The Algebra of Infinite Justice

The Algebra of Infinite Justice is an anthology of essays by Arundhati Roy written over a period of years. It compiles most of her political writings. The pervading -air in the book is of radical activism as she argues all her positions staunchly and sweeps the reader with the power of her words, so much so that there is a danger of believing her implicitly. Though all of what she says makes sense, the dangers of absolutism lurk.

Written in 2001, “the Ladies have feelings so…” talks of the role of a writer in the society. It is self- reflecting as she talks of the dichotomy of being called a writer-activist. The essay meanders then to talk of Globalization and what it means in the context of India. She takes up a strong position against the phenomenon of globalization and speaks of dissent as the only force to oppose and check it. She takes a very pro people stance and manages to sway the reader with the powerful imagery.

The essay after which the book is named was written in the aftermath of September 11. This piece is a compelling critique of American policies and she has taken care to tread a fine line. The concept of a manufactured enemy is taken up, as after the attack it was America which decided both the enemy and the motive. She has attempted to deconstruct the attack by looking at it from the time when America trained and funded the Taliban to fight the Soviet Union in 1979. This went on till 1989 which was when the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan. The tentacles of terror had been established and from the Jihad spread to Chechnya, Kosovo and Kashmir. But post 9/11, nobody spoke of this aspect. For her these strikes were ghosts of America’s old wars coming back to haunt it. It is ironic that Bin Laden which the CIA had created is now the “most- wanted” man by the FBI. She mentions most other US backed wars and dictators to lend credence to her point.

“War is Peace” follows the previous essay as it is on the US invasion of Afghanistan post 9/11. The long list of wars US has been directly involved in since the World War II is unprecedented. She tears apart the notion of freedom in the context of America. The real religion of US is the free market. Operation Infinite justice (the invasion of Afghanistan) is actually infinite injustice for another. The Iraq War named Operation Enduring Freedom is actually enduring subjugation for so many. She talks of collapsible entities talking over an increasingly unipolar world. Hence, war is peace.

As like most of her essays “Democracy” is a caustic attack on the Gujarat riots as she paints a very graphic and poignant picture of the human pogrom. She goes almost ballistic about the kind of ideology propagated by the BJP and the then Prime Minister, Mr. Vajpayee too is reprimanded for his inaction. The complicity of the State angers her yet also in a warped sense makes her a part of it. The already flawed concept of nationalism is slowly degenerating into Hindu nationalism based on hatred for the other. She does not spare the politicians and calls the Congress and the BJP alter egos of each other who thrive off themselves.

War Talk is more like an epilogue to the book, condensing most of the things said in earlier pieces. The technique here is almost the stream of consciousness. It seems a fitting end to the book as it encapsulates the essence of all things said so far.

No matter whether one agrees with her politics or not, it is true that she has the capacity to influence the audience with the power of her pen. You can either love her or hate her but you cannot ignore her.

Niha Masih
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