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The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness

A Novel by Arundhati Roy

"How to tell a shattered story?

By slowing becoming everybody.


By slowly becoming everything."

It's been a mere twenty years, and the queen of misery is back with a new novel. Arundhati Roy, Booker Prize-winning author of The God Of Small Things, brings her rare storytelling back in the fray with The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

Jahanara Begun has borne a son, Aftab. Or so, the world thinks. In reality, She's actually borne a daughter. For the first few years of Aftab's life, Jahanara Begum's secret is kept safe. Fiercely protective and anxious, she would not let Aftab stray too far away from her. 

When she finally told her husband, Mulaqat Ali about Aftab, he was convinced that there must be a simple medical solution to their son's "problem". A doctor in New Delhi said he could recommend a surgeon who would seal the girl-part. He did however suggest that despite the treatment, there would be "tendencies" that would still be evident later on...but he insisted that "Tendencies are no problem. Everybody has some tendency or the other...tendencies can always be managed." 

And thus, Aftab's destiny was chosen for him, already setting roadblocks in his potential.

Aftab, becomes Anjum, a drama queen, and at forty six years, leaves her Hijra life in the Khwabgah and ventures out to live in a graveyard. 

The book is messy (to say the least) and deliberately obtuse, a style that superficially bears resemblance to Salman Rushdie's work, without his humour. 

There's a calamitous cacophony to The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness, with Arundhati Roy grasping straws to tie all the ends together and make it meaningful and worldly. There is an undercurrent of hope in this book, but it can have a tendency to lose any audience along the way with its verbosity that is misplaced in terms of tone and temperament.

The language is polemic, one wonders if this is a work that is really meant to be placed amongst the non-fiction works in her corpus, but lacks a sense of poetic interest that willingly takes the reader along the journey. It's easy to lose interest, which is a shame because the themes in the book are so important. The onus is on the reader to care but its akin to wading through the flora and fauna of a wild jungle without a machete. 

Arundhati Roy takes on the horrific struggles of India and aims to leave no one doubting that the India Shining narrative is nothing but a lie. From the burning of Hindu pilgrims, to human suffering, pogroms against religious minorities, rape and abandoned babies, the list of atrocities is endless. The aim may be to arouse activists into being apoplectic about the state of the country's underclass, but it must be clearly stated that The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness, while well intentioned and an ode to the downtrodden, is a messy read. It is as execrable as it is exquisite, and there's a languid manner in which the prose is transmitted that is in turns stream of consciousness nonsense that requires the thoughtful editing, introspection, and a touch of humility. Had this novel been penned by a creative writing graduate student and not a Booker Prize Winner, it would have been judged far more harshly in the literary press.