AM Reads: The Cost of Living

It should have come as no surprise to me that an essay by Arundhati Roy would be emotionally wrenching. Over the years, her prose has captivated me. Hands down, she is one of my favourite writers. Somehow though, I never got around to reading any of her essays. This past week I finally acquainted myself with  some of her non-fiction work vis à vis The Cost of Living and I was left even more enamored with this pen wielding warrior. The Cost of Living is a report on environmental justice in India. Specifically, the essay examines the  history of dams/dam building in India, casting light on the environmental and social costs of the aforementioned. Roy employs extensive research to show how severely the industry hurts both the ethnic communities who are disproportionately made to bear its burden and the environment ravaged in the name of progress. The book provokes questions around whether democracy serves the economically and socially disenfranchised in India (quite often members of darker skinned castes) or if it serves those who are already at an economic and social advantage. It also highlights how connected economics is to politics and furthermore, how institutions such as the World Bank operate in alliance with the financial, political and social elite in the so-called Third World. These are just a few of the topics that Roy’s essay addresses. I believe that what makes it a powerful book is the collision of fact and emotion. This balance  has the effect of illuminating the ugly reality that is dam building, making clear that the activity is a dangerously intrusive one instead of one that is innocuous or beneficial. Roy’s impassioned examination reminded me of how important it is to be socially informed and active both domestically and globally. 

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