The End of Imagination By Arundhati Roy
A Brief Introduction to the Author
Arundhati Roy’s first – and so far only novel – The God of Small Things, made her famous overnight. She was awarded the prestigious Booker Prize for it. Besides being a writer she is also well known for championing social causes. The nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in May 1998 shook Arundhati Roy completely. She thinks about the destruction which would be caused by a nuclear war. Realizing the danger to humanity, she thinks it her duty to share her thoughts with the people through her essay, The End of Imagination.
Main Point summary
The supporters of India’s nuclear tests say that May 1998 will be recorded in history books as a month of great achievement. But the writer says that if nuclear weapons are used, there will be no history books to go down in. Nothing will survive in case of a nuclear war. She admits that the topic has already been focused passionately, eloquently and knowledgeably by other people in other parts of the world but she is unable to remain silent because silence may lead to the end of human race. She advises people to realise this and to fight against in the number of nuclear weapons.
The writer rejects the claim of those persons who believe that possession of nuclear power will protect human beings from all harm. She further adds that a nuclear war will not be just another kind of war between countries or men. It will be a war against the earth itself. The very elements – the sky, the air, the land, the wind and water – will all turn against us. The consequence of this war will be terrible. Everything will burn for days. Rivers will turn to poison and the air will become fire. After everything there is to burn has burned, smoke will shut out the sun and the earth will be enveloped in darkness. It will be an unending night. Temperatures will drop too far below freezing and water will turn into toxic ice. Radioactive fallout will seep through the earth and contaminate groundwater. Most living things will die. Only rats and cockroaches will breed and compete with the remaining humans for what little food there is. What will the burned, bald, blind and ill survivors eat, drink, breathe, asks the writer?
Arundhati Roy sarcastically and contemptuously comments that the advice of the Head of the Health, Environment and Safety Group of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Bombay to take iodine pills, to remain indoors, to consume stored water and food and to avoid milk and asking people to go to the basements if possible, is nothing but madness.
The advocates of the theory of nuclear deterrence will ask people to pay no attention to the warnings of the writer as sheer ignorance. According to them, the Cold War prevented a Third World War. The writer rejects this theory. She wants to know how anyone claims that the Third World War has been averted forever. It may erupt at any moment. No one can completely understand the psychology of his enemy. If someone believes that his enemy will be deterred because of his possession of nuclear weapons, then what about the suicide bomber psyche? Also, the enemies ranged against each other are not individuals but governments which change. What do we know about what the next governments might do?
Roy contests the claim that the fear of the devastation of nuclear war has acted as a deterrent. She attributes it to the marches, the demonstrations, the films, the outrage, the endless confrontational work of people. Even they may have only succeeded in postponing, not finally averting, the nuclear war.
The writer further states that in the near future, many countries other than India and Pakistan may also feel entirely justified in having nuclear weapons. After all, everybody has borders and beliefs. And those who have more bombs than they need for themselves may go in for a trade of bombs and nuclear technology and when the prices fall, anybody who can afford will also be able to possess a bomb. This will result in a new world order. The dictatorship of the pro-nuke-elite. The proliferation of nuclear weapons has introduced an element of uncertainty for the human race. Concocted stories of imminent missile attacks may trigger a nuclear war any moment.
Arundhati Roy blames the self-styled Masters of the Universe for altering the very meaning of life. Not only the use of nuclear weapons but even their presence will affect our lives. These will pervade our thinking, control our attitude, administer our societies and inform our dreams that will lead to madness. They are the ultimate colonizers.
In the end, the writer advises people of India and Pakistan to think clearly and to take the matter personally. She advises them to stand and raise a voice against nuclear weapons proliferation. She concludes sarcastically that the only good thing about nuclear war is that it is the most egalitarian idea man has ever had. It will cause indiscriminating devastation.
Answers to questions
Q.1. What is the significance of May 1998? Why does the essayist doubt it’ll go down in history books?
Ans. The significance of May 1998 is that India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in this month. The event is important enough to be recorded in history books. However, Arundhati Roy is doubtful whether there will be history books to go down into if there is a nuclear war.
She says that nothing will survive. It will be the end of life on the earth. There will be nothing to record and no one to record after this event, for it will not be just another kind of war. The very elements – the sky, the air, the land, the wind and water – will all turn against us. Everything man has created will burn for days. Rivers will turn to poison. The air will become fire. After everything has burned, smoke will envelop the earth in darkness. Nuclear winter will set in. Water will turn into toxic ice. Radioactive fall out will contaminate even groundwater.
Q.2. How is a writer of fiction different from people not engaged in this kind of writing? Why is the writer of this essay prepared to humiliate herself and repeat something that has been stated before?
Ans. A writer of fiction writes of things that may not have actually happened but he/ she has visualized by applying imagination. He/she is different from other people who are not engaged in this kind of writing and see and write of things as they see them. The writer of this essay is prepared to humiliate herself by repeating something that has been stated before by others passionately, eloquently and knowledgeably because in the prevailing circumstances silence would be indefensible. If she feels ashamed to repeat what has already been stated, it could mean the end of us, the end of everything we love. She believes that people should be motivated repeatedly by stirring their conscience. By this exercise, she wants to make people think and fight against nuclear proliferation to save the future of the coming generations.
Q.3. In what way is nuclear was different from another kind of war? Who are our foes in conventional wars? Who will be our foes in a nuclear war?
Ans. Arundhati Roy says that a nuclear war is not just another kind of conventional war. In a conventional war countries battle countries and men battle men. But in a nuclear war, our foes will not be China or America as the case may be or even each other. Our foes will be the earth herself. The very elements – the sky, the air, the earth, the wind and the water – will all turn against us.
Q.4. Describe the consequences of a nuclear war
Ans. According to the writer, the consequences of a nuclear war will be terrible. The natural elements – the sky, the air, the land, the wind and the water will all be polluted. Our cities and forests, fields and villages will burn for days. Water bodies will turn to poison. The wind will spread the flames of fire. There will be smoke all around which will shut out the sun. It will result in darkness. There will be no day: only interminable nights. Temperatures will drop too far below freezing point and nuclear winter will set in. Water will turn into toxic ice and groundwater will be contaminated. Most of the living things will die. Only rats and cockroaches will breed and multiply. They will compete with those humans who are still alive for what little food there will be. There will be hardly anything to eat, drink or breathe for the burned, blind, bald and ill still left alive.
Q.5. Does the writer think one can survive a nuclear war by following the measures suggested by a scientist?
Ans. The head of the Health, Environment and Safety Group of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Bombay has advised that in case of a nuclear war, we take the same safety measures as recommended in the event of accidents at nuclear plants. The writer thinks he is mad to suggest that India could survive nuclear war. The scientist recommends iodine pills, remaining indoors, consuming only stored water and food and avoiding milk. Infants should be given powdered milk. People in the danger zone should immediately go to the ground floor and if possible to the basement. When everything would turn toxic and contaminated and nuclear winter set in, it is sheer madness to hope such elementary measures can help survival in case of a nuclear war, says the writer.
Q.6. Is the writer indulging in exaggeration in painting the horrors of nuclear war?
Ans. Supporters of the theory of Nuclear Deterrence will say that Arundhati Roy is indulging in exaggeration in painting the horrors of nuclear war. Just a fiction writer’s naïve comments, exaggeration of the doomsday prophet, they will say. According to them, the nuclear weapons are weapons of peace, not war, for they will pressurize the enemy not to wage war. But the writer is not exaggerating the consequences of a nuclear war. The world has seen the fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombs dropped there were like a child’s toys as compared to the nuclear weapons now developed and in possession of man. If used, no life will be left on the earth.
Q.7. Explain the Theory of Deterrence advocated to justify the making of nuclear bomb.
Ans. The theory of deterrence advocated justifying the making of nuclear bombs favours the opinion that nuclear weapons are for peace, not war. The fear that nuclear weapons might be used against them will deter the enemy from waging war against nuclear power. To support their case, the advocates of deterrence theory claim the credit for preventing the Cold War from turning into a Third World War.
Q.8. What are the writer’s arguments against the Theory of Deterrence?
Ans. Arundhati Roy says that the theory of deterrence has some fundamental flaws in it. The first is that it presumes to understand the psychology of the enemy. The fear of complete destruction will deter the enemy. The writer does not accept this belief. She argues that a suicide bomber is not deterred by the fear of death. In any case, the ‘you’ and the ‘enemy’ are not permanent. Both are only governments which keep changing. Their responses cannot be predicted with any certainty. The second flaw stated by the writer is that it is based on fear. Because of fear no country will try to attack others having a nuclear weapon, claim the advocates of this theory. Their claim is rejected by the writer by stating that it has not been fear that has prevented nuclear war. It is denouncements, marches, demonstration and documentary films that have averted it. This theory is not more than a joke for the writer. The second flaw according to the writer is that deterrence is based on fear. Because of fear no country will dare to attack a nuclear weapon state, claim the advocates of the theory. Fear, however, is born out of knowledge. Only those will fear who understand the true extent and scale of the devastation that nuclear war will cause. Nuclear weapons do not automatically inspire thoughts of peace. Thus it is not fear that has prevented the nuclear war from breaking out but the endless, tireless work of people who have boldly and courageously denounced nuclear weapons and staged marches, demonstrations and documentary films to educate people about the horrors of nuclear war to avert or postpone it.
Q.9. Given the levels of ignorance and illiteracy in India and Pakistan can relations between the two improve now that both of them have the nuclear bomb?
Ans. Both India and Pakistan have nuclear bombs now. Both feel entirely justified in having them. Deterrence will not and cannot work between them. Deterrence means fear of total destruction. There must be an understanding of the true extent and scale of the destruction that nuclear weapons can cause. But the levels of ignorance and illiteracy in the two countries are so high, that a scientist suggests that iodine pills can provide protection against nuclear irradiation. Relations between India and Pakistan cannot, therefore, improve as the advocates of the deterrence theory would like us to believe.
Q.10. What is the writer’s advice to the people of India and Pakistan about the consequences of a nuclear war between the two countries?
Ans. Arundhati Roy advises the people of India and Pakistan to think of the consequences of nuclear war seriously. She asks them to take it personally and to realize the devastation it is capable of causing. It will not spare anyone whether one is a Hindu or Muslim or Urban or Agrarian. The only good thing about nuclear war, says the writer ironically, is that it does not make these distinctions. It will treat everyone equally and destroy all. The people of India and Pakistan should not, therefore, allow themselves to be befooled by the theorists of nuclear deterrence who rule the two countries.