The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Author: Arundhati Roy
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Publishing Date: June 2017
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Cost: Rs. 218.47 (Kindle Edition), Rs. 380 (Paperback)
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.
This story is about our contemporary world- of India, and Pakistan conveyed through the people living through the torturous and distressing conflict in Kashmir, and the unconventional outsiders in Delhi.
It begins with the observation of vultures being eliminated through poison- a metaphor for the way Indian society has been poisoned by a history of corrupt and untrustworthy politicians, religious hatreds, and the congested rivers of blood and denied justice. It touches on the issues of caste, divisions based on country, gender and religion, grief, loss, and love.
The book is about two characters - A transgender, Anjum, and a riot victim, Tilottama. Anjum, born as Aftab in Old Delhi but is discarded by her family for socially- unacceptable norms for transgenders and is adopted by a whore-house. She lives a good part of her life here before shifting her residence to a graveyard. The sentimental detailing is rather impressive:
“It was the only place in his world where he felt the air made way for him. When he arrived, it seemed to shift, to slide over, like a school friend making room for him on a classroom bench.”
On the other hand, Tilottama begins as a firebrand member of the youth brigade in a posh South Delhi locality but eventually relocates to Kashmir and the city's deep and dangerous alleys. How life, with its twists and turns, brings the two together rounds up the story. Roy highlights the three friends, all of them men, who walk in and out of Tilo's life – Biplab, a senior officer in Intelligence Bureau, Naga- an incendiary journalist and Musa, an activist or terrorist.
She touches upon issues of untouchability and gender divide, fanaticism, and terrorism. There are long stretches of pages that are dedicated to the haunting memories of Tilottama, which, at first grab our attention but which will end up on an utterly emotional front.
About the Author:
Arundhati Roy was born in 1960 in Kerala, India. She studied architecture at the Delhi School of Architecture and worked as a production designer. She has written two screenplays including Electric Moon (1992) that was commissioned by Channel 4 television.
Her first novel ‘God of small things’ won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997. An immediate bestseller, the novel was published simultaneously in 16 languages and 19 countries but caused controversy in India for the description of a love affair between a Syrian Christian and a Hindu 'untouchable'. She is also the author of several non-fiction books including The Cost of Living (1999)- a highly critical attack on the Indian government for its handling of the controversial Narmada Valley dam project and for its nuclear testing programme; Power Politics (2001)- a book of essays; and The Algebra of Infinite Justice- a collection of journalism. The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire was published in 2004. She has since published a further collection of essays examining the dark side of democracy in contemporary India ‘Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy’ (2009).
Her latest book is ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ (2017), her second novel. It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and, in the US, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. For her work as an activist, she received the Cultural Freedom Prize awarded by the Lannan Foundation in 2002.