By Satya Vaishnav, SY BBA LLB Div. E
‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ is the second fiction novel by Arundhati Roy released after 20 years of ‘The God of Small Things.’ The book covers many topics, such as the Godhra attack, and the story also focuses on Kashmir. The common issues that India faced during the Independence era are highlighted. Even today, we can see these issues inflicting in democratic India, which somewhere down the line can be seen as playing the role of a catalyst in the current ongoing problems such as gender rights, casteism, and racism. The book starts with Anjum, an Indian transgender woman who was christened Aftab by her parents, but who chose a different path for herself, and hence became a celebrated transgender person. This part of the book also focuses on many unique details, such as how the birth of a transgender person is not celebrated, unlike the birth of a boy or a girl.
Even the mother of Aftab, later named Anjum, prays about Aftab being a boy or changing into one by a miracle. Small facts like how the partition affected them and their dynamics are explained in detail; the author gives one such example about rooh-afza, a popular drink from the pre-partition era. Even today, rooh-afza is sold in our markets. The novel also comprises a few Urdu couplets, which gives us a look into the culture that the character Anjum has come from.
The book also focuses on different cultures and issues related to them. The second character introduced in the book is Tilo, who is an enigma for everyone around her. She does not have any caste, past, or family; she is portrayed as a mysterious woman. Everybody around her knows bits and pieces about her life, but nobody knows the entire truth about her. The locations keep on changing throughout the whole book as we can see simultaneous stories taking place. Anjum’s story takes place in Delhi, whereas Tilo’s story takes place in Delhi and Kashmir separately.
Events in India, political events such as the Godhra riots, and a few events in Kashmir are highlighted. We can assume that many things are happening simultaneously in this book, which might confuse the reader, as there are many subplots. Then, the book moves towards a baby abandoned on the platform pavement, and there happens to be Anjum, who has been yearning to be a mother long since, but due to biological reasons, who cannot be a mother.
So when she sees the baby, she desires to pick it up and nurture it as she knows that if the child is handed over to the government authorities, it will not be given the amount of care and nurturing needed. However, this does not happen, and Tilo, in between the crowd, picks up the baby and disappears. The author’s voice is pretty prominent. As this has been narrated by Arundhati Roy, although every character has been given their own voice according to roles that they are playing in the story, Arundhati Roy’s opinions are seen now and then pretty prominently.
There are different characters in the book, and the first character introduced is Anjum, whose parents wanted her to grow up as a boy, but she was fascinated by the transgender lifestyle. She chooses to live her life on her own terms and rejects her parent’s judgments; the character is written beautifully because Anjum exhibits the quality of not justifying herself to anyone for her own choices, which makes the readers all the more attracted to this character. The character of Tilo is a mysterious one, and she lives her life on her own terms without letting people in on her life and choices unnecessarily. Then, there are three men shown who love Tilo, but these men have moved on in their respective lives, as Tilo settles for none of them. There are more characters in this book which are related to Anjum and Tilo. In Anjum’s life, there is Saddam Hussain, who is a guest at Jannat house. Saddam Hussain does odd jobs such as being a bus conductor, newspaper seller, etc. His original name is not Saddam Hussain, but he has made this identity for himself. In Tilo’s life, there are three men– Musa Yewsi, Nagaraj Hariharan, and Biplab Hari Gupta.
This book comprises a political view through fiction, which is one of its most beautiful parts. The book’s writing style is notable as each character has been given a unique culture, views, and opinions. The differences between the characters make us think and perceive the different cultures that we possess as a country. This book might be challenging to read for beginners because the plots, subplots, and changing locations make it difficult to comprehend and connect with the entire story. My conclusion on this book is that it is definitely a good book– with many topics about the Independence era covered and many other events that have been highlighted, which certainly increases the readers’ knowledge. It would be a great read to explore a few historical events through fiction. In addition, Arundhati Roy’s opinions are also channeled through each character. It is a must-read.