The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Arundhati Roy.
I just finished reading “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”, wasn’t an easy read as I expected it to be after reading her first “The God of Small Things” not so long ago. But the first thing I did after finishing the book is to Google it to know which category the book is falling on – Fiction or Non Fiction? Biography? or based on real incidences etc, as fortunately or unfortunately as per me it qualifies for any or all of them and worthy of a superb applaud at least from us Indians. Unfortunately the opinions will differ big time on this as she has made herself a “Queen of Controversies” in last two decades surely for her opinions as well as her political stand. Still this is a perfect book coming out at the right time showing the society a mirror of sorts. There will be three types of opinion on this I believe. First will be those will love it (like me) as it shows us a true picture of our own society and ourselves what we do or how we live in today’s time. Second will be those whose conscious will accept it but they will deny it, negate it, shoot it down and will call it crap. But the most interesting opinion will be of those third type of people who wont read it for what Ms. Roy is all about but will base their opinion based on the opinion of the Second category of people and will shun it. I will not be shocked if she not only gets the Booker for this as she just got nominated but if the book gets banned also in our part of the world. Whatever said and done, I will definitely applaud the effort big time and will recommend it very highly to everyone.
The entire story revolves around three main characters. A Transgender Anjum (born as Aftab), An Architect Tilottama (Roy herself, may be?) and Musa (Tilo’s love interest) a Freedom Fighter for Kashmir. Starts from the galiyan of Old Delhi and goes up-to J&K back and forth through these characters and their intertwined lives with so much happening in India in the background. Starting from early 80’s Bhopal Gas Tragedy to Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her own security guards, making of the then CM of Gujrat Narendra Modi (Gujrat’s Lalla as she calls him throughout), Godhra Tragedy, Anna Hazare movement, Hilarious and equally heart touching scenes at famous “Jantar Matar” in Delhi to the turmoil in Jammu Kashmir, Naxalite movement and of-course a plethora of Rape, Killings, Terrorism, Army brutality and loss of life in general, she hasn’t left anything at all. It almost covers everything that we have seen or say ignored in the last three decades of our life. In between all those episodes we have the heart touching story of Anjum who herself leaves her own family to live a life of a recluse in a graveyard where only those are buried who have nowhere else to go. How she lives with a handful of people out there and still they have something to cherish and live about is totally awesome, but the language is on your face (not cringe worthy for sure) but shocking giving it a totally real feel as how it is indeed, you just cant deny that. Tilottama’s story, her IB connection, husband that she leaves, a lover that she goes around with, her Kashmir visit and experience, the life that she sees up close and personal is totally terrific. If you have ever visited the valley in last decade or so and lived there even briefly, I found it too close to reality.
As I said it is not an easy read, the story keeps going back n forth making it further tough for the reader to keep a track of it. The way it moves from one episode of Anjum’s life and times in Delhi to Tilo’s life and activities to Musa’s life in Kashmir, I kept wondering how it all is going to end and is there going to be a solution offered by the book or will it end on a gloomy note. You’ve got to read it to know how it ends (not a thriller) but has a perfect open ending with no solution offered. One that made me not only agree but will certainly make everyone think harder where it all is going. The entire book is like Ms. Roy’s ranting of so many things going around in the country that she kept taking the notes on various pages of her diary(s) and clubbed them all together to make a book and story, still it works and works big time. Although I haven’t read the other books nominated for Booker this year, call me a biased Indian too but I seriously wish she gets it and the book gets a wider International audience too. Not that its going to help us as a country anyways, like she accepts and confirms where we are heading and what will be the final outcome as per her prediction.
But its a must must read for all. A perfect eye opener. Do read, criticize later.