The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the second fiction novel written by Arundhati Roy in the span of 20 years since the release of Man Booker award winning The God of Small Things. Much had happened in these 2 decades which, has found a place in her latest novel.
Both her novels were written in the fragmentary style, with narrative jumping back and forth, in present and past, sometimes telling the story in first person and most of the time in third person. But The God of Small Things developed into a mesmerizing and heart wrenching novel, while the same style didn’t suit the storyline of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
The novel started with portraying the life of a transgender Anjum. I just loved the way Arundhati started telling the story of Anjum right from the beginning of her birth. It was fantastic and fabulous to read about the whole Hijara community, with that my own personal perspective about them will never be same again. Arundhati writes in detail about transgender, their life in India and problems faced by them.
Anjum visits Gujarat during that the time of infamous riots of 2002 leaves a devastating impression on her psyche and shatters her to the core. Arundhati was very critical about the role of government and police in the riots. She exposed the ironical side of Modi government and RSS and mindless and merciless killing all in the name of religion.
From here onwards, all together a new story begins with new characters which was about Kashmir and the suffering of its people not only from the hands of militants, but suffering from the hands of military.
The hands, which should protect innocent, military projects them as terrorist to earn recognition and a cash prize from the government. Through the novel, Arundhati has launched a lethal attack on this cruel, less exposed side of military army, which is also one of the reasons why innocent joins militants to avenge atrocities suffered from the hands of the military.
It jolted me from inside. The soldiers whom we revered so much could do such a lowly act. Then how are they different from militants.
The third story was about an abandoned baby girl written in the backdrop of the Maoist struggle in Andhra Pradesh and the brutal and inhuman torture meted out on the captured Maoist. It was the most confusing thread in the book, and half of the time I was not sure where the story is going. But Arundhati Roy irons out everything by the climax. Only a dexterous author like Arundhati can manage to do so.
Individually, each story has been written brilliantly. The sufferings of the characters were heartfelt and heartbreaking. But collectively, they are not related to one another. Arundhati, somehow, connects them with a thin thread. Anjum seems to be an anchor but there is no main story or character in the book.
There were many major characters and threads running around in the novel, all seems to be unrelated. At times it becomes difficult to keep a track. There were end number of minor characters whose story I just skipped reading.
I was emotionally invested in Anjum and her world and was thoroughly enjoying her story, when suddenly out of the blue, the author jumps to the tribal region of Andhra Pradesh and later to Kashmir with new characters and the same old problems. For me transgender part was something new and fresh to read.
Arundhati can’t write a simple story. She needs to incorporate other stuff into her stories. In case of The God Of Small Things she raises many social issues that plagued Kerala in 1970’s. In case of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness she has included many political and religious upheavals whose bloodeness and barbarism has destroyed the life of innocent people, sometimes beyond recovery.
Between the individual stories of the characters, she invested substantial amount of pages writing about the current affairs of India like Lokpal movement 2012, Gujarat riots 2002, Maoist insurgency, Kashmir issues, the Bhopal gas tragedy, etc. Initially it was good to read about these issues but later on it appeared to be tirade of a leftist.
I love the way she referred real people in her fiction like Poet Prime Minister (Atal Bihari Vajpayi), the silent timid Prime Minister(Manmohan Singh), saffron parakeets (RSS), Gujrat ka Lalla (Narendra Modi), Trapped Rabbit’s government (Congress party), old man with gummy Farex- baby smile (Anna Hazare) and the commoner Mr. Aggarwal (Arvind Kejriwal).
But keeping all these things aside, one fact is universal which is Arundhati is a master storyteller and has exceptional power of words, extraordinary expressing skills with words. She is best among our whole Indian lot of authors.
If not for anything, this book could be read for the joy of reading a good literature.
But yes, fans of Arundhati will be little disappointed with The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness as it is no way closer to The God of Small Things.