Book Review | The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

Author: Arundhati Roy

Review By: Rashid J. Ahmed

I was familiar with the name of Arundhati Roy due to her first novel and her TV talks, but the study of this novel has made it easier to understand the writer’s thinking. This woman surely is an intelligent and angry observer.

Skimming through the novel at first, I understood that it was about Kashmir and I expected it to narrate the beauty of Kashmir Valley, counting the tallest towers, sitting under the palm trees, floating boats on the lakes; a journey full of happiness from all aspects. However, the reality is quite the opposite.

Here the rage is running on each page, and every other line is linked to the unfair blood of humans. Many pages are tied up with acts of violence and most of the words are more than unhappy.

The novel hooked me right from the beginning. The surgical process of social and social behavior begins with the opening of the novel and when you reach this operation theater, you understand that it is not a mere surgeon, doing a regular surgery.

This is another kind of surgery. This surgeon is going to extremes to save the life of his patient -India. This surgeon tries to reduce the discomfort of life at the least, if saving the life is almost impossible.

Arundhati writes that the apparently normal conditions in our society are in fact, a soft and fragile state of affairs. Similar to a white membrane hiding the fertility of the cancer in the center, this peaceful state is hiding extremism and narrow mindedness at its base.

Such a sick society can never be expected to remain healthy and before long another wave of massacre will be released into the society.

The novel has been painted with expertise and elegance, keeping India’s religious, political, social, economic, and geographical life on a magnanimous canvas.

The novel is a historical document beyond doubt. In this novel, author wrote about Indira Gandhi’s emergency, death of thousands of ordinary people during carbide gas emissions in Bhopal, (and survivors with charred eyes and lungs), Sikh’s massacre, the attempt to rebuild Babri Masjid and Ram temple, then the Indian brand of 9/11, cash riots, the ancestors of Anna Hazare and the birth of the common man party, the globalization and terror, Glover’s globalization views, hollow growth of shiny India, pollution of Delhi, Muslim’s massacre, —– in Kashmir, war against the innocent Kashmiris, Fueled Separation Movement in the forest, Modi’s journey to the Prime Minister’s saddle, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s priorities and its impact on the society, and the issues that may cause you your life if you try to raise them.

Viewing this situation of India and Kashmir’s current situation with such clarity, it’s evident that the eyes, ears, tongues, hearts, and minds of the writers are different from ordinary people. The ordinary viewer will only see the wall, but the writer can see the deteriorated interior, melted paint, weak foundation, the hidden truths and what not! Arundhati has a powerful knack for research.

What is going on in Kashmir and who is pulling the strings? How is the Indian Government, intelligence agencies, security forces, and various groups of Mujahideen, common citizens, prisons, agents, double agents, and stake holders shaking Kashmir’s paradise; all have been discussed without any discretion.

She has criticized the idiotic policies of India about Kashmir. Undoubtedly, Kashmir’s situation has never been narrated such openly before as it has been elaborated in this novel.I am astonished at the fact, that this novel got successfully published in India.

Writers are always a righteous conscious of their society and their words of criticism make way for betterment. Such a writer is Arundhati Roy.

She is the voice of the silent, exploited majority who are unaware of their rights. Absence of such voice would mean to give a free hand to sundry exploiters of the society. Voices like hers, become compulsory for a healthy nation.

The novel presents a dynamic picture of the continued war in Kashmir, the abuses made by the government of India, the Maoist separatist’s movement,the murder of Indira Gandhi in 1984 by Sikhs, treatment of Sikhs in Indian Punjab, caste disasters in the caste system, taking away the basic rights of humans, corruption, the global and Indian version of global terrorism, Narendra Modi’s vision, Indian anti-Jinnah party activities, anti-Muslim wrath, Janta party’s preaching and its effects, social disorders, the non-tolerant society, and many more. These are narrated in such a cut-off style and have been so well argued that the whole picture is in front of the reader.

The author named this word as a graveyard where Anjum (the main character) has set a Janat Guest House for the deprived. This is the place where a human is treated as a human irrespective of his caste, breed or religion. Arundhati Roy concludes that to live in a cemetery is more comfortable than to live in the Indian society.

Female unity is seen in the art of characterization. The role of the character, whether it is of four lines or four pages, is well described and well organized. Every word, paints the role of the character well and in details.

The first character introduced by the novel is Aftab, (Anjum or Anjaman,) born in a Muslim house in the Shah Jehanabad city and becomes a person that is not given respect in society as he/she is a transgender and faces identity crisis. Apart from Anjum, there are many characters like Jamaat Ali, Zainab, Nemo Gorkhpuri, Kalsum B, Saddam Hussain, ( a Dalit) Tilotma and Musa; another book is required to tell stories of each one in detail.

In the world of Arundhati Roy, the walls talk, the streets shout, the city sparks, the heat sticks, the sun keeps walking, crocodiles meet and weathers tell stories. During the course of the novel, you often feel reading an interesting story in a society magazine in a journalistic language but suddenly it eats you up and you find a bitter taste in your mouth.

The Janat Guest House in the graveyard is a symbolic description of the present situation in Kashmir.

On one side, it is a love story and on the other side it is a tragic story of destruction. There is a story of such areas in Indian jurisdiction where peace is at war. It is not a typical novel or written by a typical writer; it is a present-day history. Arundhati Roy has not only thrown stones but also jumped in the junk of prohibitions. The theme of the novel stresses the lack of happiness among the living and the happiness in this society can only be found in the city of dead.

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January 2022