The God of Small Things

by Arundhati Roy

Read time: about 11 minutes

I sit in front the computer with a pressure to the paramount, to do justice to a piece of literature which may have been the most accurate of my idea of a modern classic. I am continuously haunted by the possibility of me not appropriately putting my thoughts across about the book that has won India its Man Booker prize in 1997.

Arundhati Roy is an inspiration for all the architects and writers alike. Architects? You may ask. Yes, being an architect myself, I was in awe with her idea and more than hypnotizing realist that she is. I somehow did not get around to read her book, which unknowingly maybe an advantage to me. Now that I am more mature I can appreciate her writing better than I would have before.

That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.

Cover page

I can understand the complexity of creating something of significance for the book that is the very definition of the word. The idea of giving the book a cover that relates to the essence of the writing has well resulted in the book cover. The small village in Kerela is shot in a rectangular frame and wrapped around the book. Apt.


Rahel and Eshta are two-egged twins. The emptiness in one twin is the only version of the quietness in the other. They fit together like familiar lovers’ bodies. They are meant to be together. In the village of Ayemenem. And, they would have. Had they not indulged in the silly act of leaving the house when Ammu decided that her most loved kids were, in a parallel reality, the heavy chain around her neck.

Ammu is a mother like no other, though she is in love with a man in the night whom her children love by the day.

Velutha is a paravan who has a distinct smell. The smell that all “these” people have. Paravan is as much in love with Ammu, but he is the God of Loss. He can only do one thing at a time. He may be in love with Ammu, but he cannot have her.

The god of small things consists of these characters who are multilayered. They are all governed by the law of love. For not everyone can be loved alike. The characters are distinctive and continuously rolling in a tornado. Because, of course, not everyone can be loved alike.

…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive 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.


It all began in the days when the love laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much.

Rahel and Eshta are separated after the death of Sopihe Mol. Chako has had them moved to separate places. Estha is the first one to go. In the commencement of the journey, he has lost his voice. Ammu goes on to live in a hotel room where she is collecting enough money so her small family is back together again.

All this while Rahel is being expelled from different schools due to her “misconduct”.

After an eventful stay in Ayemenem village and loving the same man till his last day, as a consequence, they are forced to be separated.

The story picks up when Rahel is called back to the village because Estha has come back. And he wouldn’t speak. Rahel comes back to pick up the pieces and put them together. Doing so, she takes you down the memory lane. The story is being told because it is familiar, that’s what makes it a great story.


Arundhati Roy has a great style of writing. She breaks all the rules of language and does so beautifully. The sprinkled use of compound nouns, Capitalization at different places and layering of stories is what makes the book interesting. The narration is livid. Reading the book is like a fragmented dream, with twitching of limbs and sounds that your heart makes. DUB DUB.

You may take some time to get accustomed to her writing style but will definitely enjoy it as you flip pages.

And the air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside.

Good points

The cover page is rustic. It is befitting the narration and the story. The characters are remarkable. They are distinct and true to their nature. The story is great! But what takes the cake away is the narration. The fearless dreamy narration of the author is the key highlight of the book.

Bad points

The book took me about a month to finish. Because I liked the complexities that all the characters possess. It may not be pleasant for someone who tires of the lengthy prose.

This was the trouble with families. Like invidious doctors, they knew just where it hurt.


The book defines a modern classic. I do not believe I did not read it sooner. I read a borrowed copy but I think I will buy a paperback for my keeping too. Especially now that I find it difficult to part with the book!

Who do I recommend this to

This book is for all those who like good writing and complex characters. Some patience would also be appreciated!

Quotable quotes

But what was there to say? Only that there were tears. Only that Quietness and Emptiness fitted together like stacked spoons. Only that there was a snuffling in the hollows at the base of a lovely throat. Only that a hard honey-colored shoulder had a semicircle of teethmarks on it. Only that they held each other close, long after it was over. Only that what they shared that night was not happiness, but hideous grief.

Only that once again they broke the Love Laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.

Perhaps it’s true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house—the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture—must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstitutred. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story.

The way her body existed only where he touched her. The rest of her was smoke.

Ammu said that human beings were creatures of habit, and it was amazing the kind of things one could get used to.

Some things come with their own punishments.

Nothing mattered much. Nothing much mattered. And the less it mattered the less it mattered. It was never important enough. Because Worse Things had happened. In the country that she came from poised forever between the terror of war and the horror of peace Worse Things kept happening.

If he touched her, he couldn’t talk to her, if he loved her he couldn’t leave, if he spoke he couldn’t listen, if he fought he couldn’t win.

Writers imagine that they cull stories from the world. I’m beginning to believe that vanity makes them think so. That it’s actually the other way around. Stories cull writers from the world. Stories reveal themselves to us. The public narrative, the private narrative—they colonize us. They commission us. They insist on being told. Fiction and nonfiction are only different techniques of storytelling. For reasons that I don’t fully understand, fiction dances out of me, and nonfiction is wrenched out by the aching, broken world I wake up to every morning.

Being with him made her feel as though her soul had escaped from the narrow confines of her island country into the vast, extravagant spaces of his. He made her feel as though the world belonged to them—as though it lay before them like an opened frog on a dissecting table, begging to be examined.

It is curious how sometimes the memory of death lives on for so much longer than the memory of the life that is purloined.

Her grief grieved her. His devastated her.

There are things that you can’t do—like writing letters to a part of yourself. To your feet or hair. Or heart.

And there it was again. Another religion turned against itself. Another edifice constructed by the human mind, decimated by human nature.

Smells, like music, hold memories. She breathed deep, and bottled it up for posterity.

People always loved best what they identified most with.

Pointed in the wrong direction, trapped outside their own history and unable to retrace their steps because their footprints had been swept away.

And when we look in through the windows, all we see are shadows. And when we try and listen, all we hear is a whispering. And we cannot understand the whispering, because our minds have been invaded by a war. A war that we have both won and lost. The very worst sort of war. A war that captures dreams and re-dreams them. A war that has made us adore our conquerors and despise ourselves.

As she watched him she understood the quality of his beauty. How his labor had shaped him. How the wood he fashioned had fashioned him. Each plank he planed, each nail he drove, each thing he made molded him. Had left its stamp on him. Had given him his strength, his supple grace.

“Anything’s possible in Human Nature,” Chacko said in his Reading Aloud voice. Talking to the darkness now, suddenly insensitive to his little fountain-haired niece. “Love. Madness. Hope. Infinite joy.” Of the four things that were Possible in Human Nature, Rahel thought that Infinnate Joy sounded the saddest. Perhaps because of the way Chacko said it. Infinnate Joy. With a church sound to it. Like a sad fish with fins all over.

When she looked at him now, she couldn’t help thinking that the man he had become bore so little resemblance to the boy he had been. His smile was the only piece of baggage he had carried with him from boyhood into manhood.

Once the quietness arrived, it stayed and spread in Estha. It reached out of his head and enfolded him in its swampy arms. It rocked him to the rhythm of an ancient, fetal heartbeat. It sent its stealthy, suckered tentacles inching along the insides of his skull, hoovering the knolls and dells of his memory; dislodging old sentences, whisking them off the tip of his tongue. It stripped his thoughts of the words that described them and left them pared and naked. Unspeakable. Numb. And to an observer, therefore, perhaps barely there. Slowly, over the years, Estha withdrew from the world. He grew accustomed to the uneasy octopus that lived inside him and squirted its inky tranquilizer on his past. Gradually the reason for his silence was hidden away, entombed somewhere deep in the soothing folds of the fact of it.

What came for them? Not death. Just the end of living.

Biology designed the dance. Terror timed it. Dictated the rhythm with which their bodies answered each other. As though they already knew that for each tremor of pleasure they would pay with an equal measure of pain. As though they knew that how far they went would be measured against how far they would be taken.

Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH