The first time I read a book by Arundhati Roy, I was only about 20. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy’s debut novel that also won her the Pulitzer Prize is an amazing but by no means easy-to-read book. But those were the times when I thought abandoning a book deserved capital punishment.
For many years since, I have recommended the book to numerous people, including my namesake whose choice in books is almost identical to mine and they all seem to hate the book I LOVE. So when Ms. Roy’s second work of fiction, ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ surfaced I was both curious to read it and scared to pick it up. I didn’t want to mar my first love. But…“As always history would be a revelation of the future as much as it was a study of the past.”
Life is what Ms. Roy captures with all its brutal realities and in all its mundane-ness. From the very first page of the book, Roy’s words tugged at my heart and continued to do so till the end. While I am familiar with India’s strained relationship with her neighbour, the issues of Kashmir and such, I had never read a novel that brought it to life for me. ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ gave me a more intimate understanding of what plagues my great nation. The prowess with which Ms. Roy has translated Urdu verses to English is the stuff of legends.
Ab wahaan khaak udti hai Khizaan… phool hi phool jahaan the pehle”
Now the dust blows on Autumn’s breeze… where once there were flowers. Only Flowers.
With a eunuch, an orphan, an Indian secret service officer, a man branded a terrorist, a blind man who rechristened himself Saddam Hussien, this is the story of India told through her outliers. Each one of them eclectic, special and heart-breaking in their own personal tragedies.
My favourite character however remains the Hijra (eunuch) Anjum. The way Ms. Roy, uses Anjum to establish connections with events and characters taking place in the book, the poetry in this lost and found soul; Anjum is… (I will leave it to you to fill those blanks)
“Need was a warehouse that could accommodate a considerable amount of cruelty.” – Anjum
The book travels between Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat and Kashmir (even a brief flashback in Kerala) through a narrative that never feels forced. It flows with ease taking you through the past and present of its many characters, while giving you a brief inkling of what the future could hold.
Whether you have read Arundhati Roy before or not, I would definitely recommend ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’, if not for all the reasons stated above, then for the fact that in the end most if its living find a home in the land of the dead, a graveyard.
Love Always, Z
Some of my favourite quotes from the book:
- “Then came the partition, God’s carotid burst open on the new border between India and Pakistan and a million people died of hatred.”
- We’re jackals who feed off other people’s happiness, Khushikhor, was the phrase she used.”
- The Mouse absorbed love the way the sand absorbs the sea.”
- Love, after all, is the ingredient that separates a sacrifice from ordinary, everyday butchery.”
- Who can know from the word goodbye what kind of parting is in store for us.”
- “… the city that came alive only when it had to bury its dead.”
- Tilo learned that in these matters, casualness and jokes were strictly serious and seriousness was only communicated as a joke.