Monday, July 17, 2017

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness [2017]

Arundhati Roy became a darling of the literary circuit with her Man Booker Prize-winning debut novel The God of Small Things; who would have thought that the world would have to wait 20 long years for her next novel! Angry, melancholic, heartbreaking, provocative, darkly funny, ironic, lyrical, magical, confrontational, sassy, freewheeling – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a dizzyingly brilliant book, an enthralling read, and, like a heady cocktail, both uplifting and debilitating. Sprawling in scope, formally audacious, politically daring and achingly personal, one gets an immediate sense that her long and deep association with political activism – protesting against governmental overreach and rampaging capitalism, and fighting for the faceless and the voiceless – crystallized into this unapologetically polemical and undeniably powerful work. Though populated with an incredible array of idiosyncratic people residing largely outside the mainstream, the book was centered on 2 marvelous characters – Anjum, a transgender woman (referred to in India by the pejorative, gender-fluid term ‘hijra’) who, after residing for many years in a boarding-house for those who do not fall within heteronormative confines, shifts base to a derelict graveyard; and Tilottama, the author’s bewitching and unpredictable alter-ego, who shares a fascinating on-off love affair with Musa, a Kashmiri separatist who was radicalized when his wife and daughter were killed by an Army bullet. Though the crazy contradictions of Delhi and the tragic turbulence in Kashmir provided backdrops for most of the book, various episodes from the country’s troubled contemporary history featured – 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Bhopal Gas Tragedy, 2001 Gujarat pogrom, forced acquisition of tribal land in Bastar and elsewhere, the ugly rise of Hindutva nationalism. Roy, in this rambling intertwining of the personal and the political, painted a beautiful elegy on the elusive quest for freedom through a wild flurry of third-person narrative, shifting POV, matter-of-fact diary entries, unfinished letters, whimsical Urdu poetry, and in a moment of dazzling virtuosity, like a camera in an uninterrupted single-take roving through the carnivalesque Jantar Mantar protests of 2014.

Author: Arundhati Roy
Genre: Political Drama/Political Satire/Black Comedy/Romance/Modernist Literature
Language: English
Country: India

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