Arundhati Roy: Fiction, Prayer, and the Ministry of Utmost Happiness

New Delhi: Social activist Arundhati Roy gestures during a news conference in New Delhi on Tuesday. PTI Photo by Kamal Kishore.

“[Fiction] is a way of seeing. A way of thinking, it is a prayer, it is a song.”–Arundhati Roy, interview in The Hindu

“You know, Anjum, who was Aftab, or the book in general, is—you know, she’s not a signifier. This is not a sort of social history of the trans community. I mean, she’s a character, like many other characters in the book, very unique, very much herself. And when she’s born in the walled city and grows up, and then when she—she actually moves out of her home to a place close by called Khwabgah, which in Urdu means “the House of Dreams,” where she lives with a community of other people, none of whom is like herself. You know, even inside the Khwabgah, though there are many trans women, people who are—Anjum, for example, she’s a hermaphrodite, but there are others who are men, who are Muslim and don’t believe in having surgery, some who do. There are Hindus. There are Sunnis. There are Shias. So, they themselves are a very diverse community. But they look at the world and call it duniya, which means “the world” in Urdu, which is something else. But they have a history of being sort of inside and outside the community, which sort of predates the kind of Western, liberal, rights-based discourse, though, even in the story, as it modernizes, you know, there is that feudal story overlapping with the new, modern language and so on.

But actually, Anjum, though she does have this incendiary border of gender running through her—all the characters have a border, which is, for example, one of the—she moves into the graveyard, and she builds—eventually, she builds a guest house, called Jannat, which is the Paradise guest house. And one of the people who becomes a very close comrade of hers is a young man who was—who is a Dalit, who has watched Hindu mobs beat his father to death, as is happening every day now with Muslims and Dalits, because he was transporting a carcass of a dead cow, and so he’s beaten to death by people who call themselves cow protectors. And he converts to Islam, and so—and calls himself Saddam Hussein, because he’s very impressed by this video he sees of Saddam’s execution and the disdain he shows for his executioners. So Saddam has this border of caste and religious conversion—incendiary in India—running through him. The other major character is a woman called Tilottama from the south, and she is also a person of indeterminate origins as far as India is concerned. There’s Musa, who is now a Kashmiri, fighting, with the national border running through him.

So, it’s not conceptual. I mean, what happens is that India is a society of such minute divisions, such institutionalized hierarchies, where caste is a mesh that presses people down and holds them down in a grid. And so, all these stories somehow are about people who just don’t fit into that grid and who eventually create a little community, and a kind of solidarity emerges, which is a solidarity of the heart. You know, it’s not a solidarity of memorandi or academic discourse, but a solidarity which is human, which is based on unorthodox kinds of love—not even sexual love or anything, it’s just based on humanness.”–Arundhati Roy on her novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, from Democracy Now.

Joan Chittister: What is the Divine Feminine?

Where does this notion of the Divine Feminine come from? Is the question of the Divine Feminine simply a current fad? A silly notion of even sillier feminists? Or could it possibly have deep and ineradicable roots in the tradition itself?

However much we mock the idea, the truth is, ironically, that every major spiritual tradition on earth carries within it, at its very center, in its ancient core, an awareness of the Divine Feminine. In Hinduism, Shakti–the great mother, the feminine principle–is seen as the sum total of all the life-giving energy of the universe. She is the source of all. In Buddhism, Tara is seen as the perfection of wisdom, and, in Buddhism wisdom is life’s highest metaphysical principle! Tara is considered the light and the prime source of Buddhahood and so of all Buddhas to follow.

And in the Hebrew scriptures–the ground of the entire Abrahamic family, Jewish, Christian and Muslim–the spiritual foundation on which you and I stand–the God to whom Moses says, “Who shall I say sent me?” answers not, “I am he who am;” not “I am she who am;” but, “I am who am.” I am Being! I am the essence of all life, I am the spirit that breathes in everyone: the source that magnetizes every soul. I am the one in whose image all human beings, male and female, Genesis says clearly, are made. “I am” is, in other words, ungendered, unsexed, pure spirit, pure energy, pure life. And that assurance we have, note well, on God’s own word: “I am who am.”

Let there be no mistake about it: woman or man, man or woman–the full image of God is in you: masculine and feminine, feminine and masculine godness. Hebrew scripture is clear, and the Christian and Islamic scriptures, as well. God is neither male nor female–God is of the essence of both and both are of the essence of God.

Actually, lest we be fooled by our own patriarchal inclinations to make God in our own small, puny, partial male images, the Hebrew scriptures are full of the female attributes of God. In Isaiah (42:14) the Godhead, “cries out as a woman in labor.” To the psalmist (131:1-2) God is a nursing woman on whose breast the psalmist leans “content as a child that has been weaned.” In Hosea (11:3-4) God claims to be a cuddling mother who takes Israel in her arms. In Genesis (3:21) God is a seamstress who makes clothes out of skins for both Adam and Eve. And in Proverbs, God-she, wisdom, Sophia, “raises her voice in the streets,” “is there with God ‘in the beginning,'” (8:22-31) “is the homemaker who welcomes the world to her table” (9: 5) shouting as she does, “Enter here! Eat my food, drink my wine.” Clearly, after centuries of suppressing the female imagery and the feminine attributes given in scripture in order to establish the patriarchy of lords and kings and priests and popes and powerbrokers as the last word and only word of every failing institution in humankind–no wonder we are confused about who God is. But God is not! Scripture is clear: God does not have–and clearly never has had–an identity problem. Our images of God, then, must be inclusive because God is not mother, no, but God is not father either. God is neither male nor female. God is pure spirit, pure being, pure life–both of them. Male and female, in us all.–Joan Chittister, OSB

From Joan Chittister’s chapter “God our Father; God our Mother: In Search of the Divine Feminine” in the recently released, Women, Spirituality, and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power (Sky Lights Paths Publishing)