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The Hindu on : French award conferred on Arundhati Roy

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Friday, April 27, 2001

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French award conferred on Arundhati Roy

By Anita Joshua

NEW DELHI, APRIL 26. It was the last thing the celebrated Booker Prize-winning author Ms. Arundhati Roy expected when she walked into the French Ambassador's residence here this evening to be conferred a high French honour: Chevalier des Arts et des Letters - Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters. After all, globalisation is what she's been fighting against ever since she threw in her lot with ``Narmada Bachao Andolan''.

Mr. Bernard de Montferrand, the French Ambassador, introduced her as ``the best example of what I would call good globalisation''. When he went on to elaborate that ``good globalisation is one that enables us to reach the universal through cultural diversity'', Ms. Roy could be heard saying ``no, no''.

In her acceptance speech, the author of God of Small Things gave the gathering a sample of her wry humour when she quipped: ``It is not often that a writer gets recognised by the French Government and the Supreme Court of India in the same week.'' Said in reference to the Supreme Court's recent observations on her response to contempt proceedings against her and others in the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) case, she articulated the hope that neither would dictate ``what I write, how I write, and when I write''.

Though the presentation of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres was a literary event, Ms. Roy's identity as an NBA activist was something that could not be kept away from even the Ambassador's speech. Acknowledging the fact that her commitment to public life was inseparable from her work, Mr. Montferrand commented that ``this altruism from the part of a committed writer testifies to your great generosity''.

Again this was a qualification which India's first recipient of the coveted Booker refused to wear. Shrugging it off, she sought to impress upon the gathering - which included several members of Delhi's literary circles, including her publisher and the much-in-the-news Tehelka man, Mr. Tarun Tejpal - that she had her own selfish reasons for supporting the poor displaced people of the Narmada Valley. ``I am not fighting for any altruistic reasons,'' she asserted.

With Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres pinned on to her sari, Ms. Roy today joined the small family of Indians who have been honoured by the French Government with this award that is given to ``persons who have distinguished themselves by their creativity in the field of art, culture and literature or for their contribution to the influence of the arts in France and throughout the world''.

According to the Ambassador, Ms. Roy qualifies for the award on both counts. For in the words of the legendary General de Gaulle, as quoted by the Ambassador, ``any writer who writes well serves his country''. Then there was the universal appeal of her story which brought her not just the award but the badge of being ``the best example of good globalisation''.

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