“Normality in our world is a bit like a boiled egg: its humdrum surface conceals at its heart the yolk of egregious violence.” -Roy
Arundhati Roy’s second book, “Ministry of Utmost Happiness” explores the idea of the defined and the undefined. Offering a more politically inclined narrative than her previous work, “God of Small Things”, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is almost an ode to the views and opinions Roy has garnered through her experience grappling with political activism. Her starkly realistic treatment of the subject matter was in an odd way refreshing. Roy’s lyrical command over language accentuated her discussion and description of the urban landscape. In an effortless manner, she is able to capture the essence and the underlying nostalgic pain as one engages with the urban landscape of the subcontinent. Although this book describes Delhi, there is a strong resemblance with the city of Karachi and perhaps Lahore. Perhaps the strong resonance of the subcontinental discourse and the relatable descriptions make this book such a great experience to read!
The book explores two predominant narratives, one of Anjum; a hijra, struggling to survive in Delhi while trying to gratify her strong maternal instinct and the other of Tilo, an architect turned activist without a history. Although the two stories are told simultaneously, the non-linear sequence of events never convincingly tied together. Despite the fact that the story is centered around these two narratives, the book feels like a collection of short stories because it is full of many characters who are craftily braided together to form a whole picture as the individuals mirror narratives of the marginalized in India. We see the representation of Muslims, the queer, the missing and the murdered, the dying and the dead. We encounter the effects of the Gujarat Massacre, the Bhopal disaster, the Sikh Genocide, the lynching of cow killers, the rise of “Gujarat Ka Lalla” (rumoured to be based on Modi). We also venture into Kashmir, the guerilla warfare, the duplicity of the police and the violence. Just about every resistance movement pertaining to India is highlighted in this book. Despite the grave subject matter, through her elasticity of language, Roy seems to tie all the unbridled characters together in an undeliberate manner.
What is immaculate about this book is that it is just extremely honest, Roy wastes no time trying to sugarcoat the realities that underpin South Asian culture. There are no pretenses, the developments through out the book, its non-sequential unfolding all seem to mirror the reality and unplanned nature of life. ‘How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.’ Through out the book it is apparent that this is the intention of the book, Roy has become everybody and everything as she delves into the multi-faceted milieu that characterizes south Asia.
This book is definitely not a light read, it is emotionally trying as it engages with many of real problems that we as citizens of the subcontinent face. The depth of the this book is absolutely amazing! Reading ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ gave me fodder for thought, made me question my identity and see the world in a different way. This may sound intimidating but Roy’s beautiful style of writing and her ability to illicit experiences with her worlds is almost unparalled and the nurturing way in which she treats words makes what is in reality a very weighty story a lot easier to digest- so if you’re looking for a book with depth that will garner introspection, this book is highly recommended!