October 3, 2022

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: Thread of Narratives

Where do old birds go to die? Do they fall on us like stones from the sky? Do we stumble on their bodies in the streets? Do you not think that the All-Seeing, Almighty One who put us on this Earth has made proper arrangements to take us away?

I am from that generation who first read the name of Arundhati Roy in GK’s book. Later in graduation, my teacher gave me Roy’s book ‘The good of small thing’ to read. From that time, I took interest in Roy and her writings. And when I found her new book ‘the ministry of utmost happiness’ in a book fair of my university I grabbed it.

‘The ministry of utmost happiness’ is not a simple story which would tell about some issue but it is a combination of many narratives and these narratives are told through two main characters ‘Anjum’ who appears first and last in the book and ‘Tilo’ who is introduced in the middle of the book and remains to the last.

There are basically two plots in this book. The first one tells the story of anjum and other one of Tilo.

When we open the book and start reading, it looks like the story of a eunuch ‘Anjum’, who is living in the graveyard after abandoning the whole world behind her, the world that made fun of her and disturbed her and hater her, soon she was joined with a boy ‘Saddam Hussain’, whose ‘chamar’ father was lynched by a mob, therefore, he had nowhere to go. Through the story of anjum, readers know about Delhi, difference between old Delhi and south Delhi, movements that took place in Delhi, conditions of Muslims in Delhi and across India, 2002 Gujrat riots, transgenders’ lives, and their status in the current society and during Mughal period, the prejudice and attitude of society towards transgender people.

Almost in the middle of the book, with the introduction of ‘the landlord’ biplab das gupta, we are introduced with his tenant ‘Tilo’, Tilo’s story takes us to the ‘India’s struggle’ in Kashmir, and then we go to south India and take the note of Syrian Christians (Tilo’s actual religion) and again come back to Kashmir and at last in Delhi.

At the end (as I was expecting) through a letter, we also read the chilling stories of the people who are fighting in the forests of central India. (Naxal movement)

Author unleashed the problems of society very mercilessly, she put detailed descriptions of almost everything related to that thing which she is talking about. When we read about the graveyard and hospital near to that graveyard, we also read the smack addicts who huddle on the knolls of hospital waste in a sea of old bandage and used syringe and also homeless people who cook near the graveyard.

 “on the last of those visits we sat by Mirza Ghalib’s grave, in a pool of beedi and cigarette stubs, surrounded by the spectacular cripples, lepers, vagrants and freaks who accumulate around holy places in India…”

A good amount of book is dedicated to the ‘freedom struggle of kashmir’ and atrocities of militants and Indian army in the Kashmir. As an ‘educated’ north Indian, who lives near to Delhi, I almost knew the conditions of people in north India, historical incidents and movements (both bad or good), major or minor problems of society, even the conditions of people in central India (thanks to a lecture of an activist which I attended in my university), although I also knew the things in Kashmir but this book deepened that knowledge and presented to us the poor and miserable conditions of common people of Kashmiris, who are just the grass in the fight of two big elephants (militants and army).

Their banner said:

The story of Kashmir,

DEAD= 68,000,

DISAPPEARED= 10,000,

Is this Democracy or Demon crazy?

When something happens in Kashmir, newspaper publishes the news on front page, but mostly people think that it is everyday thing in Kashmir. But after reading this book, we somehow learn the theory of the Kashmir and start to take the interest (or concern) to the situation of Kashmir.

It was long-awaited book of Arundhati Roy which she published after 20 years from the publication of her first best-selling book ‘the god of small thing’, but as I read reviews at ‘good reads’ before reading this book, most people didn’t find this book interesting and could not understand (mostly foreigners). They may be right because only those people could understand this book who know the Indian politics, Indian movements, Indian’s problems already. Author narrated those incidents indirectly. She used the word ‘gujrat ka lalla’ for modi, and ‘Mr. Aggarwal’ for ‘Arvind kejriwal’.

This book is a chronicle of free India’s wounds. And through the stories of characters, author narrates those wounds. This book has references of almost all major happening of free India through the partition to the present government. The book did not include the pure political events but narrated those events which affected the society and common poor people very much. Partition, 1984 Sikh riot, Bhopal gas leak case, Gujrat riots, Kashmir problem, Sikh insurgency in Indira’s time, Narendra Modi’s political campaign to prime minister post, Naxal movement and other societal aspects like Muslim and transgender’s conditions and their problem, the conditions of Hindu lower caste, (especially mentioned Una’s incident) status of female in poor India, north Indian’s prejudice towards south Indian people, living conditions of prostitutes, all are threaded in the book.

As I said above, only those people can develop interest in the story of this book who know above mentioned things. This book may not be interesting to the people who know these things already and the foreigners who don’t know most of the things but this book will be a good asset to coming generation who will want to read about miserable lives of the people who suffered from the time of partition till this time with many problems either caused by government or the people of society. This book is really a deep-peep of Indian society (mostly north India).

This article is written by Arshi hayat Gnagohi. She is a lawyer, blogger at ababeelfolks and writes on laws, culture, books, cinema, food and literature.