“Each chemically relaxed, milk-producing cow or buffalo that died became poisoned vulture-bait. As cattle turned into better dairy machines, as the city ate more ice cream, butterscotch-crunch, nutty-buddy, and chocolate-chip, as it drank more mango milkshake, vultures’ necks began to droop as though they were tired and simply couldn’t stay awake. Silver beards of saliva dripped from their beaks, and one by one they tumbled off their branches, dead.
Not many noticed the passing of the friendly old birds. There was so much else to look forward to.”
And with that prologue, I was sold. Such a profound and robust message about how capitalism was destroying the world while people remained indifferent because their carnal desires disillusioned them.
Arundhati has a habit of covering up everything in a few words. The imagery of vultures dying, cows being drugged to get milked and abundance of ice cream creates such a picture in one’s head like a thousand-word essay of Karl Marx can’t.
What I like about The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is that it gives more to the reader than just an exciting story. Her writing style and narration is something young writers can learn from. She is one of the revolutionary writers who write with a purpose.
What is the essence of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness?
Roy began the story by creating the characterization and showing the life of Anjum, a transgender. The first few hundred pages flew by like nothing. I was so engaged in the intricacies of the change her life was experiencing. It was beautiful how the world was changing around her in a complete parallel with her transformation.
However, through the life of Anjum in part one and later on other characters, Roy summed up the entire political scenario of India, along with the infamous Kashmir issue.
Hard to keep reading
And, then came a long reading slump, following which I couldn’t pick up the book again for months. Even when I tried, I found the prose to be arid and so dull, I had to shut the book again not to be picked up until the next time Anjum’s character enticed me and thus, returned to the book. Once the Kashmir premise had already been established, then I got fond of Roy’s writing again.
I want to write one of those sophisticated stories in which even though nothing much happens, there are lots to write about. That can’t be done in Kashmir. What happens here is not complicated. There’s too much blood for good literature.
Q 1: Why is it not sophisticated?
Q 2: What is the acceptable amount of blood for good literature? Why?
While the first pages completely intrigued me because of Anjum’s bold personality, part two was all about Kashmir and people in and out of Kashmir. The transition, however, is uneven and so a reader gets bored in between. However, the book is worth reading.
Biased for non-fiction, but incredible fiction
If I look at the book from a journalistic mindset, it was utterly biased book, but since the book falls in the fiction genre, I understood what Roy wanted to do. She subtly plays with her readers’ heartstrings by rendering them vulnerable to the words and communicates her message across as well.
“Women are not allowed. Women are not allowed. Women are not allowed.
Was it to protect the grave from the women or the women from the grave?”
Each paragraph of her writing dealt with an important theme. I was surprised how she could even bleed in a little romance in between such a severe book. On the other hand, she wrote about the transformation of a transgender, and on the other, the communal riots. They both merged perfectly.
She wrote about the rage and the madness that existed in the minds of people from the Kashmir valley, each of whom had lost someone — their neighbor, their father, their child, their wife. Justified or unjustified — that is a debate for another day, but it leaves a stain, a mark of hatred that even vengeance can’t dampen but it is the only thing left to try.
Violence in Kashmir Metaphor
It was like a student who got into engineering despite knowing he didn’t want to pursue it and that there was going to be no future in it once it was done. But it has already been five years of struggle, failing, pressure and stress so it’s either you finish it and get depressed and die or you kill yourself. There was no victory on either side, so what could stop one from self-destruction?
“Life went on. Death went on. The war went on.”
My Overall Thoughts
Arundhati Roy has always been an opinionated writer with the marvelous writing style. She plays with words and knows how to compress a vast story in a few words and still convey the depth behind it. This book is meant for a particular set of readers who are either interested or at least aware of the Indian political scenario. To them, the underlying theme of the book and the intended meaning is clear. But for others as well, this book could be an exciting piece of literature to enjoy.
The ending chapters of this book that mainly deal with Kashmir reminded me of Curfewed Nights by Basharat Peer, and while talking to the author, I asked whether she spent time in Kashmir to be able to write so vividly about it. She used her imagination and took advantage of her creative freedom to bring out this marvelous gem.
About the Author
Pallavi Sareen is an avid reader, a harsh critic, bibliophile, and a dreamer. Accustomed to telling stories, she spends her time amidst the pages of either a book or her diary.