The other India

Mike Marqusee reviews Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy by Arundhati Roy

October 21, 2009
2 min read


Mike MarquseeMike Marqusee 1953–2015, wrote a regular column for Red Pepper, 'Contending for the Living', and authored a number of books on the politics of culture, on topics ranging from cricket to Bob Dylan.

Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy

Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton 2009)

How the Indian elite hate Arundhati Roy! They see her as a renegade, a child of privilege who incomprehensibly and unforgivably spurned their embrace. For so getting under their skin, she deserves our gratitude.

This collection of essays from the past seven years paints a picture of India entirely at odds with the new economic superpower, land of shopping malls and double-digit GDP growth celebrated in the media. ‘The era of the free market has led to the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in India,’ Roy writes, ‘the secession of the middle and upper classes to a country of their own, somewhere up in the stratosphere where they merge with the rest of the world’s elite.’

But Roy won’t let them or us forget the other India, where 47 per cent of children under three suffer malnutrition; where an average rural family eats about one hundred kilograms less food in a year than it did in the early 1990s; where tens of millions have been displaced by dams and government-sanctioned corporate land-grabs; where some 25 per cent of the country is under the sway of Maoist-led peasant insurgencies; and where civil rights are the privilege of the rich and democracy has been hollowed out and debased.

The essays cover events from the genocidal attack on Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 to the terrorist attack on Mumbai last November. She charts what she rightly calls the Indian ‘ecocide’ and its companion, the civil war against the poor, recently taken up by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the ruling party in West Bengal, which on behalf of multinational corporations has seized land from peasant communities and brutally repressed their resistance. In one of the strongest pieces, Roy writes of the Kashmir freedom struggle with insight and sympathy – something extremely rare among the Indian intelligentsia.

Roy’s indictment of the rulers of ‘shining India’ and their sycophants is laced with sarcasm, mockery and a well-earned disrespect. She says she suspects that only poetry can fully respond to the multiple, inter-related horrors of our current system, but her passionate prose comes close.


Mike MarquseeMike Marqusee 1953–2015, wrote a regular column for Red Pepper, 'Contending for the Living', and authored a number of books on the politics of culture, on topics ranging from cricket to Bob Dylan.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry