Wednesday, July 12, 2017

#BookReview: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

On the jacket:

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on an intimate journey of many years across the Indian subcontinent, from the cramped neighborhoods of Old Delhi and the roads of the new city, to the mountains and valleys of Kashmir and beyond, where war is peace and peace is war. 

The tale begins with Anjum—who used to be Aftab—unrolling a threadbare Persian carpet in a city graveyard she calls home. We encounter the odd, unforgettable Tilo and the men who loved her, including Musa, sweetheart and ex-sweetheart, lover and ex-lover. Their fates are as entwined as their arms used to be and always will be. We meet Tilo’s landlord, a former suitor, now an intelligence officer posted to Kabul, and then we meet the two Miss Jebeens. The first is a child born in Srinagar and buried in its overcrowded Martyrs’ Graveyard. The second is found at midnight, abandoned on a concrete sidewalk in the heart of New Delhi.

As this ravishing, deeply humane novel braids these lives together, it reinvents what a novel can do and can be. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness demonstrates on every page Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts.

Review:

I had barely entered my teens when I'd laid my hands on The God of Small Things. I will be honest, it didn't make much sense to me. I won't be harsh on myself for not understanding the brilliance of the story, because I'd tried to read it at a wrong time. A decade later, I'd read it again, and the story became a part of my life. I wouldn't say I was impatiently waiting for The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, because all the positive and negative news that had built around it, had left me a tad worried. It's a story - why not read it as one? Then the reviews came and all views were so extreme. That is when I decided I wanted to read this book and find out for myself.
I took a week to read The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and I wouldn't have had it any other way. Because, a story like this needs to be savoured. Also, because there are parts where I could not distinguish between fact and fiction, and needed to take time off from reading.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness begins with talking about Anjum who lived in a graveyard. She was an outcast of the society and the only respectable human interaction she had was with the maulvi who'd come to meet her. The first few chapters tell us about Anjum's life from birth. The third born to her parents, Anjum was born as Aftab and for years her mother had hidden the fact that she was born a transgender, from the world. Long story short, her parents tried a lot to 'cure' her physical situation but Anjum was not to be tied down - she flew the nest and went to live in the House of Dreams and finally sheds the garb of being Aftab. How Anjum reached to a graveyard from the House of Dreams has been told in an engrossing tale.
Anjum is not the only protagonist in the story. A few chapters down, we are introduced to an illegitimate child, Tilo and her relationship with Musa. Shortly after the time these characters in introduced in the story, the plot involves a lot of social-economic-political events and factors which connect fiction with reality. To be honest, this is were I would get slightly confused and even wonder if I should continue but curiosity got the better of me and I crossed this part to reach a beautiful end.
I will not rate the book. Not because I have any biases. But let's be honest, my rating would not affected a book written by someone of Ms Roy's stature. Too much seems to have been said, and lot of it is biased. Ms Roy is an activist and the book shows dark shadows of being written by one, at some stages. At other stages of the story, you can see a wonderful writing traversing through the plot, creating a beautiful and heartwarming tale for you to read. Pick it up with an open mind and see how you interpret The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.



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