Book Review: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

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‘How do you tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.’

Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a saga of people of different religions, genders and social status who are brought together by circumstances. The story starts with the birth of Aftab who later becomes Anjum, embracing her reality with happiness because all she felt as Aftab was a suffocation inside her own body. So Aftab becomes Anjum and leaves her home to live with other Hijras like her.  A few years later, she finds a young girl abandoned at the steps of Jama Masjid and keeps her as her own. Trapped in the Gujarat riots, when she comes back to Delhi, she is changed; quiet and brooding now, she even leaves Khwabgah to live in a graveyard where she feels more comfortable among the dead.

In the same city is Tilo, who lives life on her own terms, in her own way not caring what others think about her. Her love for Musa takes her to Kashmir where she is arrested on suspicion of helping a terrorist. Saddam Hussain watches his father and uncle being beaten to death by a mob who was led to believe that they were cow slaughterers. Saddam survived by becoming a part of the same mob. We also have Dr. Azad Bhartiya, on a fast for years, trying to make others understand his point that the world is up to no good.

The story is woven around the modern day horrors that we as Indians have faced or are facing till date. Gujarat riots, insurgency in Kashmir, Maoists; the effects these events have on common people and their lives has been depicted in a very poignant manner. Gujarat riots change Anjum from a content person to a bitter one; Tilo finds herself trapped on the last day of her trip in Kashmir.

When I started reading this book, I found its pace quite good, and Anjum was captivating. But it diverges a little as the author spares more than a few pages declaring her political views and I felt that the actual story and characters were forgotten. But soon we are back to Tilo, Anjum and Saddam Hussain and the story moves forward. Every person has a story, sadness inside them which they fight everyday in order to move on. They all find solace and contentment in the graveyard where Anjum has made a permanent settlement for herself and others who are unable to find a place for themselves in the “duniya”.

What the author shows is the scenario in this world where survival seems impossible and yet, there are people like us, like them who keep on living and loving as life moves on. “But even he knew that things would turn out all right in the end. They would, because they had to.”

My rating: 3.5/5

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