I was only a little taller than a table, just about enough to look without having to stand on my toes. It was then, during an exhibition, that I saw a book, one with a green cover and a little flower. It looked striking against the many books with big words on their covers. And I had read the book being raved and reviewed in the newspapers as well. I asked if I could buy it, but I was told to wait a few more years to read that sort of book. So I grew taller and one day read The God of Small Things.
And now, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is out, Arundhati Roy’s second novel. Twenty years seem to be a very long time considering some authors who go on spinning tales at an exhausting frequency. In this case, Ms Roy can be excused for she has been very busy during this time.
When The God of Small Things won the Booker Prize, it was perhaps an astonishing thing for that book, at that time, given that author. And Ms Roy was nonchalant enough to go with the flow.
“She came to see fame much like a tin can trailing noisily behind her wherever she went: eventually, it would drop off and she would then write some “worstsellers” and eat mangoes in the moonlight.”(source)
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness begins with the story of Anjum who was born Aftab, a child with born with both male and female parts. Anjum takes you along as she sashays down the streets of Delhi, holding your attention in the palm of her hand. Just when you are sure this is a book about her, the text changes. It includes issues, characters and plots that come and go as they will. It was basically a revolving door that spins and spins for years and years.
It all makes sense in a way. This book is Ms Roy’s work of fiction after a considerable amount of time. And fiction is, in a way, loosely based on facts. This works itself into The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, where we have a little bit of everything from the Bhopal Gas Tragedy to the most recent Cow Vigilante episodes. These are in a way her telling of what has happened in our country. And no, one can’t take offence to anything written!
There is also the vague feeling of being a remote controlled drone in the hands of the author. She gives us a closer view of some of her characters and their lives. While sometimes we are just looming high above, just catching a glimpse of someone in glittering clothes or a grave crime being committed against a person or mankind!
Where Ammu and Velutha, Rahel and Estha had quietly wormed their way into my heart, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’s many, many characters were like a circus to me. I didn’t know who to hold onto and who to hate. The God of Small Things was a crisp and vibrant 30 piece puzzle with its limited characters, substantial plot and writing. With The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, it is like Arundhati Roy gave us a puzzle with 3000 pieces and a black & white one at that. Perhaps, this is her taking on the reading community as a whole. Waving her defiance at the world and waiting for us to rubbish her book or waiting for us to put it on a pedestal and revere it. She does it in her usual style with a well-written book. Love it or hate it – that’s up to the reader.
I had finished reading The Ministry of Utmost Happiness over a day ago. Yet as I sit here to write a review, there are some things that aren’t too clear to me. While I hate the confusion that exists, I love that this book has managed to create that confusion. How should I review a book that’s so alike its author???
If you want a better review of the story, you may find it online. But I will just leave this post with encouraging you to read The God of Small Things first before you read The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, if you haven’t read either. If you already have, I would recommend The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, only if you have plenty of time. This book is not one which can be read in one sitting. Spend time with it, court it. That way, you are left with a warm buzzing and heartache.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars