‘How to tell a shattered story?
By slowly becoming everybody.
By slowly becoming everything’.
True to this, Arundhati Roy is able to become the shattered selves of each of the characters she pens down in the book. It is a story of one, and it is the story of others, as we read.
‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ is a fiction about current affair calamities woven together into a book about the modern conflicts. It mirrors through the length and breadth of the country’s many tragedies like a pendulum swindling across unsymmetrically.
I’d still rate ‘God of small things’ as a better book but this is still one amazing book I’ve read in a while. Although, full disclosure, I read only a select few. The half-read books on my shelf are now shouting, ‘Say..finish reading only a few’. However, if you are looking for a recommendation, then I’ll say, yes, go ahead and buy one!
It has been a few years since I read ‘The God of Small Things’ which was Arundhati Roy’s first novel. A Booker prize winning debut novel. When I first read it, it was a fascinating insight of Kerala, at least a little, Communism, caste-system among other things which formed the backdrop of the lives of two twins. They were central and everything else was background.
‘The Ministry of utmost happiness’ keeps the background running parallel along with the many protagonists that are scattered through the storyline.
It has an interesting ensemble of characters. There is a ‘hijda’ Aftab who became Anjum, who is central to her world of other characters, ranging from her gharana, to people who walk through and along with her, literally to the graveyard. A graveyard which gives refuge to the shattered souls of the world. Then there is Tilo, the non-beautiful dark skinned woman, who is loved by three distinctive men with shattered stories of their own. Each of the characters walks across others’ lives. Making a difference, to their own, and others they touch.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness captures the unrest in Kashmir as well as the plight of ‘naxals’. It talks about transgender lives and their conflicts, changing face of our society, communal riots, political commentary, and things which as a subject, you won’t tag as fiction.
Yes, sometimes, Roy seems to go overboard in blurring the line between political commentary and fiction, and if you’re acquainted about the happenings, appears like a view point pushed deliberately. But this happens in the case of issues, I’m familiar with, the ones I’m not; seems fascinating for the lack of a better word. But, even with this, the commentary does work in giving you an overview of the times.
The joy of reading the book was in how the characters appeared to say so much without telling it. The book is like a narration of a theatre play where the actors are very emotive, grabbing your utmost attention and giving you a semblance of happiness, grief and more importantly an understanding of their worlds.
Thank you, Arundhati Roy for your second novel!