India has always been the country of ‘dreams’, hard-to-achieve goals, even sometimes impossibilities, and of course romantic loves. She is also the country of inequalities, “complex” and “unjust” stratification systems, and lack of social mobility. Arundhati Roy’s book The God of Small Things shows all the characteristics of India that I attributed in one place. One may think that “What a novel can show besides long ‘artificial’ stories?” yet, when we go deeper in the characters and the events the reliability of my argument will be achieved.
The stratification system of India, according to our book, is not only consisting of two groups of people, namely; touchables and untouchables. It is far more complex that this simplistic dichotomy. The ones who oppresses or who are superior varies, for instance; according to nationality & race, sex, social class, education, occupation and “destiny”.
Firstly, the English in my opinion is the highest stratum in the story, because India was a colony of Britain and it is representing the West (as a target to achieve) for the family. The English is so noble that they wouldn’t even have an interest in “poor” Indians; “Pappachi would not believe her story–not because he thought well of her husband, but simply because he didn’t believe that an Englishman, any Englishman, would covet another man’s wife.” (Roy 1997; 19), their language is must be spoken properly: “She had made them practice an English car song for the way back. They had to form the words properly, and be particularly careful about their pronunciation.”(Roy 1997; 16),their movies are the most desired ones to watch (even for many times), in addition to these, Estha’s family’s having connection with England took Orangedrink Lemondrink Man’s attention.
Secondly, within the Indians there is the “touchibility” issue. If you are in the “wrong” position within the caste system, there is no way out of it, neither your talents & education nor your money helps. At best, they can only take you to a ‘privileged’ location as they did Velhuta. His story has reminded me of the essay Some Principles of Stratification by Davis and Moore, for his talents and ‘uniqueness’ in his environment, he got rewarded well. Because he did disturb the major societal means function, the religion and the culture, he ended up with dramatic end.(Davis & Moore 1944) The story is simple: He was talented on carpentry and he had enough education, he was the one who fixed all of the tools in Paradise Pickles & Preserves, he was “the worker” in the factory as well. However, the society’s stratification system’s mobility was closed and he was a paravan, and a paravan should be untouched! He couldn’t enter Mammachi’s house, he had a “particular” smelling, he killed Sophie Mol, and he should be out of the Marxist Party because the touchable comrades don’t want to touch him! He was killed because he was not Ammu’s family’s kind of people; he was not in the same status group with them. Ammu’s and Velhuta’s “sin” was violating the border which is determined by the history, and he must have been killed, so he was. But who killed Velhuta? The policemen, baby Kochamma, the system, Ammu, Velhuta himself, the twins, Sophie Mol, and Mammachi did it all together with a cooperation, with a contract with the intention of keeping the system at work.
Roy seems to be giving you the answer of the classic debate with the story of Velhuta: “social class…is it the only thing that determines your position?” “No, it is not!” However, there is one important point there: Comrade Pillai who was one of the masterminds of Marxist Party was actually “comrade” Pillai! In my opinion, he is representing a “travesty” form of Marxists. The classless societies that he goes for is the classless society that belongs to touchable Indian comrades, not to the society as a whole. But Pillai is not alone in deed; it seems to me that all the Marxists in the book except Velhuta can be categorized just as Pillai. Chacko for instance, on one hand he is the one who tells everyone that the company belongs to him, even though Mammachi does all the job, he enjoys the benefactions of being Modalali and being a “Marxist” by satisfying his ‘needs’ with the workers.
Thirdly the age and gender issue is greatly represented by Roy; I knew that the women were oppressed in India, they had no rights, they are exposed to violence very often but they have one day when they can take “revenge” from their husbands. But the story of the family members is showing us a kind of ambiguity on gender issue. Mammachi, Baby Kochamma, Ammu and Rachel are all female but they were receiving a different kind of social response.
Ammu for instance: “…Though Ammu did as much work in the factory as Chacko, whenever he was dealing with food inspectors or sanitary engineers, he always referred to it as my Factory, my pineapples, my pickles. Legally this was the case, because Ammu, as a daughter, had no claim to the property.”(Roy 1997; 26) Though Mammachi was sharing the same gender with Ammu, she was considered as “head of the family” not only by the family members but by the other people around them. In my opinion, the difference between them is caused by several things, such as; age, marital status (they were both widower, but Ammu’s case was caused by separation), ownership, amount of people that they had authority among etc. Those are the most important reasons of it and all of them can be summed up in one title: Prestige. I came to that conclusion because of Baby Kochamma, in the novel what she does and makes us to believe that she was an evil is her effort to take back and stabilize her prestige on family members, especially on twins. Rachel by the way is a representation of the lowest stratum member within touchables; she is a child, a girl, has no prestige, and no authority on anyone. She can’t legitimize her acts because of her current situation, to be honest, she never could.
It is interesting to see the fact that, the legitimization of the acts is equally increasing according to the stratum of a one in the novel. Chacko’s ‘need’, again, was the need of having a sexual intercourse; the ones who he had an intercourse with were the female workers in the factory (the touchables of course) some of them were even married and they were having children, which is socially disapproved. However, Mammachi showed that as a natural human need, even she supplied him a ‘special entrance’ for that. One may consider this as normal because he was belonging to higher stratum than others, by being so he could legitimize that easily, this is the way the strata are. Then what happened to all these norms and laws that the societies build on them? The answer will be given in the following paragraph.
The other point is about the apprehension of the time in Roy’s India. Drawing on the stratification system, we can say that we apprehend two different India that exists at the same time, in the same place but standing on two different locations: the modern India and the pre-modern one. As we all know the inequalities were considered as “natural” in the pre-modern epoch, you deserved belonging to the lower stratum because of the “nature”, because God wanted to put you there so. The effort of yours in the life was not counted in, ‘what you do’ was trivial because ‘Who you are’ was initially important. “Past is past because there is a present”, said Trouillot. And in Roy’s India there is one past, which is still remaining in the present as Caste system. The ‘present’ in contrast is the time line that touchables are living in, its modern and ‘what you do’ is maybe much more important and its key for the successes. Is it? Of course not! The efforts for successes in fact serve to Modalalis. If it wasn’t so then Roy would not put Marxists in her novel, the REAL Marxists I mean, the ones who were in the demonstration, the ones who were paid two rupees fifty paisa and one rupee twenty-five paisa, and the ones who were singing: “Inquilab Zindabad! Thozhilali Ekta Zindabad! ”. But the Inquilab can be done only in the modern time, only in one time, and only when the all people are together. In short the ones with the class consciousness. (Edgell; 1993)
Last but not least, I want to touch upon the History House and Heart of Darkness. The History House is important because the way that it makes people to think is done in a specific way that it creates a community and this community is mainly remembers and practices the stratification system which is connected to their nature. It’s not just a house for that community; it became a communal discourse after the disease. If it was not like that, then it would join to the boutique hotels in the Heart of Darkness and serve for tourism. We see there the power of the West over the India again with the hotels in Heart of Darkness, the Indian is again humiliated, enslaved, humbled by the British. Not through the means of Imperialism this time, but this time via tourism. People of India re-learn how to do what the westerners says while the westerners are enjoying their bohemian life-style and drawing their next-spot visiting sights meanwhile they do make click-clicks on anything that they consider as “interesting”, they do not skip mentioning about the old power of England. The History House watches them and records them as it had watched and recorded the dramatic story of Velhuta.
Davis, K., & Moore, W. E. (1944). Some Principles of Stratification. American Sociological Review, 10(2), pp. 242-249.
Edgell, S. (1993). Classical Theories of Class: Marx and Weber. Class (pp. 1-14). London: Routledge.
Roy, A. (1997). The god of small things . New York: Random House