Title: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Author: Arundhati Roy
Publisher: Penguin India
Publication Date: 6 June 2017
Purchase Link: Amazon
Books were my savior through troubled teen years. At a young age, Arundhati Roy’s Man Booker Prize Winner, “The God of Small Things” had a huge impact on me. Hence it was a privilege to receive a signed copy of her latest, “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” as a present for my 30th birthday. Read on to know my thoughts on this book.
The book is a series of connected stories spanning twenty years. A eunuch named Anjum, recovering from the trauma of being in Gujarat during the 2002 communal riots, decides to settle in a graveyard in Delhi, converting it to a haven for lost and abandoned people.
A lonely graphic designer named Tilottama, settles in this graveyard home, to recover from her tumultuous life in war-torn Kashmir in the 90s.
Other minor characters, who live in the graveyard or are connected to its inhabitants, add meat to the main themes of war and government-sanctioned violence.
The author, Arundhati Roy.
Roy has the ability to make prose poetic, and the mundane sinister. It’s a pleasure to read her work. The book glides with an ease that even non-readers would appreciate.
The novel’s subject is relevant and timely. Roy makes no qualms about her political leanings, and honestly articulates what many writers shy away from. Her anguish is expressed in a deeply moving manner, more expressive than most of her contemporaries.
Though disjointed in parts, the myriad stories mingle well when they need to. Her powerful descriptions of people and places bring every character and situation to life. The intense imagery is chilling to the bone. The protagonists are beautifully drawn out, with their complex emotions laid bare. The smaller characters also make an impact.
However, the storyline and plot are disorganized, with too many distinct threads forcefully crammed into 490 pages. Anjum’s bit in Old Delhi is evocative and I can identify with her grief and insecurities. After moving to the graveyard, her voice becomes discordant. The heavy emotional tumult of Anjum’s story leaves one so spent that Tilo’s travails in Kashmir don’t make as much of an impact as they could. At least I couldn’t muster an equal depth of feeling for both. Moreover, pitted with these heavy portions, some of the lighthearted side narratives seem foolish and misplaced.
COMPARISON WITH SACRED GAMES BY VIKRAM CHANDRA:
These tomes shouldn’t be compared as they’re both strong literary works in their own right; but as I read them back-to-back, many comparisons came to mind (read my review of Chandra’s book here and of the TV show ‘Sacred Games’ here). Both authors use common literary devices to carry their readers across time. They give a plethora of historical background through extra chapters and characters.
In this respect, I feel Chandra succeeds over Roy. His extra chapters are distinct and fit in well with the design of his novel, where Roy’s feel forced. Where Chandra’s book is balanced, Roy’s starts on a beautifully high note but peters off towards the end.
As a huge fan, I’m nervous to pass verdict on Roy’s work. Books, like other works of art, are very subjective, and this one didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Some parts of the book could’ve been permanently altered or deleted.
However her splendid writing, well-etched characters and pertinent message make it worth reading. It stands out in the pool of current popular Indian fiction.
I wish every Indian citizen could read certain sections of the book that candidly expose the government’s machinations. Writers like Roy, beacons in these troubled times, need to be widely read and discussed.
Book Rating: 4/5
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