The Problems of Aesthetics: A Case for “Abhilash Talkies”

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The Problems of Aesthetics: A Case for “Abhilash Talkies”
Paper by Dr Divyabha, published in March-April 2018 Issue, Ashvamegh



Many studies have been written on diverse aspects of the book The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and much has been said regarding the writer’s style. My paper is focusing on a greater degree of detailed analysis of the subject. The objective here is to achieve a deeper understanding of the relationship between style and literary aesthetics in the novel. The popularity of Arundhati Roy’s book rests on manifold possibilities for interpretation of the novel. The novel’s aesthetic and political commitment have been misunderstood for various reasons. 


Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, a Booker Prize winner and widely acclaimed creative work of fiction by the western critics is unfortunately much misunderstood maligned by the Indian critics. This is so mostly because of the presence of the chapter Abhilash Talkies in this marvellous work of new aesthetics philosophy and vision

Even before taking up the case of the Abhilash Talkies– its relevance, propriety and total aesthetic values, I should like to deliberate briefly on modern aesthetics, its values and problems. Since eyebrows have been raised by many Indian literary scholars against the so-called grisly, seamy and immoral nature of the Abhilash episode, I should like to consider the whole episode in the context of a new paradigm of aesthetic sensibility and values.

Everybody will agree that the aesthetic consciousness of man has two existential aspects- one, the unchanging and universal, that is, the noumenal unchanging constant, the other, the phenomenal unchanging constant, the other, the phenomenal, everchanging and apparent image and awareness of the sense of beauty of objects that have been long rejected by the traditional and conservative thinking of the people. In the Elizabethan times the use of the words like ‘rat’, ‘mole’, etc. was supposed to be undignified and actors uttering these words on the stage had to face hurling tomatoes and rotten eggs directed on them. Even the classicists of the 18th century had their own set of vocabulary to be used in poetry. Likewise, they had their own conservative approach to themes barring the treatment of the commonality and the riff-raff, a cowboy, a shepherd or a solitary village girl were objects to be carefully rejected for treatment because of their so-called dignified aesthetic parameter.

‘This is a first novel and its s Tiger Woodsian debut- the author hits the long, socio- cosmic ball but is also exquisitive in her short game’1 Literary history of English literature stands witness to William Wordsworth’s revolutionary act of turning down the artificial and anti- life apple cart of the 18th century classical literary masters and, in its place, introducing a new aesthetic philosophy of exalting the common man and the trivial objects of life and nature wherein he found the principle of beauty pulsating, thriving, and exalting in its own essential identity. There Wordsworth found the exaltation and adoration of all kinds of object, human and inhuman, thereby worshipping life as a whole and life’s varied and various expressions- big and small, sublime and trite, the holy and the unholy. He was struck with holy awe as much before the sublimated and exalted expression of Alpine range, as he was struck and smitten by the smallest and insignificant objects of nature. It was only the beauteous forms in all objects of life and nature that his transcendental vision did behold and the Life Force that sustained the cosmic, holistic and all integrated human and material universe. His cosmology was the same as of the Hindu seers who believed that the whole expression of life stands on three basic fundamental constants- Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram (Truth, Goodness, and Beauty). It is within the paradigm of these three universal principles that all objects, big and small, holy and unholy, find their abode and justifiably so far above from the man-made and culture based concepts and standards of good and bad, moral and immoral, right and wrong, the beautiful and the ugly.

Again, as early as the beginning of the 20th century saw the celebration of the absurd, and the whole movement was expressed through the Absurd theatre. Then, in the twenties, we find the celebration of the principle of blood and the instinct in an elaborate and exuberant way in Lady Chatterley’s Lover of D. H. Lawrence. The then hypocritical English society rejected it as a piece of pornography offending human dignity, values and aesthetic perception. The book was also prescribed legally by the British courts. Later on soon the free thinking and Life Force loving English minds came out in defence of the so-called vulgar and immoral literary document called Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Not only the ban on the book was lifted, but it was declared by the great English critics as one of the best fiction works that were true to the hard naked realities of human drama. This was not only a graphical description of the sexual behaviour with all its oddities and bizarre nature but it was a depiction of the instinctive and primal nature of man which expresses itself the Bacchanalian form and style.

In the 19th century, America Walt Whitman was cursed and denounced on moral grounds for his manifesto in his native moments. As recently as the Fifties and Sixties the American author of Lolita, Vladimir Novokov was hatefully called by the average American as an old, dirty man for narrating a real-life story of Lolita. Lolita, a twelve- year girl is deeply influenced by the male power of the hero in his fifties. In the Indian literary scenario, Ismat Chugtai outraged the so-called custodians of Indian morality by depicting the lesbian act between the Begum and her maidservant. Deepa Mehta’s film Fire was vehemently criticized and condemned for the frustrations of two women in the same family gratifying their sexual urge through lesbianism. But the censor had to compromise and appreciates the theme on the ground of verisimilitude.

Now when Arundhati Roy opens the life-size door of Abhilash Talkies with the revelation of the basic instincts of man and woman our Indian literary critics who look at the whole episode of the Abhilash Talkies as distasteful, immoral and aesthetically abominable have in my view a parochial, a misconceived socio-cultural and aesthetically dwarfed vision of the phenomenal life which is but an expression of the cosmic life. These critics are simply prisoners of their own fractured consciousness which is coloured simply by racial, ethical, moral and ill-conceived aesthetic vision and values of life.

Roy herself muses thus, ‘If I had to put it very simply, it is about trying to make the connections between the smallest of things and the biggest ones and to see how they fit together.’2

Acknowledging to the novel’s endeavour to rekindle an erotic world already lost, Deepika Bahri advises that it can be defined as elaboration, but in a lamenting mode, the

Marxist idea of freedom from restrained experience: ‘tension between the aesthetic and the political . . . reveals the contributions of the former in the face of the dominative logic of the latter, even as it underscores the importance of understanding their separation and isolation from each other.’ 3

My approach in the present paper is neither biased nor prejudiced against any set of human values as expressed and practised by different anthropological and religious or communal groups of people in the world. Mine is multi-pronged approach to an existential situation in the life that happens to be expressed against Indian scenario. Basically, this study approaches thematically the work in question whose major subject is small is beautiful and the small is God. It is the redefinition and representation of the ancient Vedic philosophy as expressed in the Geeta through the mouth of Lord Krishna who declares that: I am the greatest among the great and I am the smallest among the small. This is the basic theme of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

The other angle adopted in this study is the angle of morally and ethically oriented values of human life. My proposition in the so-called nudity and apparent vulgarity as displayed by two episodes: one, all women’s rejoicings in the toilet, the second, Orangedrink Lemondrink and Estha incident are very, very natural expressing the primordial and libidinous joy of life.

My final attempt in this paper has been to perceive and appreciate the writer’s paradigm of the total thought process which has the unique vision of transvaluations of all values. It is here that I find not only justification but a positive aesthetic appreciation of the case of Abhilash Talkies. Looking at the problem of aesthetics from the point of view of psychology will make us more objective in our approach to judging the real aesthetic value for the aesthetic values of the Abhilash Talkies chapter.

There can be few topics more certain the realm of aesthetics more certain to arose normally peaceful artists, philosophers, to lead to a furious discussion than those related to aesthetics; there can only be some topics within and aestheticians to a pitch of rampant resentment than that which has given this chapter its title. The thought that objects of beauty as well as their instauration and admiration, are subject to scientific and social scrutiny appears absonant to many people. The misled interpretation of aesthetics may destroy the intention of study.

Arundhati Roy’s application of the death-psychology of aesthetics in narrating the women’s liberating act inside the toilet and equally beastly expression of the homosexual act of the Orangedrink Lemondrink man are but expressions of the creative impulse in the universe. The existential psychiatry in a psychological method to relieve the over suppressed desires and natural instinctive expression of the inner substance of the astral man. This also amply justifies the presence of the Abhilash Talkies chapter in this human drama.

The Soviet view of the source of aesthetic the feeling has been traced to labour and the minutest productive activities of the humans. Hegel, the eminent thinker, get down a stringent conceptual segregation of this study of science, designated as fine arts as its exclusive study. The presence of beauty in nature and human life was acknowledged by the Soviet scholars as well. They have made apparent the requisite for an aesthetic evaluation of immense arena of everyday life. Today labour and production at large have finally come within the horizon of aesthetics. As a distinct branch of knowledge, labour aesthetics comprehends a brood ambit of problems. From the labour aesthetic point of view, Arundhati Roy has exalted the common labour of the common man. The very first chapter of the book Paradise Pickles and Preserves is the story of a common man labouring at a small factory producing pickles and preserves. This small labour activity has been called by the writer paradise. There the writer finds the presence of deep and hidden beauty in labour. Even the work and labour done by the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man has its own beauty of labour.

Out of total twenty-one chapters in the book, Abhilash Talkies finds the fourth place after three chapters viz, Paradise Pickles and Preserves, Pappachi’s Moth, Big Man the Laltain Small Man the Mombatti. All these three chapters are but the depiction of the humdrum of the common human life with a monotony and drabness prevailing all around. Then of a sudden, the writer brings into play the Abhilash Talkies incident only give vent to the pure, beastly urges of humankind. The so-called vulgar act of the women pissing out and giggling together has its own libidinous joy. The other more objectionable episode of the lemon drink Orangedrink Man and Estha’s incident in to be more appreciated in a wider perspective.  The homosexual encounter is nothing new in civilized human history. As far back as the 6th century B.C. Socrates, the great Greek philosopher, was charged with on corrupting the youth. The great Shakespeare’s love for the dark lady(a boy indeed) is known to everybody. In England, in the mid-fifties, the woofendeng committee did prescribe at the behest of the British government the freedom of this activity privately. This was done under social, cultural and psychological pressure prevailing in the whole of the British Isle for expressing the sexual urge within the homo group. If, then Arundhati Roy portrays before us the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man’s approach to Estha, the young boy, for his gratification, where lies immortality in this episode. The Orangedrink, Lemondrink Man is powerful personality whose, ‘yellow teeth were magnets. They saw, they smiled, they sang, they smelled, they moved, they mesmerized.’ (p.12) The whole beauty lies in Estha’s succumbing to the magnetic order of the Lemondrink man. The artist in Arundhati Roy has made out of this episode a musical part of the whole structure of the novel. The white egg substance on the hand of Estha has a lingering, uniting and symphonic value in the whole structure of the book. As in E.M. Foster’s A Passage to India. The sound of Om in the cave resounds as Boum Om, so in this episode Estha’s lacerated, sticky hand its symphonically uniting power in the whole structure of the book, there lies the aesthetic justification of the Abhilash Talkies. Arundhati Roy remarks at one place in this chapter, ‘anything’s possible in human nature, Chacko said talking to the darkness, suddenly insensitive to his little fountain- haired niece. Love. Madness. Hope. Infinite joy.’ (p. 118)

It is this element of love, madness, hope and infinite joy that has been expressed so beautifully by the Booker prize winner writer, who has made this chapter Abhilash Talkies an integral part and organic part of the whole story of The God of Small Things. She has created a new revolutionary aesthetic theory for which she deserves our praise.


About the Author: 

Dr Divyabha is an assistant professor of English Literature, The NorthCap University, Gurugram, India.



Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things, Penguin Publication, 1997.

Updike, John. Mother Tongue: Subduing the language of the colonizer. New Yorker (23 June 1997): 2-3

Prasad, Amar Nath. Arundhati Roy: A Novelist of New Style; in The Critical Studies of

Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things ed. Jayadipsingh Dodiya and Jay Chakroborthy (New Delhi: Atlantic,1999). 136

 Bahri, Deepika. Native Intelligence: Aesthetics, Politics, and Postcolonial Literature.

Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2003. 17

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