The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Publication Date: June 6th 2017
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (Penguin Random House India)
Read Date: October 30th 2018
Genre: Literary Fiction / Indian Culture and politics / Contemporary
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on a journey of many years-the story spooling outwards from the cramped neighbourhoods of Old Delhi into the burgeoning new metropolis and beyond, to the Valley of Kashmir and the forests of Central India, where war is peace and peace is war, and where, from time to time, ‘normalcy’ is declared.
Anjum, who used to be Aftab, unrolls a threadbare carpet in a city graveyard that she calls home. A baby appears quite suddenly on a pavement, a little after midnight, in a crib of litter. The enigmatic S. Tilottama is as much of a presence as she is an absence in the lives of the three men who loved her.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is at once an aching love story and a decisive remonstration. It is told in a whisper, in a shout, through tears and sometimes with a laugh. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, mended by love-and by hope. For this reason, they are as steely as they are fragile, and they never surrender. This ravishing, magnificent book reinvents what a novel can do and can be. And it demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness was story of shattered characters telling their shattered life story and trying to live in this shattered world with support of hope and companionship. It was basically a fiction story based in India and written around political, social, religious, and regional issues of India with critical view point
It was my first book by Arundhati Roy and won’t be the last. I have heard about this author but after reading this book I now know she is fearless writer who writes around the true facts with blunt row truth that not all can digest. I really appreciate her writing, style and the way she portrayed the controversies of India through these stories. What I loved most about the book was plot insights in following stories that will change the perspective of readers.
First story revolved around the life of a Hijara (a eunuch), Anjum who was Aftab before. I loved this story more than any other in the book. If book was written only for Anjum minus all the other small and big stories, I would have given it full star. Book started wonderfully with Anjum raising the question ‘how all hijaras are buried, who says the prayer and how the overall funeral procession take place for them?’ no one has seen this procession and so she decides to form one at the graveyard, and turn into ‘Jannat guest house’. But before that she told her life story at khwabgah, her childhood and her relation with her parents and family, how she came to live in Kwabgah and her life there with history and culture of Delhi.
The view point of a hijara in this book totally changed my perspective. It showed close view on – how they feel, how they go through hormonal and physical challenges and how the surrounding world and politics affects them, the criticism and hurtful comments and treatments they face. It gave the deeper insight on hijara’ life in India. It was written with the magician’s spell that bound me to the story. Characters were so realistic that one could easily put themselves in their shoe and have the whole new perspective.
Author has woven life of Anjum and the tragic events of era – India-Pakistan separation, post effects of separation, 1984 events attack at Golden Temple, death of Indira Gandhi, Demolition of the Babri Masjid, Hindu-Muslim riots, 9/11 attack… In short all tragic affairs from freedom struggle to current affairs and controversies- seamlessly with depth of emotions.
Then came the story of Tilo and her three lovers (Musa, Biplab aka Garson Hobart, Naga). It was lot confusing– first there was a question who Tilo actually loved, if she didn’t love Naga then why she married him, why she came to live as tenant at Garson’s building and then why she went to Kashmir and what happened there – but as I read more I got grip in her story.
It takes readers from streets of Delhi to valley of Kashmir. What looked like love affair in the beginning turned out to be tragic blood stained account of life in Kashmir. Author raised lot of questions through this story- Who are the real terrorist and who the real heroes in Kashmir are, how people actually lived there and how their life ended and for what, what torture people- either innocent or guilty- go through and if this war of Kashmir with whole other India is ever going to end. Most horrible of all was Amrik Singh, senseless murders and tortures he executed and how that changed Tilo’s life. There was so many things scattered in this story that I don’t how to put it all into words but it will be easy for those who are aware of all affairs related to Kashmir.
At the end story took full circle back to graveyard with the story of Miss Jabeen the second. It was all thought-provoking and jaw-dropping. This book was very different from any book I have ever read.
As much as I appreciated writing, plot insights, I didn’t like its terrible slow pace and lengthy paragraphs and chapters. It took me a month to finish this books and I could see why so many readers has abandoned this book. I also thought to put it down for some time and start something else.
Main reason was uneven sequence of the story and some peripheral stories related to main story caused the distraction that drove me off the track as well as confused me at many points. It made me stop reading and think where this is going and what this piece had to do with the story or character, at places it felt like adding more words than focusing on real story.
Second, I didn’t enjoyed reading about Tilo’s story as much as Anjum’s. She was emotionless and I honestly didn’t get why she hated her mother.
In short, boring and dragging at places.
Overall, it was insightful, thought-provoking fiction story based in India and written around political, social, religious, and regional issues of India with critical view point. But it is not for all reader, specifically not for those who are not aware of Indian affairs or those who doesn’t like to hear anything against India.
Author: Arundhati Roy
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