Mountains Hidden by Clouds: A Conversation with Anuradha Roy

Pankaj Mishra at Paris Review: I met the novelist Anuradha Roy in Delhi in the mid-nineties, when she was an editor at Oxford University Press and I had just published my first book. Not long after that, she moved to a Himalayan town to set up Permanent Black, now India’s premier intellectual publisher, with her husband, Rukun Advani. She also began to write fiction. Her fifth novel, The Earthspinner, which was released in the United States this summer, is about the war on reason and on imagination in a world consumed by political fanaticism.

Though I don’t remember what was said in our first meeting, I can recall a certain hopefulness in the air—there was a lot of that about, among publishers and writers, in India in the nineties. Writing in English was ceasing to be the furtive and poorly paid endeavor it long had been. There were greater opportunities to publish; new literary periodicals and networks of promotion seemed to be creating the infrastructure for more vigorous intellectual and artistic life. Indeed, the conventional wisdom of that decade, helped by the prominence of Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, and Arundhati Roy abroad, was that Indian writing in English was “arriving,” no less resoundingly than was India’s embrace of consumer capitalism at the end of history.

In 2022, there is something very forlorn about the seventy-fifth anniversary of India’s independence. Murderous Hindu supremacists rule the country, and lynch mobs—physical and digital—police its cultural and intellectual life. Educated Indians spend much of their time and energy trying to emigrate. Literature remains, for a tiny minority, the means to cognition in the darkness, and literary festivals project, briefly, the illusion of a community. But every writer seems terribly alone with herself. The sense of a meaningful shared space and a common language, the possibility of a broad literary flourishing—many of those fragile shoots of the nineties have been trampled into the ground by the ferocious invaders of private as well as public spheres.

Over twenty-five years of radical transformations, Anuradha and I have kept intermittently in touch. While emailing in recent months, I began to wonder if other readers should be invited to reflect on the fate of writers in India today… More here.