ThoughtsFromBooks: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

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How to tell a shattered story?

By slowly becoming everybody?

No.

By slowly becoming everything.

I picked up ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ without reading the back cover blurb, or really anything about it (including the reviews). From my casual forays into the bookish side of the internet I had gathered that this was a political book about political upheavals written by an author embroiled in many high-profile controversies because of her political statements. I was, therefore, expecting a book on one of the hot-topics of the despicable, despair-engendering circus that is Indian Politics. What I wasn’t expecting was a book on all of them.

The story starts off with the life of a trans Muslim in Delhi, dips its toes into the bloodied waters of 2002 Gujarat, rushes into the anti-corruption crusade of 2011, makes a sudden shift to the chaos in Kashmir and ends with a tart account on the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency in Central India. Holding it all together is a house in a graveyard, and Roy’s riveting voice which braids words into crowded Delhi streets as seamlessly as it does into valleys of Kashmir or forests of Central India. The writing, detached from the plot or the characters, is an experience in itself.

That being said, the various storylines and the competing conflicts cause the characters to fade into the background and the setting of the story to take centre stage. The stories become not as much about the protagonists as about The IssueI had heard that TMoUH was a conglomeration of Roy’s essays: essentially, an ideological book masquerading as fiction. I found this to be true, but not really upsetting. There are pages upon pages of social commentary delivered in a style which is simultaneously unimpassioned (in that it sometimes reads as an indifferent news report) and yet extremely evocative; a history lesson, in a manner of speaking.

TMoUH is a book about many things — too many things if I’m being honest. It is about Kashmir, about Gujarat, about Old Delhi and new Delhi. It is about India trudging toward modernity, whilst crumbling under the weight of her own past, present and future. Underneath it all, I think, it is about suffering, and finding happiness despite it. And in some strange way, inspite or maybe even because of paragraphs upon paragraphs of despair, it is about hope.

I’m sure this book has made a lot of people very angry but I’m also sure it has done justice to a narrative that is scorned by self-proclaimed nationalists in today’s political climate.

Would I have liked to read independent fleshed-out versions of all the stories contained within this novel? Yes.

Am I still happy that it exists, in whatever form? Again, yes. Yes I am.

Until next time.

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “ThoughtsFromBooks: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

  1. Yes, but did you like the book? I agree with your views, the book was impassioned. The many translations she has done shows the amount of work put into it, but at the same time, I feel it can be quite tiring to go through it all. Also, the story does seem to go into the background at times and is overshadowed by the politics, but then the appearances of the storyline makes the reader yearn to know more of their lives too. But I liked it.

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    1. I liked it especially the crispness of her voice. But I didn’t “oh-my-God-dying loved” it. The protagonists were one dimensional and the antagonists as well. I was pretty happy when Garson’s character started off with a “rightist view” but it all got lost somewhere on the way.
      But still, there are a lot of things that need to be said that are said in the book and I would love to read longer fictional works of each of the mini-tales.

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      1. Have you ever read Chanakya’s Chant by Ashwin Sanghi? It’s nice, revolves around political manipulations from the past and the present, all fictional ofcourse. But at the same time you can still feel the amateurish nature of writing without hating it. It was recommended to me by a friend, it’s okay. That’s the last book I read. But since I joined work this month, I haven’t had the time to read any more..

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