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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

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This book is about Old-Delhi, hijras, hyper-nationalism, caste discrimination. This book is also about Kashmir. About the insurgency, rise and fall of militancy. The book is also about the protests at Jantar Mantar. Eventually, the book ushers you to the forests of Central India and becomes about the Maoist movement too. Each story is interrelated, and at the same time very far from each other. Very discreet. Very incoherent. Here we deal with Indian fault lines. A world where ‘normalcy is declared.’

“How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.”

And here I attempt to summarise a shattered story. The book starts with Anjum– who was once Aftab– and her life in a graveyard. Later, one night around midnight, on the pavement of a protest site near Jantar Mantar, a baby was found. A mysterious woman appears and takes the baby away. That unfolds the series of questions. Whispers, and shouts. Stories from the multi-faceted society i.e. India, predominantly Kashmir unravels in front of us. Arundhati Roy, quite remarkably, is an author full of original ideas. Her descriptions of situations and scenarios make me cry in anger. ‘How can she think of something like this?’

While describing how Anjum has started living in the graveyard, she writes, ‘she lived in the graveyard like a tree.’ While describing Musa, one of the book’s characters, leaving his family in Kashmir, she writes, ‘ Thus began his life underground. A life that lasted precisely nine months – like a pregnancy. Except that in a manner of speaking at least, its consequence was opposite of a pregnancy. It ended in a kind of death, instead of a kind of life.’

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The section based in Kashmir is roaring to be heard. To pierce your understanding of this state which rules this diverse nation. And many more. Her narrative is brutal, consistent- mostly forced, but never confusing. This book reaffirms the charm, and charisma of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gift. After a gap of almost 20 years, since her debut-booker prize winner The God of Small Things, she published this book in 2017. We waited so long for her fiction, satisfying ourselves by reading her acclaimed non-fiction about resistance in Kashmir, in the forest of Central India, against the policies of the state and many more. Somehow all these non-fictions became a crucial substance or backbone of her latest publication.

This is an ambitious book. The book attempts to talk about the marginalised. In a country full of marginalised, and oppressed, who do you make the protagonist? The circumstances, and conflicts that have defined the nation, how do you talk about them? That’s when you form a ministry. A congress of people who have been wronged by history. By their past, and present. People who are fragile as glass, but will not succumb. Even a few who succumb are martyrs, not dead. This ministry makes a world of its own. Quite literally, a ‘Duniya’. With only one fathomable task, not let the world wrong anyone else. A Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

The book writes, “Nietzsche believed that if Pity were to become the core of ethics, misery would become contagious and happiness an object of suspicion.”

However flawed, this story is a compilation of those small stories. Small wins of the marginalised that are never accounted for. They are tiny. Because we pity them. Not acknowledge their existence. These are the stories we privileged are born: ‘not to listen’. If we listen, then we are wired to forget. Eduardo Galeano, whom Roy called her twin, wrote ‘the world, which is the private property of a few, suffers from amnesia’. This book which is devoted ‘to the unconsoled’ is an act against amnesia. An act against forgetting.

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Written By Rajeev. He likes to know about human experiences and the evolution of society. And, if you don’t find him reading a book then, you’d find him watching a film.

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