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Arundhati Roy: My mother broke me and made me


The activist and acclaimed writer spoke openly about her relationship with her mother.

Booker-prize winning author Arundhati Roy said knew she would be a writer from a very young age because she understood her mother’s personal anguish when she was just three years old.

The celebrated Indian writer and political activist detailed her complex relationship with her “harsh, bitter and beautiful” mother, who had a “lot of anger” against her.

Although she studied architecture and dabbled in other things, being a writer was always what Arundhati knew she would end up doing because she understood why her mother was so strict with her.

Arundhati, 55, told Kirsty Young on BBC Radio 4′s Desert Island Discs: “(My mother) was obviously a very headstrong and beautiful woman.

“And I think when I was even three years old I might have been a writer then, because it was hard to be that young and to understand why an adult who was harsh with you was being harsh because her own heart was broken.

“Children shouldn’t understand those things, but writer children probably do.”

Arundhati, whose mother Mary is a prominent women’s rights activist and educator in India, had broken the cardinal rule by marrying outside of her religion and, after divorcing her husband and returning to her home village with two young children, it became clear they were “not wanted” there.

Arundhati said her mother was “raging” because of her own difficult childhood, and was also ill, both of which impacted on her own formative years.

She said: “She was very ill all the time, she had asthma, she didn’t have anywhere to go so she was living in my grandmother’s house and everybody used to tell us ‘you have no right to be here’.

“She was harsh and she was bitter and she was beautiful and she was tender. I suppose when somebody upset her, the only people she could take it out on was me and my brother, so there was a lot of anger against us.”

Arundhati said her mother would compare her to a “millstone” around her neck, but that Mary would also “embrace us too, and love us”.

“It was difficult because you never knew what was coming at you, which was very unsettling I suppose, but maybe that’s what made me a writer,” she said.

“My mother broke me and made me and broke me and made me, and she still does.”

Arundhati, who left home at 16, won the Booker prize for her debut novel The God Of Small Things in 1997, her only work of fiction to date, although she is now gearing up for the release of her second novel, The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness, after a 20-year gap.

She has become known for writing many works of non-fiction on topics ranging from global politics to India’s nuclear weaponisation.

During her interview, Arundhati said “I write things because sometimes I just can’t not write them”, and added: “In a way, I have 20 years of essays I never meant to write.”

Asked if she is deliberately provocative in her writing, Arundhati said she does not always manage to filter out her anger and added defiantly: “But why should I?”

Arundhati chose songs from artists from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Janis Joplin to take to a desert island with her.

Desert Island Discs is on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday at 11.15am.

PA Media