Title: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Author: Arundhati Roy
Dizzy, peripheral, inverted, infatuated, insomniac, star-gazing, fat (and fat it is): What kind of a book is this?
Okay, I did not think up that sentence, it was Ahmed. But it would be a shame if you did not read Arundhati Roy’s new book keeping the works of Rushdie in mind. Sir Salman Rushdie, I mean.
It’s been a while since Roy did some real writing, you’d be told. After all, it was in 1997 that her debut novel ‘The God of Small Things’ won the Booker. And 20 years later we have ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.’
But, let’s see Roy’s work in context. For Indian authors writing in English to be taken seriously, it all started with Mulk Raj Anand or RK Narayan or Raja Rao or GV Desani (All About H Hatter), you’d say. Right, and wrong.
It all started with VS Naipaul, really. That man put Indian authors writing in English on the world map.
And the great Sir Vidiya has said since the age of 11 that he wanted to be an author, a writer of fiction, he thought “it was the noblest thing to be.” He has taken that ambition to its most glorious eventuality: He won the literature Nobel in 2001. But on the way, he made an interesting discovery. Writing a narrative, a travel book or a book of history can, also, be art — and art of the highest form.(The Nobel committee to doesn’t disagree. They awarded the Literature Nobel to Svetlana Alexievich in 2015 for her reportage, for documentation, it must be remembered.But, we are digressing…)
Roy, the woman who is worshipped in the West as a saint, is seen sometimes as the devil’s advocate in this country. She has written a lot between the two novels and has written beautifully (though you could disagree with what she advocates if you are on the other side). She is all about the beauty of the language that we all love, the language that once ruled the world — that wonderful, wonderful language that is English. And she has no peer on this front. She writes simply blissful sentences.
We must remember that she is the first among Indians who reside in India to win the Booker. (And what a book it is!) As far as the new novel is concerned, it generated interest even before it hit the stands, is what ‘India Today’ has called the literary event of the year.
And, what a book this is! It is one story and not just one story (a mix of several stories, with a thread stitching them together). It’s a novel and not just a novel (also a political discourse and a short history of contemporary India, told imaginatively). It’s a story of Anjum and a story of Aftab. Of ties that bind. And of Tilottama, and the three men who love her.
It’s also a discourse on Kashmir, the Naxalites, the rich and the poor, a book of different religions, of cruelty and of kindness. Of the ruthlessness of the powerful, of the desperation of those who have strayed.
But, eventually, in the end, it is a story of love triumphing over hate, of that glorious thing that resides in our hearts: Hope. That whatever the condition, ‘we will overcome’. That love conquers all. That it is abiding. That for humans, despite the severe metamorphoses down the ages that we call evolution (and many revolutions later…), there is such a thing called tenderness that triumphs. That humans are still human. That we can envelop each other, that we can be the balm (to the ones that need us, value us), that sooths all, that a nightmare or a “daymare” can be dispelled by a touch, a look, a smile.
That, India — ah! India, the land of a million mutinies, now — has been a melting pot of various cultures, that India has been host to one and all. We are a messy lot today, with all our disagreements. In fact, not just India, but the world, or what Roy calls ‘Duniya’. But that God of all things, the human heart, can nurture hope and conquer all… with love.
That, and in this book Roy acknowledges her debt to Gabo (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel 1982, the master story-teller who wrote about love, and other demons), her book is living testimony to the fact that races condemned to 100 years of solitude will have another, and yet another, and yet another,chance on earth.
Pick up this luminous book. It is as honestly written as a heartbeat. A simple story, simply told. Happy reading!