Certain books are written to present us, the readers, the thoughts the author holding back or wants to present to the wider circle. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is such a book. It is the stage that authoress Arundhati Roy wanted to speak her mind, her thoughts, and presenting us with a well-known scenario leading us to the question of how much we know of that scenario.
Ministry is not actually a story but a collection stories and the book maybe genred as fiction but, actually, it’s a non-fiction. The main backdrop is of contemporary India, the modern India that Shashi Tharoor states to be in the first stage of decay. Roy had created a set of puzzle blocks at first and then she had arranged it giving out a complete picture. Kashmir forms the main picture that acts as the canvas while the main acts were played in front of it. The players or actors are the ones we come across while we are going to the office or somewhere else; the ones that we read of in the newspaper or learn from the breaking news or some investigative reports; the ones that we know exist but deny at the meanwhile their very existence in our society.
The characters or players include a eunuch name Aftab aka Anjum, the living-in-own-term S.Tilottama, the high official in IB Biplab Dasgupta, the journalist Nagaraj Hariharan and the “Revolutionary” Musa Yeswi aka General Gulrez. There were few more characters to support these characters. The prominent one is Dayachand aka Saddam Hussain; (and) Major Amrik Singh. The entwining of their lives form the story, make the scattered pieces a complete picture (read the story).
The major chunk of the puzzle is of Kashmir; how was it, what is it. Roy through Musa and entwining him with Biplab, Tilo (as S.Tilottama was addressed in most of the story), Naga (as Nagaraj was addressed in most of the story) and General Amrik Singh told us the story of Kashmir. This she had done not through mere storytelling but through her views that are tumultuous at times making realize her voice through the words she churned out. The death scene of Musa’s three-year-old daughter Miss Jeebeen not only a shocking one but also a deep lament one that showcases how the situation was in Kashmir and how the Bhuswarga–heaven on Earth–becomes the hell on earth.
She, Miss Jebeen, got killed while looking at funeral procession from the balcony with her mother. The military opened fire after, “suddenly, an explosion. Not a very loud one, but loud enough and close enough to generate blind panic.” Later it was revealed a car had driven over “…an empty carton of Mango Frooti on the next street.” Roy threw the question of who had left it and who had driven over it; “India or Kashmir? Or Pakistan?” the authoress questioned later saying “nobody was blamed. This was Kashmir. It was Kashmir’s fault.”
Roy’s description of Anna Hazare’s rally at Delhi back in 2011 (Chapter 3 The Nativity) reminds another author, Kaliprasanna Singha and his books Hutom Pyachar Naksha (in English it maybe Sketches of the Watchful Owl). There the author in one of his book had described the Bengali Babu Culture of the early 19th century through Charak festival through satire.
Similarly, in Ministry, Roy through satire depicted the event of movement lead by an “old man” who with “…gummy Farex-baby smile…” in a sharp outspoken way and presented the resonance of the thin strings of the Indian society and its fabric caused by the movement. She states, “people who have nothing to do with each other (the left-wing, the right-wing, the wingless) all flocked to him….inspired and gave purpose to an impatient new generation of youngsters that had been innocent of history and politics so far. They came in jeans and T-shirts, with guitars and songs against corruption that they had composed themselves…The old man’s rustic rhetoric and earthy aphorisms trended on Twitter and swamped Facebook.”
Roy while describing the disturbing scenario of Kashmir never left out the beauty that the state holds. In places, she had described the heavenly beauty that the land holds and how it was demolished making it a vacant state.
Like when Tilo journeyed to Kashmir, it was autumn and Roy wrote “autumn in the Valley was the season of immodest abundance. The sun slanted down on the lavender haze of zaffran crocuses in bloom. Orchards were heavy with fruit, the Chinar trees were on fire.” Then after few lines, in the next paragraph, she described “every fifty meters, on either side of the road, there was a heavily armed soldier…In every part of the legendary Valley of Kashmir whatever people might be doing…they were in the rifle-sights of a soldier…they were a legitimate target.”
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness may not be as good as her last book because of throwing away the storytelling and speaking the mind unhindered and un-guised. The strong portions of the book, Chapter 7 (The Landlord) and Chapter 8 (The Tenant) were the weakest portions of the book also. The reason was Roy had pushed her views and thoughts on different issues of contemporary India keeping Kashmir in the central stage. This portion is an exhilarating one making the reader be in the state of brown thought at the same time restlessness questioning on the objectives of the authoress as she laden it with not facts but her thoughts, shifting away from the storytelling. The story of Anjum at the beginning at times become a long prologue making the start a slow one. But, Roy holds her leash in this portion as she draws the portrait of a life of a eunuch in the Indian society showing her struggle to hold the position of her being different in the great Indian society.
Overall, Ministry is an important book of this time encapsulating the dark history of Kashmir within it, the time. A few years later, though, the book may need an appendix to discuss the points that Roy had imbued and mixed in this fiction of hers making them clear to the readers of the coming generation.