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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 – Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy

sleeping-on-jupiter-1100x1100-imae5zynqxfmbxsrIt was one of those afternoon escapades at Starmark the intriguing blue cover of ‘Sleeping on Jupiter’ first caught my attention. On seeing a Bengali name as the author, my interest increased and I browsed through the pages. The next few visits to the bookstore would only be spent reading Anuradha Roy’s heart-wrenching, lyrical masterpiece which has now been long-listed for Man Booker Prize, 2015.

‘Sleeping on Jupiter’ is the story of the Nomi, born in India but adopted and raised by a foster-mother in Oslo. Nomi has returned to India to visit Jarmuli, a small temple-town on the banks of Bay of Bengal, in search of her past. She is seeking closure.

The narrative begins when Nomi was six or seven, in the years after the war when she was separated from her family and was taken to an ashram. Hopping from past to present, Anuradha brilliantly sketches a tale of violence and abuse that young Nomi had undergone in the ashram.

Then there is the trip of Vidya, Gauri and Latika – three friends in their 60s. “Three old biddies from Calcutta”, a hotel manager describes them. The narrative also introduces us to Suraj, who works as a liaison person for a TV channel and has his share of ambitions as well. There’s also Badal, a street-smart temple guide who is essential in the plot.

Anuradha Roy’s vivid sketch of the characters will make them lively for the reader. Whether it is the predatory Guruji or the brutal scenes of child sexual abuse, the words strike directly at your heart. The picturesque description of the quaint town of Jarmuli also strikes a chord.

The precision of writing, striking prose and the earthy, humane narrative make this book stand out. The author’s exquisite eloquence and evocative writing makes a simple story much more precious. ‘Sleeping on Jupiter’ is truly representative of modern India and the associated hypocrisies of our society.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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

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