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