The chant of 'Azadi!'--Urdu for 'Freedom!'--is the slogan of the freedom struggle in Kashmir against what Kashmiris see as the Indian Occupation. Ironically, it also became the chant of millions on the streets of India against the project of Hindu Nationalism. In this series of essays, Arundhati Roy challenges us to reflect on the meaning of freedom in a world of growing authoritarianism. The essays include meditations on language, public as well as private, and on the role of fiction and alternative imaginations in these disturbing times.
In spite of what she describes in Azadi, her latest collection of essays, as an atmosphere of 'continuous, unceasing threat', Roy has refused to back down and this volume, which takes its title from the Urdu word for 'freedom' – azadi is the chant of Kashmiri protesters against the Indian government – serves to keep the Kashmiri situation in the minds of her global readership ... The passion and beauty of her voice is unabated, but what comes through in this volume, too, is a new sense of maturity in both her execution and engagement as she comes to terms with her vocation and the choices she has made ... What [Roy] has produced, in Azadi, is precisely such a text – the outcome of a life of writing from the frontline of solidarity and humanism, and from a writer who is perhaps only now reaching the height of her literary powers.
In Azadi-- a word that connotes freedom in Persian and in several subcontinental languages, and has related, particular resonance in relation to activist politics and social justice movements-- Roy strides, stalks, and marches back and forth across the contemporary Indian scene. She is frequently caustic, hard-minded, and confidently leftist in her observations and critiques of her 'poor-rich country' ...
In truth, though one may respond with sympathy and agreement to Roy’s passionate indignation, this book, assembled from speeches and lectures delivered over a number of years, is more confusing than satisfying. Roy is a repetitive and often clumsy writer. She packs in material, with an excess of detail. It is hard to keep track of her arguments. She veers between reportage and discussion of her own life and her two novels. Indeed the publisher’s decision to recall the old Penguin Specials seems unwise, for the point about these books was usually their clear and cogent line. There is no line in Azadi, no coherent argument. I am sure that much that Roy tells us is horribly true. I just wish she had told it better.