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Book Review: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

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


Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things was perhaps the first novel by a modern Indian author that I had read. It was the first book I ever bought from College Street and always remained special. The wait for her second fiction was thus a long one. Having been a regular reader of her essays and columns, one can proudly say, you might disagree with her views, but you certainly cannot stop marveling at the manner in which she puts them forth.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a story of people living on the fringes of our society. It is an ode to those who struggle, day in and day out, to survive in this world. It is a saga of resilience, of strife-torn relationships and the hope for a better tomorrow that keeps us going.

Arundhati Roy has the knack of writing the most mundane things in the most picturesque and sensuous way. There is not a moment in this book when you would feel let down. As she herself says, “the air was full of thoughts and things to say. But at times like these, only small things are said. Big things lurk unsaid.” The words, weaved with a magical charm, leave you craving for more. Anjum, Tilottama, Mussa, Miss Jeeben and others become your companion for the time.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the story of Kashmir. It is the story of Dandakaranya. It is the story of Jantar Mantar. It is the story of love. It is the story of longing. It is the story of acceptance. It is a story of lament. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the story of fulfillment.

Of course, Arundhati touches upon contemporary politics of India. From 1984 (in her own words, “how can one not remember 1984) to Gujarat ke Lalla, the Anna andolan to the mass graves and torture camps in Kashmir, she lets her angst flow in words. No, the references are not opinionated like her essays but they do strike a chord. The pain of the father writing a letter to his dead daughter at 4 AM in the morning cannot leave you unhinged. The near-death experience of Anjum in the 2002 riots would certainly leave you rattled.

Conflict is the perfect space for art. Art for the sake of it is meaningless. Arundhati Roy’s writing masters the art of conflict. That is why the unrequited love of Biplab Dasgupta garners a sigh while the love-making of Mussa and Tilottama aboard HS Shaheen transcends into a lament. “In battle, enemies can’t break your spirits. Only friends can” – only Arundhati Roy can inculcate such a profound thought in a dialogue between two lovers after sex.

Roy has the ability to turn even random constructs into deep, melancholic pronouncements. Who else could have defined a relationship as “He knew that she knew that he knew that she knew. That’s how it was between them”. Who else can have the conviction to say, “In Kashmir, the dead will live for ever; and the living are only dead people, pretending.” In fact, I am sure anyone reading this books would go over the portions of ‘The Reader’s Digest Book of English Grammar and Comprehension for Very Young Children’ again and again just so the words sink in!

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is thus an experience you wish never ended. For a society that chooses to gloss over those who do not fit in, this book is cathartic.

My Rating: 5/5 stars

Book Review: Inside Chanakya’s Mind by Radhakrishnan Pillai

Chanakya is undoubtedly one of the most venerated thinkers, philosopher and political strategists from ancient India. His shrewd political maneuvering, war tactics and vast knowledge of governance has been recorded in history in golden letters. Undoubtedly, it would be of immense interest for an enthusiast of history to get a glimpse into how the mind of this great man worked.

Chanakya is best known for ‘Arthashastra’ or his book of Economics. Although, there were many Arthashastra before Chanakya wrote his own, his book is now being considered an expert document on politics, economics, warfare, and a text that relates to governance, leadership and strategy. It is also a book on law, foreign policy, international relations and how to rule a kingdom.

In this book by Radhakrishnan Pillai, we are taught how the philosophy underlined in Arthashastra can make us better thinkers, thus bettering our skills for problem-solving and management. It is aimed at the masses; thus the language of the book is simple and laden with examples and anecdotes. It is almost like reading a text book prescribed for a course in critical thinking.

The author introduces us to the concept of ‘Aanvikshiki’ – the science of strategic thinking. The first and opening chapter of Kautilya’s Arthashastra talks about Aanvikshiki and its importance. This would certainly open a new horizon in philosophy for readers.

Thinking is an essential part of our daily lives. From school assignments to office projects, we are often asked to think hard. But nobody has ever told us how to think. Weird, isn’t it? Thorugh ‘Aanvikshiki’ Pillai tries to do just that. The author has categorised the art of thinking into six divisions and taken us through each one of them in great details with examples and quotes from Chanakya’s Arthashastra.

To sum up, Chanakya’s teachings, which helped Chandragupta run an empire, will surely come in handy for us in managing a corporate office. Radhakrishnan Pillai has illustrated how an ancient text can help us become better human beings.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

P.S. This book was received as part of the Flipkart Bloggers’ Affiliate Programme

DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights

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