How to tell a shattered story?
By slowly becoming everybody?
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 Issue. I 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.