October 1, 2022

An ammu-shaped hole in the universe

The dedication page of Booker Prize-winning debut novel by Arundhati Roy reads:

For Mary Roy,

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who made me grow.

Who taught me to say “excuse me”

before interrupting it in Public.

Who loved me enough to let me go.

Mary Roy, educator and women’s rights activist, the mother of renowned author and Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy, and who is said to have been the inspiration behind the creation of the character, Ammu, of The God of Little Things (Random House, 1997), died aged 89 on Thursday, September 1. She was known for 1983’s ‘The Mary Roy Case’. At that time, she was a 30-year-old single mother with two children, residing in her father’s house in Kottayam. After her father’s death, Mary Roy was asked by her brother to leave home. As a result, she filed a complaint against her brother. It was her landmark legal battle, a challenge filed in the Supreme Court of India, which secured equal rights for women in inheriting ancestral property from Syrian Christian families in Kerala.

“Although Ammu worked at the factory as much as Chacko, whenever he dealt with food inspectors or sanitary engineers, he always called it my factory, my pineapples, my pickles. was the case, because Ammu, as a daughter, had no right to the property.

“Thank you to our wonderful macho society,” Ammu said. Chacko told him, “What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine too.” He had a surprisingly high-pitched laugh for a man of his height and plumpness. And when he laughed, his whole body was shaking without seeming to move.”

I like The God of Little Things– for its poetic prose, complex structure, playful dialogues, layered characters, confusing timelines, perfect combination of fact and fiction, and many other subtle elements. As a reader, this classic novel will always remain in my heart as a symbol of courage, love, loss and above all, a symbol of enchantment. The emotions that I associated with the characters of The God of Little Things– especially the twins, Esthappen and Rahel, and their mother, Ammu – are particularly personal and difficult to define in words for me:

” ” Is that clear?”

When Ammu was really mad, she said Jolly Well. Jolly Well was a deep well with the dead swelling inside.

“Is that clear?” Ammu repeated.

Frightened eyes and a fountain looked at Ammu.

Sleepy eyes and a gasp of surprise looked at Ammu.

Two heads nodded three times.

“Yes it’s clear.”

[…]

“It’s pointless,” Baby Kochamma said. “They’re sneaky. They’re rude. Deceptive. They grow wild. You can’t handle them.”

Ammu turned back to Estha and Rahel and her eyes were blurry gems.

“Everyone says children need a Baba. And I say no. Not my children. Do you know why ?

Two heads nodded.

“Why. Tell me,” Ammu said.

And not together, but almost, Esthappen and Rahel said:

“Because you are our Ammu and our Baba and love us Double.”

“More than double,” Ammu said. “So remember what I told you. People’s feelings are precious. And when you disobey me in Public, Everybody gives a bad impression.”

In an interview with the BBC, Arundhati Roy admitted that, The God of Little Things is a semi-biographical novel, based on his childhood memories of Aymanam. However, it is largely fictional. In reality, neither Arundhati Roy has a twin brother nor Mary Roy had an untouchable lover.

“Ammu died in a filthy room at Bharat Lodge in Alleppey, where she had gone to interview for a job as someone’s secretary. She died alone. With a noisy ceiling fan for company and no Estha to lie behind her and talk to She was thirty-one, not old, not young, but a viable age, dying.

In the novel, Ammu’s death changes her twins’ lives forever.

Surprisingly enough, the news of Mary Roy’s death struck me with this one thought: “What the poor twins have to go through! There’s an Ammu-shaped hole in the universe.”

I was not very worried about the loss of Arundhati Roy or his brother, Lalit Kumar Christopher Roy. I was sorry for the loss of Estha and Rahel and the loss of the readers who loved Ammu with all their hearts more than Double.

Maliha Huq is a Daily Star Books contributor.