The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy is the ultimate pick for Pride Month and it will take you places. It starts from the old Delhi, a time before Coca Cola had laid siege to the Roofafza empire. We meet Aftab when he is just a boy with a beautiful voice and a dream to change. The story takes us to a war-torn Kashmir that declares ‘normalcy’ over pools of blood and it walks us through a reminiscent India where it is luck to have been born a Hijra (Transgender) , but bad luck to have been born a Muslim.
Anjum, formerly known as Aftab now lives in a graveyard that she over the years extends the boundaries of and strategically constructs into her own ‘Jannat Guesthouse ’. One day she finds a baby left on her pavement along with puppies and it seems her dream to become a mother has come true. She is without any doubt the most vibrant of all the characters. A combination of dark humor, sensitivity and sharp edges knotted into something unique. Anjum isn’t a typical, victimized transgender character that we come across because she has an added streak of authority and dominance. This gives new and impressive dimension to the community she represents.
We come to know her hand-picked guests as well: Tilottama, puts us at a lack of words in her description as she impersonates being nothing so easily. She is retold as an emptiness that three different men who love her have to come to terms with. Many believe this Architect turned freedom fighter is written in Roy’s own reflection. We also meet Saddam Hussain, a vengeful dalit waiting for the opportunity to avenge his father death who was a victim of the Gujrat Massacre, something him and Anjum have in common. Unlike many that requested entrance and were shunned away, Saddam Hussain is granted entrance to Jannat Guesthouse and he become one of Anjum’s closest friends.
Speaking of Prose and the writing technique I feel a sense of relief having already read A god of small things as it makes you accustomed to the chain of events that Roy never delivers in the form of a actual chain. Indeed the book doesn’t follow a traditional plot system. As you read you already know how it ends and what brought the characters to that particular end or where it started. The plot is woven with confidence that reflects in the personalities of the characters and demonstrates Roy’s impeccable craft.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a tragedy, a love story and yet it has an ending that fills us with hope. It comes off as a loud political statement sometimes and as a historical retelling at other times. It speaks of loneliness of these characters and yet the endearing company they come to have. The characters are marked with deep loss and profound victories. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness gives us the most flawed and fragile characters that put us in awe of their magnificent, unabashed survival over the course of many years.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is her first take on fiction since A god of Small things which despite its heightened acclaim (and Booker Prize Award), put the author under the unwanted spotlight curated by the image of a pretty face that writes a good piece of illicit romance. She renounced that image with the involvement in the non-fiction world. And after 20 years returned with a book has much of her experiences engraved in it. The book gives us a backdrop of Muslim resistance in Gujrat. It gives the leftovers of the Red Fort and The Khwabgah, surviving on the dreams of a past life as Mughal footnotes. The book moves you to tears with its depiction of the Hijra community which also becomes the most prominent feature of it. It uses a homeless PhD. and a freedom fighter like stops to catch our breath. The reason why I picked this book for the Pride Month tag is because it is an ode to the marginalized, the minority and the misunderstood. It is about their struggles that don’t exactly show up on the map but have helped determine the boundaries and the boundless.
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