From Outlook: “Capitalism: A Ghost Story”
This is the preface of Arundhati Roy’s essay that got left behind in the Outlook Magazine version.
Capitalism: A Ghost Story is based on the Edward Said memorial Lecture delivered by Arundhati Roy in Princeton on March 5th. These were her preliminary comments:
“I met Professor Edward Said only once, towards the end of his life. As we said goodbye, he took my hand and said “You must never forget Palestine.” As if I could. As if any of us could.
Though my talk today is not about Palestine, I am here in solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people. And with the people of Iran who are being bullied by sanctions and threatened with war.
Until the early ’90s, before it deferred to the Washington Consensus and opened its markets to global capital, the Government of India was a friend of Palestine and Iran. Since then it has had to ‘Structural Adjust’ its foreign policy too, and now calls itself a ‘natural ally’ of the US and Israel. Even so, in India it is still easier for people, to express solidarity with the people of Palestine while maintaining a discreet and dishonest silence about the ugly military occupation in their own backyard, where more than half a million Indian soldiers occupy the tiny valley of Kashmir, littering it with mass graves, torture centers and army camps. I would like to reiterate once again my solidarity with the people of Kashmir, in their struggle against the Indian Occupation. And with all those who have had their freedom snatched away from them by a checkbook, or a cruise missile, or a combination of the two.
The title of my lecture was supposed to be ‘The Politics of Dispossession.’ I am actually going to speak about a less studied—but closely related subject—The Politics of Possession.
My talk today, is called ‘Capitalism: A Ghost Story’. It begins in Mumbai, outside the gates of a tall building called Antilla…
Is it a house or a home? A temple to the new India, or a warehouse for its ghosts? Ever since Antilla arrived on Altamont Road in Mumbai, exuding mystery and quiet menace, things have not been the same. “Here we are,” the friend who took me there said, “Pay your respects to our new Ruler.”
Antilla belongs to India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani. I had read about this most expensive dwelling ever built, the twenty-seven floors, three helipads, nine lifts, hanging gardens, ballrooms, weather rooms, gymnasiums, six floors of parking, and the six hundred servants. Nothing had prepared me for the vertical lawn—a soaring, 27-storey-high wall of grass attached to a vast metal grid. The grass was dry in patches; bits had fallen off in neat rectangles. Clearly, Trickledown hadn’t worked.
But Gush-Up certainly has. That’s why in a nation of 1.2 billion, India’s 100 richest people own assets equivalent to one-fourth of the GDP.
The word on the street (and in the New York Times) is, or at least was, that after all that effort and gardening, the Ambanis don’t live in Antilla. No one knows for sure. People still whisper about ghosts and bad luck, Vaastu and Feng Shui. Maybe it’s all Karl Marx’s fault. (All that cussing.) Capitalism, he said, “has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, that it is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells”.
In India, the 300 million of us who belong to the new, post-IMF “reforms” middle class—the market—live side by side with spirits of the nether world, the poltergeists of dead rivers, dry wells, bald mountains and denuded forests; the ghosts of 2,50,000 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and of the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us. And who survive on less than twenty rupees a day…. (to keep reading click the link above)