Submitted By:  Urwa Khurshid

Book Review

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.


Arundhati Roy.

A Remarkable Labyrinth of Stories

The Booker winner author of The God of Small Thingsafter a gap of almost twenty years has written a masterpiece in its own way; paying a heed to all the unheard, giving voice to all the voiceless; a social and a political thriller. Prior to the writing Roy stated in 2011 in an interview that “I’ll have to find a language to tell the story I want to tell. By language I don’t mean English, Urdu, Malayalam or Hindi. I mean something else. A way of binding together worlds that have been ripped apart”. The magic of that “something else” leave the reader spellbound at every corner of this maze.

Twelve chapters having unusual titles with one-liner quotes in between make ita noteworthy amalgamation of art and politics with layers of organization and dimensions in it. A rich composition of gloomy massacres, sheer violation of humanity, brief interludes, unconditional love and simplicity. Reformative in spirit and revolutionary in text is the style Roy has adopted. The peculiar title, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness having multiple connotations is not a surprise as this is one can expect from the magnificent Arundhati Roy. Symbolism is the established theme of the novel where every name and character symbolize a greater phenomenon whether it’s a small dung beetle or the conspicuous Anjum. The three worded dedication (To the Unconsoled) and Nazim Hikmet quotation (I mean it’s all a matter of heart) in actual sets the pace for the upcoming roller-coaster ride. After the sweet revolutionary quote by the Turkish poet comes the first jerk in opening note before contents. The pinnacle of irony it is when writer compels you to ponder over the repercussions of acts of the custodians of life by virtue of which the custodians of death have to die.

It is pretty evident from the interviews and the plot of the novel that she has a very strong observation of Indian Society(which is by way of excessive wandering and reading). The command over Urdu poetry and frequent use of expletives is real stroke of amazement for the readers- Indo-Pak Subcontinent is the targeted audience-but on a larger scale is an effort to aware the International Community of the situation of minorities in the Subcontinent and especially in the Secular India. Her politics and activism have been resulted quite unapologetically in the concerned novel. The unique quality of the plot is that every character is the one leading to another, a protagonist in its own way. Anjum be the most prominent one is a transgender has a struggle and a life story spanning over decades. The journey from Aftab to the coquettish and then daring Anjum. Her metaphors for the political leaders are worth mentioning: The Poet-Prime Minister for Vajpayee, for Manmohan Singh the blue turban economist and a trapped rabbit. She considers Modi-Gujrat ka Lalla- as the one who flared up the situation to a next level and to a point of no return in Indian society. The Gujrat Killings of 2002 under his supervision had gone a tumultuous change in Anjum’s Life. Saffron men with their saffron smiles had squeaked one slogan: Only one place for Musalman! The Graveyard or Pakistan! The circumstances explained quite explicitly as how they folded the men and unfolded the women. The thing which changed her for life was how when she gets noticed by one of them and he said “Don’t kill her, brother, killing Hijras brings bad luck.

Bad luck!

Nothing scared those murderers more than the prospect of bad luck.

This originated the idea of the Jannat Guest House and Funeral Services in graveyard near hospital which then became the Home for the Unconsoled (the dead and alive both). Dr. Azad Bhartiya is the key figure of the whole group of idealist activists whereas Saddam Hussain is the representation of the most oppressed Dalit community.

Tilo has a reflection of Roy herself in the looks and ideology.

– “It had to do with the way she lived, in the country of her own skin. A country that issued no visas and seemed to have no consulates”-

How she the one not so beautiful to the generalized standards caught the attention of three men which were then linked through her in the future. Naga the view-changing journalist, Garson Hobert the civil servant and Musa, Architect turned freedom Fighter in Kashmir. The three of them of them represent a psychological and a material backgrounds of their own. Tilo like Anjum also survived the trauma of state-sponsored terrorism of Kashmir because of the fact that she was alleged of having relationship with one of the most alleged commanders of Kashmir Freedom Movement.

‘These days in Kashmir, you can be killed for surviving.’

In battle, Musa told Tilo, enemies can’t break your spirit, only friends can.

The characters like Amrik Singh- the Indian armed officer to carry out all the atrocities- and Ashfaq Mir-a state-stooge and a Muslim local police officer associated with Indian Government-also provides a deep insight in the scenario. The deaths ofbrief characters of Gulrez of boathouse and little Miss Jabeen (Musa’s Daughter) leave the reader heart-wrenched.

It seems that the notionof the ministry of utmost happiness is borrowed from the concept of Jannah or Paradise where the pure and benevolent souls would live in together with eternity. The same is excellently portrayed here where people from the marginalized part of the society get to live with peace and empathy as their motion for life. The crux is certainly in words of her own: How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.

This is how the life is: in struggle of becoming a better human being no matter what gender, colour, creed or race one has because certainly this can turn a graveyard into a paradise. The discerning quality which separates Arundhati Roy from others is simply her ‘courage’and this novel is a strong recommendation for everyone who wants to know the bitter and harsh facts tactfully in honey-coated fiction.