The God of Small Things

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The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

A Novel: "The story of the tragic decline of an Indian family whose members suffer the terrible consequences of forbidden love, The God of Small Things is set in the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India."

  • "Ammu explained to Estha and Rahel that people always loved best what they Identified most with." (page 98)
  • "They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much."
  • "Kochu Maria watched with her cake-crumbs.
    The Fond Smiles watched Fondly.
    Little Girls Playing.
    Sweet.
    One beach-coloured.
    One brown.
    One Loved.
    One Loved a Little Less." (page 186)
  • "Ammu had an elaborate Calcutta wedding. Later, looking back on the day, Ammu realized that the slightest feverish glitter in her bridegroom's eyes had not been love, or even excitement at the prospect of carnal bliss, but approximately eight large pegs of whiskey. Straight. Neat."
  • "Humbling was a nice word, Rahel thought. Humbling along without a care in the world"
  • "She wondered what had caused the bald pilgrims to vomit so uniformly, and whether they had vomited together in a single, well-orchestrated heave (to music perhaps, to the rhythm of a bus bhajan), or separately, one at a time."
  • "'Ammu,' Chacko said, his voice steady and deliberately casual, 'is it at all possible for you to prevent your washed-up cynicism from completely colouring everything?'
    Silence filled the car like a saturated sponge. Washed-up cut like a knife through a small thing. The sun shone with a shuddering sigh. This was the trouble with families. Like invidious doctors, they knew just where it hurt."
  • "It didn't matter that the story had begun, because kathakali discovered long ago that the secrets of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones that you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don't decieve you with thrills and trick endings. They don't surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover's skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don't. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won't. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn't. And yet you want to know again.
    That is their mystery and their magic." (page 229)
  • To the Kathakali Man these stories are his children and his childhood. He has grown up within them. They are the house he was raised in, the meadows he played in. They are his windows and his way of seeing. So when he tells a story, he handles it as he would a child of his own. He teases it. He punishes it. He sends it up like a bubble. He wrestles it to the ground and lets it go again. He laughs at it because he loves it. He can fly you across whole worlds in minutes, he can stop for hours to examine a wilting leaf. Or play with a sleeping monkey's tail. He can turn effortlessly from the carnage of war into the felicity of a woman washing her hair in a mountain stream. From the crafty ebullience of a rakshasa with a new idea into a gossipy Malayali with a scandal to spread. From the sensuousness of a woman with a baby at her breast into the seductive mischief of Krishna's smile. He can reveal the nugget of sorrow that happiness contains. The hidden fish of shame in a sea of glory.
    He tells stories of the gods, but his yarn is spun from the ungodly, human heart.
    The Kathakali Man is the most beautiful of men. Because his body is his soul. His only instrument. From the age of three he has been planed and polished, pared down, harnessed wholly to the task of story-telling. He has magic in him, this man within the painted mark and swirling skirts.
    But these days he has become unviable. Unfeasible. Condemned goods. His children deride him. They long to be everything that he is not. He has watched them grow up to become clerks and bus conductors. Class IV non-gazetted officers. With unions of their own.
    But he himself, left dangling somewhere between heaven and earth, cannot do what they do. He cannot slide down the aisles of buses, counting change and selling tickets. He cannot answer bells that summon him. He cannot stoop behind trays of tea and Marie biscuits.
    In despair he turns to tourism. He enters the market. He hawks the only thing he owns. The stories that his body can tell.
    He becomes a Regional Flavour." (page 230-1)
  • "He is Karna, whom the world has abandoned. Karna Alone. Condemned goods. A prince raised in poverty. Born to die unfairly, unarmed and alone at the hands of his brother. Majestic in his complete despair. Praying on the banks of the Ganga. Stoned out of his skull.
    Then Kunti appeared. She too was a man, but a man grown soft and womanly, a man with breasts, from doing female parts for years. Her movements were fluid. Full of women. Kunti, too, was stoned. High on the same shared joints. She had come to tell Karna a story.
    Karna inclined his beautiful head and listened.
    Red-eyed, Kunti danced for him. She told him of a young woman who had been granted a boon. A secret mantra that she could use to choose a lover from among the gods. Of how, with the imprudence of youth, the woman decided to test it to see if it really worked. How she stood alone in an empty field, turned her face to the heavens and recited the mantra. The words had scarcely left her foolish lips, Kunti said, when Surya, the God of Day, appeared before her. The young woman, bewitched by the beauty of the shimmering young god, gave herself to him. Nine months later she bore him a son. The baby was born sheathed in light, with gold earrings in his ears and a gold breastplate on his chest, engraved with the emblem of the sun.
    The young mother loved her first-born son deeply, Kunti said, but she was unmarried and couldn't keep him. She put him in a reed basket and cast him away in a river. The child was found downriver by Adhirata, a charioteer. And named Karna.
    Karna looked up to Kunti. Who was she? Who was my mother? Tell me where she is. Take me to her.
    Kunti bowed her head. She's here, she said. Standing before you.
    Karna's elation and anger at the revelation. His dance of confusion and despair. Where were you, he asked her, when I needed you the most? Did you ever hold me in your arms? Did you feed me? Did you ever look for me? Did you wonder where I might be?
    In reply Kunti took the regal face in her hands, green the face, red the eyes, and kissed him on his brow. Karna shuddered in delight. A warrior reduced to infancy. The ecstasy of that kiss. He dispatched it to the ends of his body. To his toes. His fingertips. His lovely mother's kiss. Did you know how much I missed you? Rahel could see it coursing through his veins, as clearly as an egg travelling down an ostrich's neck.
    A travelling kiss whose journey was cut short by dismay when Karna realised that his mother had revealed herself to him only to secure the safety of her five other, more beloved sons - the Pandavas - poised on the brink of their epic battle with their one hundred cousins. It is them that Kunti sought to protect by announcing to Karna that she was his mother. She had a promise to extract.
    She invoked the Love Laws." (pages 232-3)
  • "He watched her. He took his time.
    Had he known that he was about to enter a tunnel whose only egress was his own annihilation, would he have turned away?
    Perhaps.
    Perhaps not.
    Who can tell?"
  • "Thirty-one.
    Not old.
    Not young.
    But a viable die-able age."
  • "He stepped onto the path that led through the swamp to the History House.
    He left no ripples in the water.
    No footprints on the shore.
    He held his mundu spread above his head to dry. The wind lifted it like a sail. He was suddenly happy.Things will get worse, he thought to himself. Then better. He was walking swiftly now, towards the Heart of Darkness. As lonely as a wolf.
    The God of Loss.
    The God of Small Things.
    Naked but for his nail varnish."