared. "All the institutions have been hollowed out and just the shell has been put back. So democracy and these festivals of elections is when everyone can let off steam and feel that they have some say over their lives."
She even accused anticorruption activist Anna Hazare of being a corporate mascot, railing against wrongdoing by the political class to distract attention from the billionaires who truly rule India.
Three years later, the Indian Summer Arts Society is bringing Roy back to Vancouver for another public lecture on June 26 at St. Andrew's–Wesley United Church. And it comes as Modi is consolidating his power and his followers are freely promoting their communal and often hateful Hindutva ideology that seeks to marginalize India's Muslims, Christians, and other religious minorities.
On this visit, Roy will peak about her long-awaited second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which comes 20 years after her best-selling Booker Prize–winning The God of Small Things rocked the literary world.
Bangladeshi writer and professor Farhana Zareen Bashar has praised Roy's The God of Small Things for relying on magical realism to reveal problems created by the imposition of a European viewpoint on people living in the southern Indian state of Kerala, where the author was raised.
According to Bashar, this came via a juxtaposition of the real and supernatural worlds.
"The author opts for the magic realist style to give us a dimension of reality of which we are not normally aware," Bashar wrote. "Her deployment of this literary style is a sort of rebellion towards the postcolonial condition."
Roy's new novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, will be available to the public on June 6. In an article in the Hindustan Times, Roy referred to her characters as "mad souls" living in the Indian subcontinent in contemporary times.
And judging from the blurb distributed by the Indian Summer Festival, it's likely to include more of Roy's inspiring and revealing magical realism: "Its heroes, both present and departed, human as well as animal, have been broken by the world we live in, and then mended by love. And for this reason they will never surrender. Humane and sensuous, beautifully told, this extraordinary novel demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy's storytelling gifts."